Elder Jensen Spends Pioneer Day Address Talking About—Indians?!

By July 25, 2010

Read more here.

Without the full text* it is hard to assess the totality of what Elder Jensen sought to convey, but the report suggests a deviation from the standard Pioneer Day fare and an effort to reach out a hand of compassion and remembrance to those that are so often the forgotten or misremembered [see yesterday’s post by David G. on Pioneer Day and remembering/forgetting Utah’s Indian Wars] in Utah Pioneer history. One section from the report stands out to me:

“Regardless of how one views the equities of Indian-Mormon relations in those times, the end result was that the land and cultural birthright Indians once possessed in the Great Basin were taken from them,” he said. “What we can do, the least we can do from a distance of 160 years, is to acknowledge and appreciate the monumental loss this represents on the part of Utah’s Indians. That loss and its 160-year aftermath are the rest of the story.”


If I understand his message correctly, Elder Jensen here takes the “monumental loss” of Utah’s Indians and positions it in a potentially uncomfortable (for some) place next to the triumphalist narrative of Utah Pioneering as “the rest of the story.”  I take this as a very welcome invitation to broaden the collective memory of Utah’s Pioneer legacy. The result could only be, among other things, a greater sense of humility and compassion–attributes which I’m sure the Utah Pioneers strove to emulate, and which are much needed in a day when those two attributes are oftesorely lacking.

Thank you, Elder Jensen, for these insightful remarks, and with my hope they will be had more fully.


*If anyone knows where the full text of this presentation can be found or if it is made available, please note it in the comments.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. This seems like a very positive and healthy step towards a more nuanced historical narrative. It is said the church is always a generation behind society so maybe we are finally catching up institutionally with the historical trends of the 60s and 70s to begin to look at the minority experience rather than project a narrative of the majority as the only reality. The diversity of profiles on the new Mormon.org gives me a likewise hope.

    Comment by Symphonyofdissent — July 25, 2010 @ 9:04 am

  2. I hope the full text comes out soon… in the Ensign. Each time I read the selected quotes I get goosebumps.

    Comment by the narrator — July 25, 2010 @ 10:56 am

  3. Glad you put up this post, Jared. I wonder whether the mid-sentence interjection of “the least we can do” was simply an off-the-cuff statement intended to stress the point or a calculated thought that may signal some future efforts to further right the wrongs committed against Utah’s American Indian population.

    Comment by Christopher — July 25, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

  4. Truthfully, I thought this was odd and, at least as abbreviated in the published report, more than a little jarring. Pioneer Day for me has never had the jingoistic “BOOYAH! We won and they lost, so take that, sucka!” quality of so many holidays. But this came from Elder Jensen who is just about the kindest and brightest man I’ve ever met, so I acknowledge that I must be missing something.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 25, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

  5. Pioneer Day for me has never had the jingoistic ?BOOYAH! We won and they lost, so take that, sucka!? quality of so many holidays.

    Ardis: I wish I would have went to the celebrations you did, or been in the same conversations you have had. My experiences in Utah were much more sobering, they type that Elder Jensen seems to be speaking out against. Goes to show that things can really differ depending on areas, though.

    Comment by Ben — July 25, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

  6. I’m glad to see this story.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — July 25, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

  7. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for sharing Elder Jensen with us. We love him well. ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — July 25, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

  8. Ardis, my experience being a Texan in Utah for the last 10 years are along the lines of what Ben says.

    And Amen, Thomas.

    Comment by Jared T — July 25, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

  9. I haven’t been out of my house or apartment on Pioneer Day for at least ten years — probably closer to 20. That leaves me alone with my thoughts and my books, and Sunday worship services, where the emphasis is gratitude and relief that the pioneers found a temporary refuge at the end of their wanderings, a promised land that they didn’t choose themselves. Even in a crowd, though, I don’t think I’ve ever been exposed to a “we’re better than the Indians, and they can jolly well clear out of the way” element to Pioneer Day.

    Maybe it depends on what you’re looking for and what you bring to the table.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 25, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

  10. I want to try once more to convey why this story, as reported, is jarring, and then I’ll go quietly away since I’m the odd man out here.

    *As reported* in the press, Elder Jensen’s talk gives the impression that the Mormon pioneers did something wrong by coming to the Great Basin. *As reported* the talk doesn’t seem to say “remember the Indians, whose story has generally been overlooked; remember the Indians, whose way of life was changed forever by the coming of the pioneers” — *as reported* it seems to say that the pioneers shouldn’t have come at all, or should have gone somewhere else, because by coming here they did a very bad thing.

    I find that jarring. I’m left wondering where anyone thinks we should have gone, what we should have done instead of what we did. It’s one thing to remember that the Indians suffered; it’s another thing to say we shouldn’t honor the pioneers for their own sufferings and efforts to build the Kingdom of God because those efforts entailed grave hardship on the Indians.

    What I don’t see in Pioneer Day celebrations is anything that justifies scolding people like me for honoring the pioneers.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 25, 2010 @ 5:48 pm

  11. My experiences and take is similar to Ardis’s.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 25, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

  12. “whose way of life was changed forever”

    I guess I would say that it was not changed forever, but destroyed.

    The purpose of holidays is not to remember what actually happened but to shape the collective memory. It is about controlling the narrative, it is about power.

    Comment by Chris H. — July 25, 2010 @ 7:55 pm

  13. What we’re seeing here is a bigger phenomenon than just Pioneer Day and a reevaluation how white Mormons have traditionally narrated the settlement of Utah. These debates have raged throughout the American West since at least the 1970s. In fact, this is just a small part of a hemispheric dialogue between the descendants of Europeans and Natives who have survived the effects of colonization. During the debates surrounding the New Western History during the 1980s, there was plenty of discussion regarding whether Patty Limerick and her cohorts had gone too far in demonizing whites in their descriptions of the “legacies of conquest.” So these questions are not new; Mormons are just getting around to dealing with them decades after they were first raised in earnest in the 1970s.

    I understand that many white Mormons don’t readily connect the arrival of the Saints to the valley with the dispossession of Native Americans and that Elder Jensen’s comments are therefore jarring. My own exposure to Pioneer Day has not, thankfully, been marked by reenactments of Indian battles or other jingoistic manifestations of victory. In fact, Native Americans have been almost completely absent, which suggests that the tyranny of forgetting has in some ways replaced the more overt commemorations of violence I addressed in my recent post. I think Elder Jensen’s comments are a call for us to reevaluate the assumptions that undergird how we remember our past and in the process take a closer look at the consequences and ongoing legacies of Mormon settlement. It’s also a challenge for us to step back from our ethnocentricity and pay closer attention to how Utah’s Indians remember and understand Mormon settlement. They were part of that process too, and we need to listen to each other more intently. This doesn’t mean we need to forget the sacrifices and ordeals suffered by white Mormons, but it does invite us to rethink the bigger picture.

    Comment by David G. — July 25, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

  14. Well said, David.

    Comment by Jared T. — July 25, 2010 @ 10:54 pm

  15. Yes, David is spot on. In all the Pioneer Day talks and celebrations I’ve heard and participated in over the years, Elder Jensen’s talk was the very first I can remember that mentioned the Indians in any meaningful way. For that reason, I too found his comments “jarring,” though in a good way.

    Comment by Randy B. — July 26, 2010 @ 10:53 am

  16. Like Ardis, I haven’t heard any of the more jingoistic stuff that some have noted here. But what I have seen first hand is the failure (I think by non-malicious ignorance) to acknowledge that the arrival of the pioneers led to direct, negative and lasting consequences for the ‘native’ inhabitants of Utah. This sort of cultural forgetfulness facilitates the loss of the others’ history to oblivion. And this is why I love Elder Jensen’s words–they are a verbal effort of rescuing that history from oblivion. Elder Jensen is going all Herodotus on us. Awesome.

    Comment by oudenos — July 26, 2010 @ 11:26 am

  17. Amen to Chris H, Dave G, and oudenos.

    I am also very surprised at Elder Jensen’s remarks, and can’t help to wonder what brings about this radical change in tone for such a Mormon holiday. I also can?t wait to hear the whole speech.

    More than thanking Elder Jensen, I thank each and everyone who has worked hard to put into perspective the formation of historical collective memory. These efforts have allowed Elder Jensen to get educated about the greater context of what is being celebrated and consequently he was able to get touched by that which we fail to mention in our often self-centered and conditioning narrative.

    Therefore, to all those who bring to light the lost history of those who lost, of those who didn’t get to write history, of the weak ones, of the ones that didn’t prevail, of the ones that were falsely deemed as ?savages,? I salute you and God bless.

    May our General Authorities keep educating themselves to bring about these positive changes, keep helping move our culture forward and keep helping the ones that follow them broaden their understanding of who they really are.

    Comment by Manuel — July 26, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

  18. I was so happy to see this. I wish Elder Jensen would move up to the Quorum of the Twelve!

    Comment by Jordan F. — July 30, 2010 @ 7:46 pm

  19. Pioneer day is anachronistic and it is still being celebrated – it is time to include other ethnic groups whose ancestors were pioneers in their own rights in this utah only white pioneer day celebration – maybe we should have a reenactment of battles scenes between the pioneers and Native American Indians (that were fought on Utah territories which was Indian territory and land) be a part of this celebration – It would be nice to see some Pow Wow dancing and singing; eat some fry bread; and see other culture’s display their unique heritage – the last time I checked the figures the minority population is booming in Utah – its time to include them and be sensitive to their history and who they are. Remember they have feelings and I am glad Elder Jensen was sensitive enough to acknowledge that the Pioneers espoused what may be characterized as genocide of an inferior people.

    Comment by john — August 6, 2010 @ 6:11 pm

  20. Oh, baloney, john — genocide?? The word implies a deliberate, calculated effort to kill an entire people, something that is patently false where the Mormons in Utah were concerned. Misuse of such powerful words dilutes them to meaningless and weakens your cause considerably.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 6, 2010 @ 6:42 pm

  21. I said “espoused” – some of the Natives were ruthless and bloodthirsty that many pioneers felt the best way to deal with them is by genocide – does that mean they carried out the genocide – absolutely no! But I am sure there were few instances where entire families were annihialeted by the Mormon pioneers – talking with the older generation of Ute Nation and they have unpleasant stories bequeathed to them from their ancestors about the ruthless tactics practiced by the Mormon pioneers in dealing with these First Nation people. I felt Elder Jensen brought this out in the open because the matter was serious enough to warrant a discussion on the topic and get Mormons in Utah to understand that Pioneers were not infallible and not always the victims – that there is dark side in their history that is possibly recorded and hiddened away.

    Comment by john — August 7, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

  22. I agree with Ardis that the word genocide is overused and carries connotations that aren’t always helpful for promoting dialog. Perhaps it would be better to use the word that BY and others preferred when dealing with the Timpanogos Utes in 1850 – extermination – a word that the Saints did not invent when dealing with Native peoples (and, in fact, which had been used against them in MO), but that was employed in UT to describe what they wanted to do to the Indians of Utah Valley. This of course doesn’t describe adequately all the interactions between the Saints and UT’s Native peoples, but it shouldn’t be forgotten (by whites) either. As john indicates, the Utes haven’t forgotten, and downplaying it won’t do much to build bridges.

    Comment by David G. — August 7, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

  23. Surely wiser — and fairer — than selecting a one-word label, especially one as pernicious as “genocide” or even one as loaded as “extermination,” to sum up decades of interaction between Mormons and Indians, would be to recognize that the relationship was in a constant state of tension, changing from year to year and place to place.

    Historians, or anyone else aware enough of history to hang out at Juvenile Instructor, know that slaughter, starvation, and suffering of other kinds on the part of Indians, sometimes deliberately inflicted and sometimes the unintended consequences of the Mormon people with their own imperative to survive, are elements of history. But to limit the story to those elements, to fling around words like “genocide” and “annihilation” and “ruthless” as if they fairly represented the experience, is unworthy of scholars or pretenders to that title.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 7, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

  24. I don’t think it is a matter of ‘genocide’ or ‘extermination’. It’s just that contact of a ‘primitive’ culture with an ‘advanced’ one___ pretty much dooms it.
    Clearly, this can happen in a kind way, or a thoughtless one.
    I think the important thing to remember is these ‘primitive’ cultures lived in a balance with Nature for maybe ten thousand years. Our ‘advanced’ cultures have not shown they are able to do this.

    Comment by Bob — August 8, 2010 @ 8:49 am

  25. As usual, Bob, you show an utter ignorance of history — unless by “balance with Nature” you mean it’s optimal for primitive peoples to lose large numbers to cold and starvation and childbirth and during infancy. It may be “balance” to keep populations so low that not quite everyone starves, but it’s hardly idyllic and is not a cultural style to be celebrated. When “advanced cultures” — the ones that can and do produce huge food yields per acre, with like progress in distribution, together with advances in medical science — have been around “for maybe ten thousand years,” let’s compare track records.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 8, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

  26. #25: Sister Parshall: I will let others conclude if my statements are ignorance, and if your’s are unkind.
    I have spent a lifetime on the study of ‘advanced’ cultures affects on ‘primitive’ cultures. From Egypt, Rome, to the Britannic culture of the 18th century.
    Yes, it is sad that many died in the ‘primitive’ cultures from the cold. But also millions died in the ‘advanced’ culture of Germany-in Russia- in WWII.

    Comment by Bob — August 8, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

  27. Bob, your language in #24 surprises me. Most anthropologists–and certainly ethnohistorians–these days don’t use the words “advanced” or “primitive” (even in quotes) when describing societies. These words imply a hierarchy of civilization that fits better in the late-19th and early 20th century positivism than contemporary theory. And the formulation that contact between the two “pretty much dooms” indigenous cultures sounds more like 19th century descriptions of “race war” and “wars of extermination” than modern science. Most ethnohistorians that I’m familiar with emphasize the survival and adaptability of indigenous cultures in the face of five centuries of European colonialism, not their extinction.

    But I will agree with you that indigenous, hunter-gatherer societies did have a better track record on sustainability and self-sufficiency than modern capitalistic economies. That’s really not a controversial assessment. While capitalism has brought many of the advancements that Ardis alludes to, it has done so at tremendous environmental and social costs, which is what I assume you refer to when you say that indigenous peoples “lived in balance with Nature” better than modern societies.

    But I’m not sure what all this has to do with Elder Jensen’s call for us to rethink how we celebrate Pioneer Day and how we narrate the colonization of Utah.

    Comment by David G. — August 8, 2010 @ 5:06 pm

  28. David G.: Thank you for your commennts.
    Yes, my terms may be dated. Maybe even my theory(s). My formal days of study were back in the sixties. But I still think history is on my side.
    My professors were all trained Boasians (Franz Boas). They studied mostly under Margaret Meade or Ruth Benedict.
    I could give you maybe a thousand Cultues that ended when put into contact with more ‘advanced’ ones, so maybe you could give me the names of one or two that used ‘survival and adaptability ‘ (not Assimilation), and carried on?
    As to the ” colonization of Utah” by the Mormons, I meant to say the outcome was that most likely was the end on the Indian Culture there (doomed). But that did not make the ” Mormon Colonization ” wrong.

    Comment by Bob — August 8, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

  29. Bob, I’m of course impressed by your pedigree, yet many of the changes I describe were already underway by the 1960s, with the American Society of Ethnohistory being established in the 1950s. In the 1970s what came to be known as the “New Indian History” came into its own. The key term in these new approaches is agency, as scholars seek to understand how Native peoples have acted in the face of colonialism, not just as they have been acted upon.

    The idea of the “disappearing Indian” is a pernicious lie that originated in the colonial period. Euro-Americans in the 19th century often predicted that the Native peoples in this country would vanish before long, as the march of white civilization over the continent was “inevitable.” And at the close of the nineteenth century, the predictions appeared to be coming true, as the number of self-identified Indians was below 1 million. Rather than disappear, however, America’s Indians have made a come back. There are between 3-4 million Native Americans in the United States today and 562 federally-recognized Indian tribes. In Utah, there are 6 tribes. Since the 1970s the number of people claiming to be American Indian has grown with each census. I think they’d be surprised to learn that an anthropologists trained in the 1960s thinks that they’ve completely assimilated into white culture. But maybe they wouldn’t be surprised, as many have long since decided that white academics really don’t understand them. Many Natives participate in traditional religious ceremonies, speak indigenous languages, and wear traditional clothing. I think the title of one important synthesis history of American Indians in the twentieth century sums up the position of American Indians today: We Are Still Here.

    Comment by David G. — August 8, 2010 @ 10:26 pm

  30. #29: “The idea of the ?disappearing Indian? is a pernicious lie” ????
    David, do you really belive this!?
    Where are:
    The five nations of the Iroquois ( Mohawks, Hurons).
    The Cherokee nation.
    The Plains Cultures of Comache, Blackfoot, and Latota Sioux.
    The Nez Perce.
    The Apache.
    The Aztec and Inca……..

    These Cultures are GONE.

    Utah’s Black Hark War took the Utah’s Indian population from 40,000 to 2300.( Blackhawkproductions.com). This contains some work by Will Bagley.

    Comment by Bob — August 9, 2010 @ 9:02 am

  31. ( Again, sorry for my 5AM spelling.)

    Comment by Bob — August 9, 2010 @ 9:33 am

  32. Bob, it may be worth your time to read up on some of the recent literature David notes instead of defending the theories of yesteryear without any apparent understanding of what historians and anthropologists have done in the past 50-60 years.

    Comment by Christopher — August 9, 2010 @ 10:54 am

  33. Uh, yeah, Bob. Yes, I do believe that the “vanishing Indian” motif was and is a lie. You should put a bit more thought into your examples, since each of the tribes/nations you list are still around. A lot of nations and language groups have disappeared, but none of the ones you list have.

    The Five (now Six) Nations live mostly in New York and Canada. The Cherokee Nation lives primarily in Oklahoma. The Comanches live in Oklahoma, the Blackfoot live in Montana and Canada, and the Lakotas live in North and South Dakota. The Nez Perce live in Idaho. Most Apaches live in the Southwest (AZ and NM), while some live in Texas and Oklahoma. The descendants of the Aztecs live in what is known as the “Maya Region,” which includes southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. The descendants of the Incas live in the Andes.

    You can visit each of these tribes today and watch them perform their traditional dances, in traditional dress, and hear them speak in their langauges. Yes, the European colonization of the Americas, including the Mormon settlement of Utah, has taken a tremendous toll on these peoples, but they have not disappeared, no matter how many times you say it.

    Do you really think there are no people who identify as Indians today? Who do you think John is referring to above when he talks about the older generation of Utes who still remember the early Mormons’ extermination campaigns?

    Comment by David G. — August 9, 2010 @ 11:00 am

  34. We are talking of two different things.
    I am speaking of the death of Cultures. The canoe culture of the Eastern Woods indian. The horse, nomatic, game killing culture of the Plains indians. The high cultures of the Inca and Aztec. ( I do know these peoples have descendants).
    ( I have no PhD, but I do try to keep up). I am glad to hear the Aztec Culture in alive and well, I guess that goes for Greece and Rome too(?)

    Comment by Bob — August 9, 2010 @ 12:16 pm

  35. […] G.: Elder Jensen Spends PioneerBob: Elder Jensen Spends PioneerDavid G.: Elder Jensen Spends PioneerBob: Elder Jensen Spends […]

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