164 years after the establishment of the Utah Territory, Native Americans received a form of acknowledgement from the Utah State Legislature that Native Americans were fundamentally harmed by numerous factors, including decisions that would lead to the founding of the state.
SJR01 – Joint Resolution on Museum Recognizing Atrocities Against American Indians, acknowledges that the Native American population across North America were decimated by expansionist policies that date back to the Age of Discovery. Ultimately, the resolution calls on Congress to construct a national museum that “[recognizes] atrocities against American Indians.”
Sponsored by Representative Jack Draxler (Republican – North Logan) in the House and originated by Senator Stewart Reid (Republican – Ogden), the resolution is “an acknowledgement that challenges in history and atrocities in history against Native Americans occurred.” Draxler ensured the body that the resolution was not an absolute referendum to the history of Native Americans and Europeans, just an opportunity to “provide some healing.”
While the current bill lacks terms like “holocaust” and “genocide,” which were amended out by the Senate, the resolution acknowledges that atrocities were dealt to tribes like the Shoshoni, Ute, Paiute, Timpanog, Shivwits, Goshute and Navajo at the hands of early non-Native Utahns. In exchange for their historic lands, resources and heritage, the Utah State Legislator have decided to encourage the US Congress to fund and erect a museum recognizing the more than 600 years of Native American misdealings at the hands of European settlers.
Representative Joel Briscoe (Democrat – Salt Lake City) spoke strongly in favor of the resolution. “The largest single massacre of Native Americans occurred just across the border of Utah and Idaho, called the Bear River Massacre.” Briscoe described the mostly unknown massacre where 490 men, women, and children died at the hands of non-Native American troops. Briscoe read from a Deseret News article dating from the days following the massacre: “With ordinary good luck, the volunteers will ‘wipe them out.’ We wish this community rid of all such parties, and if Col. Connor be successful in reaching that bastard class of humans who play with the lives of the peaceable and law abiding citizens in this way.”
Hesitant to the call the acts a holocaust, Representative Carol Moss (Democrat – Millcreek) had reservations about the bill, insisting that the museum title should reflect the positive side of Native American/Non-Native American Relations. “Will the museum be named the “Atrocities Against Native Americans?’ I’d hate to have a museum with that title, it would take away from the pride that we want Native Americans to feel,” said Moss. She continued, saying that the tone of the museum shouldn’t focus on the negative aspects, noting that it would not be very appropriate for children.
Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat – Salt Lake City) pointed out to the body that other holocaust museums aren’t as cherry as you’d expect. “I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in DC, I’ve been to Yad Vashem in Israel and other museums like that; you don’t feel good when you walk out of them. […] You shouldn’t.”
Representative Mike Noel (Republican – Kanab), who has served on the Native American Liaison Committee for twelve years and has several Native American family members, rose in support of the bill. “I know that feelings and animosity for past events are still there. Not anyone in this room, or anyone that I know of alive were involved with these atrocities, but it is part of the healing process to recognize that we in fact did some really terrible things to the Native Americans in this country, as well as some good things.” Unlike his more timid colleagues, Noel openly declared that non-Native American officials during the 1800s were actively engaged in systematically wiping out entire cultures and histories.
The bill has passed both the House and Senate, and is expected to be signed by the Governor.