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Greg Spottedbird-Lamebull and Otto Braided Hair.
Jolene Guiterrez

Annual Amache Pilgrimage Featured the Newest National Park in Southeastern Colorado

By Administrator

May 24, 2024

The history of the Amache Relocation Camp located in Granada, Colorado has been preserved for many years by Granada school teacher John Hopper and the many Granada students who were members of the preservation efforts throughout the more than two decades of work.

Each year survivors and others connected to the Amache Relocation Camp has continued to make Pilgrimages to the Amache Relocation Camp site in order to remember what occurred there and to help Hopper and his students continue with their extremely important research.

The work by Hopper and the Granada students continued through many years and finally their efforts paid off when the site recently became a national historic site. The preservation group made a lot of progress through the years—enough so that their catalyst was the creation of a National Historic Site and museum.

The Annual Amache Pilgrimage was held over the weekend of May 17-19 in Granada. The community met each and every visitor with open arms feeding them and providing an array of comforts for their stay.

Pilgrimages to former WWII concentration camps for those of Japanese descent were started in the late 1960s. It took nearly a quarter century for former prisoners and their descendants to question why they had been imprisoned and begin searching for answers. The first formal pilgrimage to Amache was one of the official events commemorating the state of Colorado’s centennial from 1975-76. After pilgrims arrived at Amache, they cleaned the cemetery site.

The one-day annual Amache Pilgrimage usually takes place on the Saturday before Memorial Day weekend, which this year was May 18, 2024. Nikkeijin Kai of Colorado and Amache Preservation Society coordinated the original Pilgrimage memorial services and potluck lunch much as they have been held for over 40 years for pilgrims coming from Denver for a one-day Pilgrimage.

Due to increased interest in Amache becoming a National Historic Site, in 2023 Amache Alliance, the University of Denver Amache Project, National Parks Conservation Association, and Colorado Preservation Inc., and Sand Creek Massacre Foundation provided additional weekend events for people who had their own transportation and desired to learn more about the Amache site and its community. This year, additional weekend events were again offered on Friday May 17, and Sunday May 19 for people who desired to learn more about the Amache site and its community.

Ribbon Cutting, Friday, May 17, 2024

One major ceremony at the annual Amache Pilgrimage this year was the ribbon cutting ceremony in order to christen the national historic site. That ceremony set off the weekend filled with events. The ribbon cutting ceremony featured some of the most prestigious people involved in the Amache National Historic Site and the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

At the ceremony, Chris Mather, site manager of Amache spoke about the details associated with the newest Park in southeastern Colorado. Amache is the 429th unit of the National Park system.

Reggie Wassana, Governor of Cheyenne Nation told the crowd he has ties to Amache (Walking Woman) and her father killed at the Sand Creek massacre. Wassana spoke of the Sand Creek events and emphasized we need to learn from shameful histories.

Next to speak was John Tonai, son of Amache Relocation prisoner Minoru Tonai. Mr. Tonai mentioned Min’s memories of seeing the town of Granada through barbed wire and surrounded by guard towers. As president of the Amache Historical Society, he lent support raising funds and awareness to preserve the Amache story and was an ardent supporter of local Granada High School teacher John Hopper and University of Denver professor Bonnie Clark’s programs at Amache.

Mitch Honma, president of the Amache Alliance, then recalled that Min would often say it was his dream to preserve the legacy and stories of Amache, and Min fulfilled that dream. Her efforts were instrumental in the adoption of Amache into the U.S. National Park System in 2022.”

Former Senator Cory Gardner offered great thanks to John Hopper and students who helped preserve this special place. Garner quoted the famous speech made by Valediction Marion Konishi’. That speech given in the 1940s asked: “What does America mean to us?” Faith and hope that America means freedom.

Many of those giving speeches during the ceremony repeated by many speakers that this space is important so that we will not repeat our past mistakes. A debt is owed to John Hopper and his preservation work since 1993 as well as his Granada High School students who are ambassadors and important members of the Amache Preservation Society.

There were also important dignitaries that attended the ceremony at Amache on Friday including Senator Michael Bennet. Bennet relayed, “When we were fighting injustice in WWII, we were committing our own injustices here on the eastern plains of Colorado.” He went on to emphasize the fact that an enduring community forged here, despite the reason they were there. The Senator finished by expressing his hope that all Colorado students and students from across the West will visit Amache because its story needs to be told and preserved.

Marcie Moore Gantz, director of the State Historical Fund spoke about the importance of research and education. She also told the crowd that 4,200 kids have toured Amache already this year. Many are 4th graders who are studying Colorado History in their social studies curriculum.

Antonio Huerta, a graduate of Granada High School and member of the Amache Preservation Society member, and who is now Assistant to Senator Hickenlooper was there representing the Senator. Huerta shared a letter from Senator Hickenlooper that expressed his gratitude to survivors. “Our democracy is only as strong and durable as the people who make it up.” Hickenlooper also thought the new history site that is Amache greatly shines a light on the country’s dark history.

One dignitary on hand was Representative Mike Honda who is an Amache survivor, and former member of Congress. He was interned at Amache at one year old. He expressed his great gratitude for John Hopper. He was also pleased that so many people chose to visit the ceremony at Amache on Friday rather than being forced to go there. He concluded, “We’re not owners of a place, we’re stewards of the land. Amache is “a living physical representation of history.”

Chuck Sams, National Park Service Director was also inspired by the passion and dedication of John Hopper and the Granada students. He emphasized how pleased he was that the next generation was stepping up to share the Amache history. He also told the crowd that the National Park Service has a responsibility to share the entire story of Amache. “Not only are we America’s memory, we are also America’s conscience.”

Saturday, May 18

Saturday at Amache National Historic Site dawned brightly as visitors gathered to attend the Memorial service at the Amache cemetery.

Sunday, May 19

The final event planned for the Amache Pilgrimage was a visit to the neighboring Sand Creek National Historic Site. At that site in Kiowa County dignitaries from the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Suhtai tribes spoke about their shared experiences with their Amache friends.

Greg Spottedbird-Lamebull (Cheyenne, Arapaho, Suhtai) welcomed attendees and shared the story of the Sand Creek Massacre. Otto Braided Hair (Northern Cheyenne) led attendees in prayers in the Cheyenne language.

Attendees included representatives from the Amache–Sand Creek Youth Ambassador Program which allows teens from both communities to come together.

This particular Amache Annual Pilgrimage was special in every way and the crowds were large, the dignitaries who attended were impressed by what they saw, and the newest National Historic Site is now looking at an extremely busy and successful summer as more and more people visit the site in order to learn from history so that we don’t repeat those atrocities one again.

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