It is deeply disturbing to
me that the tradition has been for most historians and writers to
trivialize, and underrate the agony of the Indian people in Utah, those who
suffered the greatest loss in terms of land, culture, lives, and dignity. It
is criminal to ignore their history, and it is time their story be told.
"If the inhabitants of
this Territory, my brethren, had never condescended to reduce themselves to
the practices of the Indians, to their low, degraded condition, and in some
cases even lower, there never would have been any trouble between us and our
red neighbors. Treat them kindly, and treat them as Indians, and not as your
The above quote are the
words Mormon prophet Brigham Young delivered to a congregation in the
Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, April 6, 1854. He was the father of the
flock, and his words helped forged the mindset of supremacy toward the
Indian people, while arcane messages such as his have some how survived
unchallenged in our modern society. Remember, discrimination has to be
taught. Our children learn to discriminate from their parents, friends, and
community. Up to this time
when Brigham gave this speech, 139 Timpanogos had been killed at the hands of
Mormon settlers. The family of Black Hawk had been murdered, innocent of any
wrong doing. Seventy more were killed at Fort Utah, beheaded, tortured,
while heads were hung by their long hair from the eves of the buildings.
Human heads that would be later shipped to Washington for scientific
examination. Among those held captive at the fort was a young boy by the
name of Black Hawk, who had been made to view the horrid sight of his kin for
two long agonizing weeks. This tormented boy would later become known as
Chief Black Hawk of the Black Hawkee', better known as the Northern Timpanogos Indian
But the name "Black Hawk"
is not a Timpanogos name, it was a name Brigham Young in jest called him. So it
became that Brigham being supercilious referred to him as 'Black Hawk' and
this is the name by which he is now most commonly known. His Timpanogos Name was
Antonga, Black Hawk was born into a noble family of legendary leaders
spanning centuries of time.
The 'Walker' War had broke
out, even though Black Hawk's uncle Chief Walkara, (or "Walker" as the settlers
called him), had been baptized and given membership in the LDS Church.
Then in late 1849 apostle
George A. Smith instructed the legislature, "Indians have no right to
their land," to "extinguish all titles and prepare for their
removal." And the most essential first step in the removal process was
to change the conditions in which they thrive. Without any legal basis for
doing so, it was the LDS Church's land grab. Undoubtedly fueled by O'Sullivan's 1838 Manifest Destiny. Remember these were different times, and looking back on American history it
is easy to see that the Manifest Destiny concept was ego driven,
manipulative, hypocritical, and down right wrong. But some things, in their
minds were, simply put, necessary evils.
was poisoned to death, with the Timpanogos leader out of the way, chaos soon
spread among the tribes. It was the beginning of the end for the Timpanogos Nation.
Twenty-three years of bloody confrontations followed until the year 1872
when Black Hawk, the last of the great war Chiefs, died. The decimated
population of the Timpanogos now overcome with despair and hopelessness, the
remaining fewer than 3000 survivors would be rounded up as prisoners of war
and placed on the Uinta Reservation, which in all truth was nothing more
than a concentration camp. There they were left with little regard as to
their well being. Many more would parish from starvation.
"Why has so little
interest been taken in keeping memorandas and records of events and
conditions of those early and trying times" my great-grandfather
pondered in 1884. It would be inaccurate to suggest the
settlers were without conscience, as many accounts attest to their remorse.
But memories of the past were short lived as the promise of prosperity
unfolded before their eyes. The end justifying the means giving birth to the
words, "the past is the past, we just need to forget about." And forget they
did, 150 years have passed and but a handful of people know anything about
the war. But for the First People of Utah the story is quite the opposite.
On September 20, 1919, an
article appeared on the front page of the Deseret Evening News with the
headlines that read, "Bones of Black Hawk on Exhibition L.D.S. Museum." Deep within the article, the writer explains that first the remains of Black
Hawk had been on public display in the window of a hardware store in
downtown Spanish Fork, Utah, before they were taken to the church museum on
Just 46 years had passed
when Black Hawk had been laid to rest in 1872 at Spring Lake, Utah, when miners
deliberately plotted the robbery of his grave. Accompanying the article is a
photo of a man standing in the open grave, grinning ear to ear, while in his
hands he is holding the skull of Black Hawk. While the living descendents of
Black Hawk were outraged, but their voices fell on deaf ears. They had no legal
recourse until the enactment of the National American Graves Protection
Reparation Act, or NAGPRA, passed in 1994. Black Hawk was again reburied in the
year 1996. This raises the question why a religious institution and it's
leaders would have no moral compassion toward the family of Black Hawk.
common knowledge Euro-Americans have for centuries forced upon the First
People their views, opinions, cultural and religious beliefs. "The
Mormons brought with them a moral code, a new technology, and an economic
system. Mormon's inability or refusal to accept Indian culture on its own
terms is a conflict repeated countless times throughout the west.
Coexistence, with each culture intact, was impossible; compromise seemed
unattainable, for the cherished ideals of one culture were the unpardonable
sins of the other."(The
Other 49ers) Mormons brought the ways
of civilization with them, in their minds. Contrary to their desire for a
enlightened sacred way of life, they gave way the very kind of
discrimination that they ran from.
Today it's also the little things that add insult to injury that go unnoticed. For years an Indian statue by renowned artist Cyrus Dallin has adorned the grounds of the
Utah state capitol, which to many has came to symbolized the First People of
Utah. The fact the figure in the statue is that of Massasoit who died circa
1662, and that Massachusetts was named after him, or that Dallin employed a
African-American model from whom he sculpted the Indian figure, this irony
doesn't seem to matter to the non-Indians of Utah, but most assuredly the
Indian people of Utah are less than amused. For never has there been a
monument or memorial built in honor of the First People, much less a statue
accurately representing Utah American Indians. Is it anti-Indian or
anti-Mormon? Actually it's both. A paradox considering the thousands of
Native Indians who are members of the LDS church."
The arrogance and attitudes
of supremacy toward the First People of Utah has prevailed since before the
Black Hawk War, and few have had the courage to stand up and say, enough, we
must defend a person's right to live a decent life. I am astonished that
they have had little or no voice, ignored, shunned, kept out on the fringes
of society and denied access to even most the basic fundamentals of equality
and human rights. That they live in fear of telling their story, their
truth, that there may be retribution for exercising their legal right of
free speech. That non-Indians have been made to feel they have no obligation
to own the past. I often wonder, is the Black Hawk really over, or has
discrimination simply morphed and become institutionalized?
What is the true story of First People of
Utah? The only people who can intelligently and accurately answer that
question are the Indian people. But has anyone ever asked the Indian people?
And that is the essence of our film documentary project. Twenty-six years of
Utah history has been ignored and left out of school curriculum. Twenty-six
years of Utah Indian history that more than 90% of Utah's population never
heard of. A quarter of a century of the history of 40,000 lives has been
tossed aside, forgotten, and made a mockery of.