Image from Kynewisbok, vol36, academic year 1933-1934
Image from Kynewisbok, vol36, academic year 1933-1934
Warning: This exhibit contains materials that are racist and may be painful or traumatizing to viewers.

The history of the “Pioneer” nickname and related mascots is inextricably intertwined with the U.S.-specific history of settler colonialism. Settler-colonialism as a system has its goal to eliminate (typically through genocide), replace, and/or subjugate the communities indigenous to the land that the colonizers inhabit; this system is how the United States was “settled.” 

The state of Colorado saw one of the most brutal examples of settler colonialism in the Sand Creek Massacre, which took place in November 1864, just months after the University of Denver was founded. Colorado’s Third Cavalryled by Colonel John Chivington (also a member of the DU Board of Trustees and early donor to DU), committed the massacre, killing hundreds of mostly Cheyenne and Arapaho women, children, and elders. John Evans, the founder of the University of Denver and then-Territorial Governor, was found by the John Evans Study Committee to have been culpable for the massacre given his aggressively anti-Native rhetoric and actions leading up to the massacre. 

The University began to reckon with its role in and responsibility for the Sand Creek Massacre in the years leading up to the 150th anniversary of both the University and the Massacre in 2014. A committee of faculty and staff from DU and other institutions was created to inquire into the nature of John Evans’ involvement in the Sand Creek Massacre. The University of Denver "John Evans Study Committee Report" was produced, and the study found John Evans culpable in the Sand Creek Massacre. This report and some of the recommendations from the Native American Inclusivity Task Force (2016) helped implement some modest structural change, but these changes have proven to be inconsistent and incomplete. The Native Student Alliance (NSA) has been the primary force behind the most recent demands to remove both the “Boone” character and the “Pioneer” moniker, as both are legacies of the U.S. and DU’s history with settler colonialism. 

As so many communities reckon with the presence and prominence of statues, memorials, flags, and other signifiers of our racist and colonial history, the University of Denver has a choice: Which side of history do we want to be on?