Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pioneer Day: The Rest of the Story

I celebrated Pioneer Day by flying to the Rockies (one state to the east) in great comfort for a work conference. I walked a mile to church (and back), honoring my ancestors. Elder Marlin K. Jensen, as part of the celebrations in Utah, discussed the mostly forgotten stories of the Native American tribes who lived there before the pioneers arrived.
With villages and camps clustered primarily in the valleys but also in arid locations usually near water sources, the Indians regarded the land as sacred and were strongly attached to it, he said. "The land and its bounty were critical to their existence." Unfortunately, useful land was scarce, he noted. "From the day the 1847 pioneers first put their plows in the ground, "settlement" for them would mean displacement for Indians." 
Though there was sometimes conflict, he emphasized the attempts on both sides to respect, tolerate, and accommodate.
He quoted the reminiscence of Velate Richardson who, when interviewed at age 99, credited Indians with teaching Mormon pioneers how to survive: "Grandmother praised the Indians. [She said] they wasn't any meaner than we was."
Elder Jensen also quoted a written recollection of Lewis Barney regarding a dispute that arose after Indian women were allowed to glean grain from Mormon fields after harvest. A few of them took grain standing in the shocks, and the farmers then withdrew permission. After one farmer drove some Indian women off his land, an indignant chief approached Brother Barney, and said, "This is our land and this is our water, our grass, our valleys, and this is our wheat. I will have this field and this wheat."
The chief then said he would kill Brother Barney and raised his rifle. Brother Barney caught hold of the barrel. After several minutes of scuffling, the chief gave up, eyed his adversary, and began to laugh. They agreed to be friends. Brother Barney told him to send the women into the fields and glean all they wanted and they would not be molested.
"This account clearly reveals the differing points of view of settlers and Indians," Elder Jensen remarked. "In the settlers' view, the land was not theirs and the Indians needed permission to go on it and enjoy its fruit. The Indian view was that the land had been and still was theirs and having given the settlers permission to plant crops, Indians should now rightfully share in the harvest." ...

"In think telling the rest of the story requires one to acknowledge that Indians made sincere and often heroic efforts to absorb the tide of Mormon emigrants and to peacefully and even symbiotically co-exist with them," he said. Yet eventually, relations deteriorated and were similar to those in other parts of the West, he said.
"Regardless of how one views the equities of Indian-Mormon relations in those times, the end result was that the land and cultural birthright Indians once possessed in the Great Basin were taken from them," he said. "As tragic as that is, history cannot be unlived. What we can do, the least we can do from a distance of 160 years is to acknowledge and appreciate the monumental loss this represents on the part of Utah's Indians. That loss and its 160-year aftermath are the rest of the story.
"We can also work until the rest of the story becomes an integral part of the story; until Wakara, Wanship, Washakie and Black Hawk have their appropriate place in Utah's history books as well as Brigham, Heber and Parley; until Utah's history includes Indian history and July 24th commemorates everyone's contribution to our state's unique past."

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