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'Building Bridges' Key Part Of Bear River Massacre Memorial

Bear River Massacre, Shoshone, Shoshone-Bannock, Idaho, Cache Valley natives gather to remember the victims of the Bear River Massacre — the largest Native American Massacre in the nation's history.
Cynthia Griggs
U.S. Air Force
In 2018, Utah's Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox attended the memorial service at the site of the Bear River Massacre — the largest Native American Massacre in the nation's history.";

The largest massacre of Native Americans in the United States — the Bear River Massacre — occurred 157 years ago. Each year, members of the Northwestern Band of Shoshone and the Shoshone-Bannock gather to remember the event, honor their ancestors and try to forgive the past. 

“There was a calming spirit here, I thought today" said Melody Parry. "I've been here every year and today just seem very spiritual.”

The calm, breezy January morning is far cry from the bloody killings in 1863 when hundreds of Shoshone men, women and children were slaughtered just north of Preston, Idaho. Parry’s husband, Darren, is the chairman of the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation, and he leads the memorial of the massacre as a way to remember the past — including his own ancestors who were killed in the Bear River Massacre.

Though the massacre is a somber stain in history, Melody said the annual memorial and her husband’s work are good for building bridges in the community.

“I think we can be better just to listen to history from every perspective, like Darren says," Parry said. "He's wonderful at bringing people together and building bridges. And I think that's really should be everyone's purpose — to build bridges and try to be better to help everyone not just the side of the perspective that you believe in.”

Communication and openness to other perspectives are things the community is still working today, according to Miss Shoshone-Bannock, Stormie Perdash. Such as the controversial issue of school mascots that perpetuate stereotypes against Native Americans.

“It portrays our people as savages or hostiles," Perdash said, "and it starts with the youth. I believe that kind of damages their sense of identity as native people.”

Two schools in Idaho have announced plans to retire Native American mascots and imagery after pressure from the Shoshone-Bannock and Nezperce tribes. Teton High School chose to retire the “Redskin” mascot, and Boise High School has dropped the ‘s’ from the former “Braves” to move away from an appropriated stereotype to promote ideals of bravery. 

In Utah, a bill has been introduced that would encourage "support for the appropriate use of names, images, and symbols of Native Americans and other indigenous people by schools or places." The bill, House Joint Resolution 10, has been met with protest by Native American and indigenous groups, yet some argue the mascots "honor" Native Americans and are part of Utah's history.

UPR reporter Linnea Leonard contributed to this piece.