Sometimes it takes a while to find words. Over the weekend we took a group of women on what I called a ‘cultural immersion’ experience. We toured the sites of Amache and the Sand Creek Massacre in the dusty plains of Granada and Eads, Colorado.
In the 1940s, Japanese-Americans were rounded up and relocated to internment camps, which were scattered throughout the west during WWII. I only learned recently that Colorado had one and roughly 7,000 people lived there.
It was, by definition, a concentration camp: “A place where large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labor or to await mass execution.”
There’s a small museum near the site that’s full of personal belongings of people who once lived there. The camp, we learned, took its name from a Cheyenne woman whose father had been a chief. He died in the massacre just a few miles – and decades – away.
As we rode through the camp, we listened to recorded first-person accounts of the harsh conditions they endured, much of which was aggravated by the bone-dry climate and incessant dust. A woman in our group said, “This heavy wind is probably the same wind they experienced eighty years ago.”
Less than an hour away, the site of the Sand Creek Massacre offered a silent testimony to a tragedy that left hundreds of Native Americans slaughtered after a surprise attack by military and militia. The marker calls it a “battleground.” Reports say Native women heard hooves beating that night and grew excited, thinking it was the return of buffalo only to discover too late that it would be a massacre.
When you do the math, patterns emerge: Sand Creek happened in 1864, Amache was active eighty years later, 1942-45. Eighty years on, these themes of hate and violence are just as prevalent.
Being on land where so much concentrated trauma happened, where lives were lost en masse, there’s a weight to it. But being together was a comfort. We walked and talked a lot, processing what we could; we sat in companionable silence, and we weren’t without our moments of joy.