San Juan Freedom: Unity in a common love for the land

“Events that transpired over time had only one conclusion.  But as I have gotten older I have come to realize that history is about perspective.  Who’s perspective?  And then one day I read a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, and he said, History is always written by the victors.  That explains perfectly why my people’s perspectives were never written.”

Darren Parry, Chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, presented this moving essay in a speech at the San Juan Freedom Fest, held in Blanding, Utah on September 9, 2017. Here, he articulates the personal and cultural bases for his, and other Native Americans’ deep desire to protect the lands of their inheritance. The Bears Ears, designated by President Obama as a national monument, was taken out of the hands of the Navajo, Utes and other tribes in San Juan County, and placed into the care of federal bureaucrats. This is a call for unity of vision and care over these most wondrous lands.

“San Juan Freedom” by Darren Parry

As a small child, I loved to sit at the feet of my grandmother, Mae Timbimboo.  She was the gentlest woman that I have ever known.  Her black hair and dark skin with deep creases told of a life of a caring, nurturing tribal elder.  When she passed away a few years ago it broke my heart.  There is an old Indian saying that says. “When an old Indian dies, a library burns,” this statement was never as true as it was about my grandmother.  She would sit for hours and tell me stories about how the “Coyote Stole Fire” or how the “Sun” got its name, and then with reverence in her tone she would relate the story of the massacre at Bear River, where more than 500 of my people were massacred.  As I grew and attended school and developed a great love of history, I suddenly realized something….  None of the stories that my grandmother told me were in our history books.  But how could this be?  I had always believed that history was an absolute.  Events that transpired over time had only one conclusion.  But as I have gotten older I have come to realize that history is about perspective.  Who’s perspective?  And then one day I read a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, and he said, History is always written by the victors.  That explains perfectly why my people’s perspectives were never written.

In fact a wise old Indian Chief said this about history, “It would be better not to know so many things, than to know so many things that are not so.”

The most important statement that I can make as a Native American leader today is…..”We are still here.”  We’ve have a history that has contributed significantly to not just the history of the United States, but to the world.  There are not that many Indians in the U.S. today and we tend to get overlooked in many ways.  And when we are not overlooked, we tend to be misrepresented.  Everything from Squanto to Tonto you might say. History has on occasion reduced my Native people to one-dimensional characters, important only in the sense that we taught the Pilgrims to grow corn. 

But we are much more than that.  We long to be heard and recognized.  Our voices have been quiet for a long time.  We are as it seems, still searching for an identity.

But as important as that is, our Native voices are not more important than yours.  As events have unfolded in this beautiful part of the world over the last few years, I have gotten a glimpse  of who you are.  And you are not unlike us.

You have a strong work ethic.  You have a strong sense of family.  Those family relationships are as sacred to you as they are to us.  You have a strong belief system in those things that are most important.  And you love this land, just as much as we do.  This land is so important to my Native people that we call her Mother.  She is, and always has been the provider of our livelihoods.

What makes America the greatest nation in the world is that none of us are the same.  We all come from different backgrounds that bring with it, different perspectives. I have said many times that I feel like, we as a country have lost the ability to compromise.   But can’t we learn from each other?  Can’t we learn from those who have gone on before us even those who have made mistakes?  Isn’t it time that we all join hands and come together to make our own histories? Histories that celebrate the things that we have in common instead of focusing on the things that make us different. It is not our differences that divide us.  It is our inability to recognize,  accept, and celebrate those differences.  The key to a happy and healthy community has always been the acceptance of our individual and cultural differences.

A young boy lived down the street from a scary old man.  He lived alone and was probably in his 90’s.  But as time went on this young boy became more and more daring until he had eventually become friends with this man.  One day this little old man said, “come over to my house, I would like to show you something.”  He then pulled out this dusty old rock tumbler.  It had a can and a motor and a small band between them.  We then went into his back yard and found some old ugly good for nothing rocks.  We then proceeded to put them into the can with a little bit of liquid and a small amount of grit powder and we closed the can up and turned the motor on, and said let’s come back tomorrow.  This can was making such a racket that it could be heard at the boy’s home 3 houses away.  He came back the next day and together they opened the can and  took out these amazingly beautiful polished rocks.  Those same old dirty ugly stones that had gone in, through rubbing against each other and creating a little bit of friction, creating a little bit of noise, had produced the most beautiful rocks that the boy had ever seen.  Isn’t this the same with us?  It is through our communities, and through our different groups of often very colorful but very passionate people, who often bump up against one another, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise, but in the end, still being able to work together and polish each other, which in the end will help us to come up with a beautiful landscape that benefits all.  It is my hope that we can all come together to make this corner of the world, the most beautiful place on Mother Earth, that all people may enjoy.

Thank you for having me!

Darren Parry is also the author of Great American lie that all tribes are for the Bears Ears, previously posted on Free Range Report.

Parry serves as Chairman of the Northwestern Shoshone Nation, with Headquarters in Brigham City Utah. 
He speaks about the Bear River Massacre in which between 250-400 of my tribal members were massacred at the hands of the Federal Government in 1863. It is the largest massacre of Natives in the history of our country, as well as other Native American issues. 
Parry works for Arrowpoint Solutionsm a tribal owned temporary staffing company.




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