The Silent Victims


by Phillip B Gottfredson

Recently I was contacted by decedents of relatives who led in some of the massacres in the Utah Black Hawk War.

Over the years, I have devoted my time to researching the history of the Black Hawk War and the Timpanogos Nation, and the agony they have suffered at the hands of the Mormons Church leaders. Many times I sat in tears, overwhelmed by their grief. And now, I must admit I spent little time wondering about those whose ancestors committed these human injustices against Utah's indigenous people. Over the past month, I have met some of those people, and what they have to say has opened my eyes to a whole new reality I wish to share. Because of their ancestors' past acts of violence, Some live their entire lives in shame, and have no voice to share their agony. What each has in common Indian and non-Indian, is that both are victims of the same crime.

I reflect upon the words of George E. Tinker, "It is time we stop viewing these injustices as simply white processes and begin viewing them as human processes. It is time we apply the same yardstick to both groups--compassionately seeking to understand human actions in the past without flailing old wounds by "unabashedly" taking sides. Without confronting and owning our past, as white Americans, as Europeans, as American Indians, as African Americans, we cannot hope to overcome the past and generate a constructive, healing process, leading to a world of genuine, mutual respect among peoples, communities, and nations." But that "mutual respect" must begin by seeking to understand the history and human motivations of all these "peoples and communities, and nations" with a spirit of equity, balance, and compassion." 

Healing does not come by simply acknowledging the wrongs of the past, but it's a beginning. What about those silent victims? As I have listened to what they have to say, there is no doubt they would like to express their regret for the sins of their forefathers. They spoke about their families who have been outcasts, and that they lie to their children about their relatives spareing them from being shamed by society. But sadly, their children find out later on what their ancestors did and the cycle begins again.

"Every day," one mother told me, "Not a day goes by that I ask what it was that made my great-grandfather do what he did?"

Members of the church were not given much choice. They were told never to question the authority of church leaders and live their lives according to the church's teachings or be castigated from Mormon culture and society. Members of the church were governed by fear and shame and, in some cases, death. The facts are that not all followers of Brigham Young agreed with his tactics toward indigenous peoples of Utah, as Brigham expresses in his discourses.

Who is there that can teach us about human injustices better than those who are victims of the Utah Black Hawk War? Who better qualified to build that bridge between our cultures? It takes those who understand most how destructive racism and discrimination are to all. Learning from the past mistakes and using that wisdom to help others in every way possible will go a long way to bring about understanding and peace.

I truly believe that the silent victims need to have a voice to share their families experience without fear of censorship. They, too, need healing.


See: Forgive But Never Forget