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University of Colorado Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at UC Denver
 

Spotlight On Alumni

Alum raises awareness of American Indian genocide


 

Every legislative session, the Colorado legislature passes a resolution commemorating the Holocaust, Hitler’s systematic extermination of European Jews. Since 2002 the legislature also annually remembers the killing of 1.5 million Armenians during and after World War I.

But another genocide—some of which took place in Colorado—remained forgotten by the legislature, and Simon Moya-Smith, political science and ethnic studies ’07, wondered why.

“Maybe the genocide of the American Indians hits too close to home,” says Moya-Smith. “We’re not that far away from it. I think that makes it harder for people to acknowledge.”

In 2008 Colorado legislators finally recognized the loss of tens of millions of Indian lives in North America by passing Senate Joint Resolution 08-031, “Remembrance of American Indian Genocide.” Moya-Smith, an Oglalla Sioux, helped make it happen.

He provided the bill’s author, state Senator Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora), with research documenting the military attacks, forced marches, deliberate smallpox introductions and other acts that constituted the genocide. He also drafted some of the resolution’s language, as well as Williams’ speech from the senate floor. Moya-Smith initially became acquainted with Williams during his senior year, when he interned for her through the CU at the Capitol program.

Although the bill passed 59-4 in the house, the resolution drew significant opposition in the senate.

“This wasn’t controversial,” Moya-Smith says. “There’s no repeal of a holiday. It was just important to recognize what happened to Indians. European Americans glorify and valorize their ancestors. American Indians should be valorized as well.”