We Can Forgive—But Never Forget The Black Hawk War

Author Phillip B Gottfredson

Author: Phillip B Gottfredson

As a researcher, I studied the Black Hawk War for many years. I'm saddened that Native Americans are so misunderstood. We can say, "that's all in the past, and we just need to forget about it." But it would be criminal to do so.

As I have written in my book Black Hawk's Mission of Peace, there is nothing about the Black Hawk War to make us proud. It's about the gritty realities of the human condition.

I found no evidence that my ancestors participated in any violent acts—for that, I am grateful, but they were there standing on the ancestral homeland of the Timpanogos. My ancestors were part of colonialism and members of the LDS Church. They believed in living the teachings of Jesus. And even though they didn't like the moral hypocrisy of the church, they did nothing. They said nothing. They just did their job to establish the "Kingdom of God" and found a way to swallow their pride and stuff their feelings to get along. They did have compassion for the Native people on some level, for some befriended them and helped them on numerous occasions. But they were powerless to do more and lived-in fear of the consequences should they do so.

We can do nothing to change the past. But we can change the future. I am doing what I can to do that. It may not be much, but I can at least be the flea on the dog.

As for the Timpanogos, there can be no confusion. They were victims of genocide. The only thing they were 'guilty' of was that they were indigenous to the Americas. If you read the Timpanogos Biography, you understand what I mean.

Some people say that "it's their own damn fault." I can say, 'tell a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth.' I have lived decades with the Native people, and they talk about what it means to be a Native American. We assume that the Native people have every opportunity to succeed. Our inculturation blinds us that we can't see the harsh realities they face every day of their lives because of our inherited racist and judgmental views.

It is difficult for Native people to talk about their painful past, especially to non-Natives. And I can't blame them; they have been so demoralized and beaten down that it is tough to trust. And for non-Native people, it is difficult to come to grips with the truth that our ancestors were involved in such a horrible tragedy as the Utah Black Hawk War.

There is much healing needed on both sides. Healing can only come from mutual respect, self-respect, and education. We need to find a common language that will bring us together as one people in a good way. Where we are free to live our lives without forcing individual beliefs upon one another, we should be able to walk our paths together with integrity, honesty, respecting each other, and being kind to each other.

Instead of arrogance, there should be humility, and instead of hate, there should be love. We should reach out to those suffering from the evils of the past. From our hearts, we should speak and listen. We need to talk, but we also need to hear.

We need to learn from each other. It is complicated to explain why our people who advocated freedom and rebelled against aristocracy and supremacy would come to America and deprive the Native people of their inalienable rights as human beings. Our ancestors came to America for various reasons; some sought religious freedom, some for wealth, and others for political reasons. But unlike our ancestors, Native Americans were already free. Ironically, they would find themselves victims of the same injustices our forefathers experienced in their homelands.

Three hundred years have gone by, and to this day, Native Americans continue to struggle for justice for the devastation of colonialism. It is disturbing that so many of us cling to the old ways of thinking that one is inferior and the other superior.

Race and religion were only excuses for Europeans to justify their greed and superiority. Beliefs that had evolved long before they encountered indigenous people.

It is time that our schools adhere to federal mandates, teach the truth about our history in the spirit of equality, and explain compassionately the dynamics of the time that led to such a horrific human tragedy. Explanations give us the tools to bring change. We need to recognize that there is still much work to be done before we can say with a clear conscience that we live in a country that guarantees liberty and justice for all, and not just for some.

The time has come for us to return to the sacred teachings that our Creator gave us. Forgive ourselves and each other for our petty ways, and reconcile the past with mutual respect and understanding. Yes, we can learn to forgive—but we will never forget.

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