Crawford White Eagle and Brian Bagley (photo courtesy Brian Bagley)

Extending a Hand of Friendship

When gold and coal miners began moving into Boulder County in the mid-1800s, the area’s original residents moved out—but not by choice. The 12,000-strong Arapaho tribe was eventually forced from their ancestral lands and ended up splitting in two, now living on reservations in Wyoming (Northern Arapaho) and Oklahoma (Southern Arapaho).

After watching a documentary about the struggles the Northern Arapaho are currently facing, such as alcoholism, drug addiction and high suicide and mortality rates, attorney and City of Longmont Mayor Brian Bagley decided he wanted to help. He was aware of similar outreach efforts already taking place throughout Boulder County—like Right Relationship Boulder, a group working to promote and practice right relationships with Native peoples—but he wanted to know specifically what he could do, both as a private citizen and as an official Longmont representative. So, in early 2018, he reached out to tribal leadership.

“I extended a hand of friendship to Steve Fast Horse [a tribal councilman],” Bagley said, adding that Fast Horse was just as excited to open a dialogue as Bagley was.

The wonderful people I’ve gotten to know have truly become my brothers and sisters.
We’ve developed more than just relationships—we’ve made real friendships.

–Brian Bagley
Attorney and City of Longmont mayor

By October, Bagley had visited the Wind River Reservation near Riverton, Wyo., three times. Northern Arapaho elders and tribal representatives, including Fast Horse, had visited Longmont at least a dozen times. On Sept. 21, Crawford White Eagle, one of the tribe’s ceremonial leaders, gave the opening blessing at Longmont’s annual Inclusive Communities Celebration.

Bagley and several Longmont city officials visited Wind River in August to discuss the possibility of establishing a sister-city program between the Northern Arapaho and Longmont. If such a program is formalized, it would allow young people from both places to participate in yearly exchange programs.

Bagley, however, stresses that the rest of his visits and their associated expenses have been as a private-citizen and not all of the talks have centered around the sister-city idea. For example, he is using his legal expertise to help tribal leaders negotiate the purchase of some land on the eastern edge of Longmont.

“They miss their homeland, and they might eventually want to build some sort of living cultural center or museum where they can showcase their history and preserve important artifacts,” Bagley explained. “For now, I think they’d just be happy to have a piece of ‘home’ again. One tribal elder said, ‘I just want to sit and watch the grass grow.’”

Bagley cautions that ambitious plans take time and an ongoing commitment, more than could be accomplished in just a yearly meeting. He says there are many steps to take, and if some of the plans don’t work out because of funding or other hurdles, some good will still come out of it.

“The wonderful people I’ve gotten to know have truly become my brothers and sisters,” he said. “We’ve developed more than just relationships—we’ve made real friendships.”

—Lisa Truesdale