Colorado mining industry’s dark history of indigenous land expropriation

Colorado's mining industry grew thanks to the genocide and forced displacement of indigenous peoples, although the mining rights were never relinquished

The mining industry in Colorado, which has generated $546 billion from 1858 to 2022, has a tragic history rooted in the expropriation of indigenous lands. Known for its outdoor activities like skiing and hiking, the state’s first and largest industry is mineral extraction, including coal, gold, oil, natural gas, limestone, and helium.

A new report by People of the Sacred Land highlights how this industry’s growth was made possible through the genocide and forced displacement of the region’s indigenous populations. The two-year study reveals that tribes such as the Arapaho and Cheyenne never ceded their mining rights and deserve compensation for the stolen lands.

Rick Williams, executive director of the organization, emphasized that the history of Colorado’s indigenous peoples has often been overlooked, and this report aims to fill that gap. The American expansion into Colorado territory had severe economic and social consequences for the indigenous tribes.

Historical disregard for indigenous land rights

Since the late 18th century, various laws attempted to prevent settlers from purchasing indigenous lands, but these laws were widely ignored. Cities like Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo were founded illegally on unceded lands, while the United States, attracted by the region’s natural resources, failed to protect tribal lands.

Deforestation and pollution

Tribes were often forcibly removed from their lands or coerced into signing treaties. Even when treaties were signed, mining rights were not specifically ceded, suggesting these rights remain with the tribes. The TREC commission, responsible for the report, argues that the financial damages suffered by the tribes should be recalculated and that proper recognition and compensation are necessary.

The Colorado Department of Natural Resources has expressed its commitment to collaborating with tribal nations to protect their lands and consult on these issues. The report also highlights the environmental impact of the mining industry, which has caused deforestation and water and air pollution. Currently, there are 23,000 abandoned mines that continue to compromise water quality in Colorado.

Clint Carroll, professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, believes the report is essential for understanding the history and impact of mining on indigenous communities. He hopes that reading it will help promote greater awareness and understanding of the environmental and social issues related to decolonization.

Source: People of the Sacred Land

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