Shoshone leader visits classes at Ecker Hill Middle School, set to speak at museum
The students in Tristin Eason’s class admit that, for most guest speakers, they are not always well behaved.
But a few weeks ago, when Darren Parry, the chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, visited Ecker Hill Middle School, it was, in one student’s words, “dead silent.”
Parry’s presentation about Shoshone traditions and the Bear River Massacre enthralled the seventh-grade social studies students in attendance. He spoke about leadership, forgiveness and the importance of seeing other people’s perspectives.
Eason invited Parry to speak to the students because the social studies curriculum is covering the Native Americans of Utah. She and Juleen Smith, another social studies teacher at the middle school, said they have not traditionally covered the Shoshone people in depth because the Shoshone do not own land in Utah. But, thanks to new social studies text books and a couple serendipitous events, Eason met Parry and asked if he would speak to some classes for a day.
The teachers said Parry’s visit seemed to leave an impact on a lot of the students. Not only did the students say they talked about it with their families — which, Eason said, is always a good sign — they used what they learned from Parry’s presentation in other classes.
Lehua Engler, a seventh-grade student, said she used the example of the Bear River Massacre while debating in her English class about how power can lead to corruption. She was shocked to learn the story from the Shoshone perspective.
The massacre took place in 1863 in what is now Idaho. A group of Mormon pioneers had settled on land that was occupied by the Shoshone, and tensions about land and resources escalated between the two groups. Finally, the pioneers asked for help from the U.S. government to deal with the Shoshone, and soldiers from the U.S. Army arrived, murdering hundreds of Shoshone in what is known today as the largest reported killing of Native Americans by the U.S. military.
Parry described the events leading up to the killing and the massacre itself, but then he spent the rest of his time with the students talking about how the Shoshone forgave the Mormons and helped them years later.
Gwenyth Bartmess, a student in Eason’s class, said she was amazed to hear the story from a high-ranking Shoshone leader. One of the things that stood out to her the most was that textbooks tend to tell only the victor’s story.
Having the students listen to a new perspective was one of Eason’s goals for the presentation.
“All the details added up to this big message to students, which was to see other people’s point of view, and to be kind,” she said. “And that’s a message I think everybody can benefit from.”
Smith was glad the presentation broke down some of the stereotypes the students have of Native Americans. When they entered the classroom and saw Parry, many students were shocked.
“When I walked in, I was looking around for some dude with long hair and a headdress on,” Bartmess said. “But then he looked super normal. He looked like a normal guy you would see in a grocery store.”
Many of the students had never met anyone with Native American heritage, Smith said, so the presentation opened their minds to who Native Americans are.
She said Parry was honest, but did not come across as victimized or angry, which is a big part of Parry’s message.
Even though he touches on difficult topics, he likes to keep his presentation positive.
“I’m not an angry Native American,” he said. “My message is one of forgiveness and how can we come together.”
He visits schools and gives lectures throughout the state all year long, and is expected to give a presentation at the Park City Museum’s Education and Collection Center on Jan. 16 at 5 p.m. He said it will be a more “adult version” of the speech he gave at Ecker Hill Middle School.
He enjoys teaching people about his culture, because he knows that most people do not have a lot of knowledge about the Shoshone. In fact, while in public school in Utah years ago, he was thrilled to hear that his class would be learning about the Shoshone. But, after a couple of days of lessons, he realized that none of what was taught matched what he had known growing up as a member of the Shoshone tribe.
So, he has dedicated his life to telling people his story, and he is currently raising money for a cultural interpretive center to be built on the land where the Bear River Massacre took place. He said there are plenty of lessons that come out of learning about the massacre, but perhaps the most important is to forgive and look forward.
“Bad things happen in your life, but how you respond to those things will determine who you are and who your character will be,” he said.
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A district spokesperson said six students were removed from an area in the school as police conducted a search.