Utah's Native Americans
Allan Kent Powell
The commemorations of the Utah Statehood Centennial in 1996 and the Sesquicentennial of Utah Settlement in 1997 were cause for reflection not only on these milestones in Utah's history but also for a reexamination of the people, events, and movements that constitute Utah history. To this end, several projects were launched prior to the commemorations; they included a one-volume Utah history encyclopedia, a one-volume history of Utah, a four-volume comprehensive history of the state, and a twenty-nine-volume county centennial history series. All of these projects were designed to provide careful accounts of how Utah has developed from prehistoric times to the present. Other books , films, and projects looked at particular aspects of the Utah experience. They included Utah's struggle for statehood, Utah's literary legacy, the Mormon Trail and overland travel to Utah, the state's natural heritage, and what Utahns thought about themselves and their state through an essay project, known as "Faces of Utah," that involved contributions from thousands of the state's residents.
With a combination of great pride in the history and heritage of their peoples and concern that their story might be ignored or misrepresented, Utah's American Indian leaders proposed their own commemorative project--a one-volume history of the American Indian experience in Utah. The history would be a collaborative effort between Indians and non-Indians, but it ultimately would recount how Utah's American Indians have celebrated and interpreted their past from the earliest days to the present. This would not be another non-Indian perception of the past that would ignore the Native American audience, but rather a telling of the past from the perspective of Utah American Indians. The book, it was hoped, would provide a written account that could help all generations of American Indians understand their rich and diverse heritage while also giving non-Indians a useful perspective on both their separate and shared pasts. The ultimate goal was neither to condemn nor to judge; rather, it was to instruct and enlighten.
When asked by Governor Michael Leavitt in 1993 about their legislative priorities, Utah's Indian leaders placed state funding for the American Indian history project near the top of the list. The governor and the legislature concurred, and a $20,000 appropriation was made during the 1993 legislative session to the Division of State History (Utah State Historical Society) for the project. As sister agencies within the Department of Community of Economic Development, the Division of State History and the Division of Indian Affairs entered into a partnership to produce the book, with Wil Numkena, director of the Division of Indian Affairs, as project director and general editor for the volume. In 1997 Wil Numkena resigned as director of the Division of Indian Affairs to return to his home on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona to work in the Hopi Tribe education program. His successor, Forrest S. Cuch, embraced the project wholeheartedly and assumed the duties of general editor for the volume. The Public History section of the Utah State Historical Society provided support and assistance.
This volume is the first of six history initiatives identified by the Division of Indian Affairs. They include: Indian History Research; curriculum development of Utah Indian History for the public schools, including the integration of Indian History studies into the school core curriculum and the training of teachers to teach Indian History; public and educational lectures; Indian oral history projects; and audio-visual Indian history projects. This book provides an essential foundation from which to undertake these other initiatives.
The book project was launched with the establishment of an advisory committee made up primarily of representatives from Utah's Indian tribes. The committee made recommendations as to content to be included and potential authors. After considering several options, the committee recommended that the effort concentrate on producing one volume, which would include a thorough introduction followed by chapters for each of the six Utah Indian tribes. A summary or concluding chapter that focused on major issues and problems facing Utah's American Indians at the end of the twentieth century and also considered urban and non-reservation Indians would end the volume.
An initial goal of the committee was to identify and secure the participation of American Indian historians and writers for the project to ensure that the volume reflected clearly an Indian perspective and interpretation of the Native American past. This was accomplished in great part by Forrest Cuch working as the general editor for the volume and four of the chapters having been written solely by American Indians. Two chapters were collaborative efforts by Indian and non-Indian writers, the other three chapters were authored by non-Indians working closely with representatives of the tribes and groups about whom they were writing.
This volume, then, represents some of the realities of writing American Indian history and history in general. Not all members of a group perceive or interpret their history in exactly the same way. While there is usually agreement about most of the basic facts, the importance that one event or experience has over another, the implications that developed from certain actions, or the role of one individual or group in certain developments are all subject to differing interpretations. Therefore, just as is the case with the history of all Utahns, it is impossible to write chapters about Utah's American Indians that can be said to contain a consensus of everyone's views about their past. Still, it is important to ask: Can non-Indian historians do justice to Indian history and write with both sympathy and accuracy about another people's past? Only well-informed readers can answer that question for themselves about this book. However, each of the non-Indian contributors to this volume has used oral histories from tribal members as well as written documents and records from the respective tribe. They also have reviewed their chapters with members of the respective tribes to ensure that the chapters contain what those members believe to be the essence, or at least an accurate representation, of their history.
As the authors and committee members met, a list of suggested topics was developed for inclusion in each chapter. These topics included: creation legends and stories; first non-Indian contacts; a chronological summary of important events; present-day and certain future issues and concerns; the roles, contributions, and impacts made by the tribes on the larger community, area, state, and nation; and consideration of such topics as religion, politics, education, folkways, family life, social activities, and economic issues. One of the greatest challenges to the authors was to condense the complex and diverse history of the tribes into a chapter-length narrative. In this sense, the chapters that follow represent a beginning point much more than an ending point in understanding Utah's first residents. Some chapters also are written on a more personal level, evoking in a more lyrical manner themes important to the author, rather than attempting a more dispassionate chronological unfolding of events of conventional historical importance.
More than five hundred years have passed since the first encounter between Indians and non-Indians took place with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in what quickly became known as the New World. Throughout those five hundred years disease, pestilence, war, atrocities, greed, discrimination, relocation, intolerance, and misunderstanding have characterized many of the actions and attitudes of non-Indians to the peoples they found inhabiting this vast hemisphere. Most North American Indian tribes faced extinction as their populations dwindled in the face of this encounter. That tribes like the Goshute, Navajo, Paiute, Shoshone, and Ute have survived and now flourish to some measure is an important lesson for a planet where ecological disasters threaten in many forms. As their histories tell us, these tribes have long endured and will continue to endure. They have always been and will continue to be an important part of Utah's history. What greater gift can they offer all Utahns than an understanding of their story?
The chapters that follow will enlighten and enrich readers with knowledge about cultures that stretch back to the ancient past. Special thanks is extended to the Utah State Legislature and Governor Michael Leavitt, who recognized the importance of this project and appropriated the necessary funds to undertake the research and writing and to provide copies to each public school and library in the state.
top of page