The Utah Black Hawk War Legacy



The writer is the author of Black Hawk's Mission of Peace Phillip B Gottfredson

The Legacy of the Utah Black Hawk War begins with no reconciliation with the Timpanogos Nation. Generations of indigenous people of Utah live in absolute fear of the Mormons should they speak of the past and present atrocities.

Those who seek truthful answers regarding the war often find accounts filled with half-truths, omissions, and denials—a one-sided view as seen only through the lens of Mormon colonists. Even asking questions seems to cause many people to bristle. "That's all in the past," I was told, "we just need to forget about it." On several occasions, people said, "we have given the Indians every chance to succeed, yet they choose to live off the government and live in poverty." People believe this because true Native American history has been omitted from the school curriculum. When the facts are clear, they never had a choice and never wanted to live on reservations or in poverty. And the facts are definitive that Native Americans do not live off of the government. We cannot accept the truth that we gave Native Americans every opportunity to fail. We have tried to take everything from indigenous people, their land, culture and religion, water, timber, hunting rights, fishing rights, and freedom.

A group called "The Other 49ers" put it nicely, "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. Mormons brought the ways of civilization with them, in their minds. Contrary to their desire for an enlightened sacred way of life, the world followed, and they gave into the kind of discrimination that they ran from."

It is deeply troubling that discrimination has become institutionalized; it has become the norm to trivialize, mock, and downplay the history of Native American people in Utah and across America.

"We want our children to have a good life. We don’t want them to live in fear, hating each other. We want them to respect our ancient ways, and pass on our sacred teachings to their children. We want them to be proud of our ancestors, Wakara, Black Hawk, Arapeen, Tabby, and understand that they died for us. They lived for us. We are still here because of their love," said a council memeber of the Timpanogos Nation.

As I continued to learn from the Timpanogos what it means to be a Native American in Utah, I often heard them speak of the discrimination they face every day. Initially, my response was to say that they have the same opportunities for a decent life as anyone living in America. Unfortunately, saying that drew some angry responses. And the more time I spent with them, the more I realized how ignorant I was about their lives.

They are entangled in a mess of "Indian Laws", Congressional Acts that Native Americans were not given any say in the laws that govern them.

The 10th District Court ruled in 2015 that the Uinta Reservation is a Sovereign Nation that the State of Utah has no legal jurisdiction over what-so-ever. "They don't listen." Tribal members of the Timpanogos told me, "they continue to arrest our people. They take children, property, whatever they want."

Scholars of 'Indian law', say The Doctrine of Discovery is at the heart of all laws that the Federal Government uses to have continued dominion over First Nations.

Our school's curriculum must include true Native American history. Truth in education can overcome many of the arcane attitudes of white supremacy toward Utah's Native people that have prevailed for 150 years unchallenged. I am astonished that they have had little or no voice, ignored, shunned, kept out on society's fringes, and denied access to the 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 freedom of speech.

Because Native American history has been errased from Utah's school curriculum, sanitized, and Christianized; consequently, many of Utah's indigenous have a distorted sense of where they have come from and where they belong. The dropout rate of Native children in public schools is high. It is then natural for them to believe that their history has little or no importance in Utah or even American history. Even worse, our children are taught that genocide is acceptable when religion is justified for doing so, which is simply outrageous!

Many will say that prejudice does not exist, but it does. Just omitting Native American history is itself cultural genocide. The seeds of racism were planted a long time ago, and like a noxious weed, have become entwined into every aspect of our society. Racism has become institutionalized and so appears natural in the social landscape. Those who say, "it's not my problem, I'm just doing my job," those who are aware but ignore man's inhumanity toward their fellow man are themselves agents in the ongoing genocide of First Nation people. Remember, discrimination has to be taught; our children learn to discriminate from their teachers, families, and communities.

In 1847 when Mormon pioneers entered into the land of the Timpanogos, the Timpanogos awakened to find themselves in an arena of Christian supremacy. Settlers spurred on by President Polk's conviction of Manifest Destiny, and President Grant's mandate to leave the fate of the American Indian in the hands of Christians. Christians whose mandate was to "kill the Indian and save the man." While armies of the federal government were dispatched to punish the Mormon's for their illegal practice of polygamy, in the cross fire of clashing beliefs and bloody confrontations, it became a matter of who would survive and who would control the land. Land that belongs to Native Americans by virtue of their sovereign aboriginal treaty rights.

These and many other issues are the legacy of the Black Hawk War that have never been addressed or reconciled. Through my studies I have come to the stark conclusion that:

It is our government that needs to stop holding the indigenous people hostage and making them tenants on their own land.

It is we who need to stop blaming them for the actions of our ancestors.

It is we who need to respect their sovereignty.

It was our ancestors who invaded their country and wrecked their lives.

It was our government and our ancestors who made treaties with the Indian people and broke every one of them.

It was our ancestors who stole their children, and placed them in boarding house schools with graveyards, then punished them for speaking their own language, physically abused them, and forbid them from practicing their religious beliefs. Carlisle’s founder, Capt. Richard C. Pratt, championed a disastrous approach to educating Native Native Americans that aimed to “kill the Indian, and save the man.”       

It was President Lincoln who set aside 5.6 million acres of land for the Timpanogos, known as the Uintah Valley Reservation, and it was the State of Utah who took back 4.3 million acres of that land, the best of that land, and put it in public domain, and did it without any authorization from congress or compensation, they stole it. See Timpanogos-Ute Contradiction

It is we, not Native Americans, who have dug up the graves of their ancestors, and sold the contents for profit, and put their bones on public display as a mere public curiosity. See The Robbery of Black Hawk's Grave

It's okay to speak of the injustices against our ancestors, but to point out the atrocities indigenous people have suffered from the hands of our ancestors is whitewashed, romanticized, or simply ignored.

It was our Christian ancestors who stripped them of their human dignity, demoralized and dehumanized the indigenous people to the point they were forced to depend upon our church and government for their very survival as "wards of government" and "prisoners of war."

And it is we who have looked the other way and said nothing and remained silent saying, "it's not my problem, I'm just doing my job."

And in the end it is we who are ignorant and say "we have given the Indian people every opportunity to succeed, yet they choose to live in poverty, and live off the government..." and indifferently state: "it's their own damn fault...?"

Both Indian and non-Indian who do not recognize the names Black Hawk, Walkara, Arapeen, Kanosh, Sanpitch, Tabby, and events such as the Black Hawk War, Fort Utah battle, Circleville Massacre, or the Bear River Massacre, and what they represent; have no sense of true history or the reality of settler colonialism in Utah.

Personally, I feel we have a responsibility to compassionately understand their pain and to not sanitize the Black Hawk War. The indigenous people of Utah are, all said and done, those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and we should see who they are and what they are doing. We need to experience their pain - to feel it. We owe it to the native Native Americans of Utah to feel it. Thousands of lives were lost in the war. Most never knew why, and now we don't even think about the war.

I am often asked, "What can we do to help Native Americans and bring about healing?" The answer is simple:

1. Teach true and honest Native American history in our schools.

2. Demand that our government honor the treaties made with First Nations. Over 365 treaties were signed with Native Americans and not one has ever been honored.

3. Help build that bridge between our cultures and tear down the wall of lies that separate us.

See We Can Forgive But Never Forget