The Importance of Acknowledging Our History: The National Archives and Federal Records Center in Denver, Colorado

This is another post in our ongoing blog series that acknowledges the ancestral lands on which the National Archives’ buildings are situated across the country. This series of acknowledgements is a simple way to offer recognition and respect to the people who once lived on these lands. 

When completed in 2012, the combined National Archives at Denver and the Denver Federal Records Center facility rested on land largely unchanged by humans. There was some nearby farming, highway and road construction, but no buildings – simply a flat, grass blown prairie with spectacular mountain views.

This 2019 photograph taken by staff shows the National Archives facility in Broomfield, with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

But the land here was never empty.  It has been traversed by dozens of tribal nations over the centuries and was the site of trading, hunting, gathering, and healing. In 1851 a treaty at Fort Laramie formally recognized most of the front range of the Rocky Mountains in present day Colorado as Arapaho and Cheyenne territory. But as was the case throughout the west, gold was soon discovered and both lost yet more territory through new treaties and outright abrogation of others as more and more people moved into the area. The Cheyenne and Arapaho survived these machinations, and outright genocide, and today are a thriving nation in western Oklahoma. 

We honor and acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory and ancestral homelands of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nations, and of those who passed through and took part of the land’s bounty throughout time; the Lakota, Ute, Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, Shoshone, among many others. We respect the many diverse peoples still connected to this land on which we work.

This excerpt from an 1826 map from the Office of Indian Affairs, today held in our Cartographic branch, shows the area of the present day National Archives at Denver. Longs Peak, today the centerpiece of the Rocky Mountain National Park, lies 60 miles northwest of the facility and the South Fork of the Platte River flows through Denver, 21 miles south of the National Archives at Denver. The mapmaker noted that nomadic tribes called the area home, and the massive Pawnee Empire that spread throughout much of present day Nebraska and Kansas is also marked.

The National Archives facility in Broomfield stores, preserves, and makes available Bureau of Indian Affairs records that were created from border to border, 130 years of history for dozens of tribal nations, and available to Native scholars, genealogists, and simply those interested. Through interaction with these records we are especially aware and reminded of this land’s history.

My thanks to Ingi House, Director of Archival Operations, and Cody White, Archivist, both from the National Archives at Denver, who provided information for this land acknowledgement.

Additional resources: 

  • University of Colorado Systemwide Lands Recognition Statement
  • The Indigenous Digital Archives Treaties Explorer
  • Native Land map
  • “Treaty between the United States and the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, Assiniboin, Gros Ventre, Madan and Arikara Indians at Fort Laramie, Indian Territory, 9/17/1851” in the National Archives Catalog