The Legacy of The Utah Black Hawk War



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 an unresolved cultural divide, a painful absence of reconciliation with the Timpanogos Nation. It has caused tremendous obstacles for indigenous people living in Utah. They have survived severe economic issues, sovereign and aboriginal rights violations, and boarding house schools.

In our quest for truth, asking hard questions, we are given accounts tainted by half-truths, intentional omissions, and denials. This distorted narrative reflects a romanticized façade of Mormon colonization. It seems to trigger a defensive response from many non-Native people who believe that the genocide of indigenous communities should be ignored. "That's all in the past," they say, urging us to forget. But can we genuinely heal without acknowledging the unvarnished truth?

This dismissive claim often emerges: "We have given the Indians every chance to succeed, yet they choose to live off the government and dwell in poverty." Such disinformation has taken hold among Utah's Mormon population because they have excluded the true history of Native Americans from the school curriculum. Because when the truth emerges, it becomes clear that the choice to live on reservations or endure poverty was never a choice for Native Americans. The facts reveal that Euro-colonists systematically stripped Native Americans of their freedom and denied them opportunities.

Let us confront the reality that we have relentlessly taken from indigenous peoples and never given back—seizing their lands, eradicating their cultures and religious freedom, encroaching upon their water sources, exploiting their timber, undermining their hunting and fishing rights, and taxing reservation land. The truth is that we have never indeed afforded Native Americans a fair chance at success. We cannot deny our role in perpetuating their suffering, and we must no longer ignore the legacy of oppression and injustice.

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 daily. 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.

The erasure, sanitization, and Christianization of Native American history in Utah's school curriculum have left a devastating mark, distorting Indigenous people's understanding of their roots and sense of belonging. Consequently, many of Utah's Native communities grapple with a profound disconnection from their ancestral heritage. In the face of this educational neglect, it is no wonder that the dropout rate among Native children in public schools remains alarmingly high. Their true history is relegated to insignificance within Utah and even in the broader scope of American history.

Compounding the injustice of true Native American history left out of the school curriculum sends a clear message to our children that genocide is justified when under the guise of religion—an utterly outrageous notion! Despite claims to the contrary, prejudice, and discrimination persist in our society. Settle-colonialism introduced Racism long ago and has now become deeply entwined within the fabric of our community, much like a noxious weed choking our collective conscience. Racism has seeped into the institutionalized structures of power, rendering it natural within our social landscape.

Those who dismiss the issue, claiming, "It's not my problem, I'm just doing my job," or those who are aware but pay no heed to the inhumanity inflicted upon their fellow human beings, unwittingly contribute to the ongoing genocide of First Nation people. Let us remember that discrimination is not inherent; it is learned. Our children absorb discriminatory beliefs from their teachers, families, and communities.

In 1847, when Mormon pioneers entered the land of the Timpanogos, the indigenous community found themselves thrust into an arena dominated by Christian supremacy. Fueled by President Polk's unwavering conviction of Manifest Destiny and President Grant's directive to Christianize the fate of the American Indian, settlers sought to "kill the Indian and save the man." However, we must never forget that this land inherently 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 The Timpanogos-Ute Misidentity

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

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. Break the cycle of misinformation and disinformation.

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. Be the change you want to see in the world. I truly believe that we all can do better than we are now.

See Truth in Education