Darren Parry, author of the Bear River Massacre tells why the Indian Headdress shouldn’t be used as a sports mascot. We’ll talk about why teams like the Washington Redskins changed their name to the Washington Football Team, acceding to protests calling the name racist. Of course they are not the only team that takes on an Indian Mascot.
Darren: I tell the elementary kids this story really quickly about when a young Shoshone boy or girl does an act of kindness or service as they are growing up, they would get one eagle feather from the chief. Then I’ll ask one of the children, “What would happen if that boy or girl kept doing nice things as they’re growing up?” They say, “Well, they would get more eagle feathers.” I said, “What if they kept doing those things until they were an adult. This one little girl said, “They would have so many eagle feathers.” I said, “You’re right, “and I said, “One day, when the chief gets ready to die, he will call everyone together and he will say to them, ‘Show me your eagle feathers.’” I tell them that the person with the most eagle feathers would become the next leader and the chief. Then I’d make this point that the chief isn’t the bravest, or the toughest, the chief is always the one in a tribal community that has led a life of service, that has done nice things for people their whole life. So, I tell them, that’s what a true leader is. It’s someone that works for the good of others, and they’ve done that throughout their whole life. That’s what they’ve demonstrated.
Darren: So, these eagle feathers represent taking care of a group of people that have been marginalized, and a group of people that just tried to live a life with their Creator and the earth in a loving way. So, this is a sacred thing to us. The fact that when you have a high school mascot and then they appropriate it in a way that–they dress up like this, and it’s just all about education. We just went through this with Bountiful High School, and Bountiful announced that they’re going to change their mascot. That’s fine. We would have been okay, if they hadn’t changed the mascot, too. As a tribal council, we talked about it because Bountiful High is in our indigenous area. We were the ones they consulted with.
GT: Oh, when they originally had the name?
GT: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Darren: In fact, we had one of our council members on the committee that studied the issue. But at the end of the day, it was the principal’s decision based on all of the information gathered. We told the principal, regardless of which way you go, this needs to be an opportunity that we can educate, not only the kids, but the community. Wearing the sacred headdresses, which is only worn in certain instances and in certain ceremonies, you just don’t do that to rile up a group of fans. You don’t understand it. I said to somebody the other day, and I don’t know if it’s appropriate or not, but I said, “It would be like if you’re the Bountiful Mormons, and then somebody’s wearing temple clothes out there halftime to get the fans excited, because what the headdress is to a Native American is sacred. It’s as sacred as temple clothing is to a Mormon, a faithful Latter-day Saints. You need to understand the sacredness of the headdress, and if you did, you wouldn’t wear it, and you wouldn’t wear the way you did. There are only certain Native Americans that are actually even permitted to wear it. So the fact that you’re dressing up and painting yourself and going out there and acting like a crazed madman is not okay, on any level.
Darren: So, we just told the principal, we would love to come in and do certain trainings with the students and the staff and everybody else on just what’s appropriate, and what’s not appropriate in Native American culture. We don’t show every ceremony that we perform. There are some things that are so sacred that we don’t show it. We don’t video it and we don’t talk about it. But the headdress is certainly one of those instances. It comes down to being educated and making sure our kids understand. Because I absolutely believe there’s not one student there that did it out of spite, or did it out of a way to jab the Indians in the eye. They just didn’t understand what they were doing. But now you understand and now you understand the culture, then probably your decisions will be a little different. So, we’re thrilled that they are willing to change the mascot. Look, if there was one student there that and there was one Native American girl. She was Navajo that felt offended and she really felt bad every time that Braves issue came about and every time she’d watch an assembly, it was a traumatic for her. If there’s one student that that is happening to, then you better probably take a look at what you’re doing. Revisiting the mascot and changing the name is not a bad thing. It just comes down to learning, learning the culture, learning that what you think is great and okay and fun, may be offensive to another group. So, we just need to be sensitive to that.
GT: Yeah, and, of course, the Washington Redskins are now the Washington Football Team. I understand the Cleveland Indians have announced that they’re going to change. The Cleveland Baseball Team is probably what they’re going to be this year. We’ve still got the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves. Can you comment on those?
Darren: You know, look, I’m not one easily offended personally. But if other tribes are, then I certainly honor them and the way they want to look at it. My answer isn’t necessarily, I’m not speaking for all Native Americans. Because there are some groups that are really hurt by all of those. And if they are, then they absolutely have a right to their opinion and what they should. But those other names, those other things will probably go the way of the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians, I think. Because I think we live in a world today that’s so polarized, for good or bad. I’m not telling you what’s right or wrong here. I’m just saying, the world we live in today is pretty black and white when it comes to this stuff now.
GT: I should also mention the University of Utah Utes. They’ve got they’ve got permission from the Ute tribe, and I don’t know how the Shoshone-Ute connection is there.
What do you think of Darren’s thoughts on sacred clothing?
In our final conversation with author Darren Parry of the Bear River Massacre, we’ll tie up some loose ends and trace his family history back to Chief Sagwitch. We’ll also talk about the first non-English sermon in General Conference.
GT: So Yeager was there for the massacre. Your grandmother Mae heard about the massacre directly from him.
Darren: From him, her grandfather, Yeager.
GT: Her grandfather.
Darren: He lived to be really old. In fact, one thing a lot of people don’t know about Yeager, he was called out of the audience in the 1918, General Conference, and was asked to bear his testimony from the pulpit.
Darren: In conference, and he went up there, and he spoke Shoshone. His Bishop was the translator. The funny thing is, when I met with the Presiding Bishop earlier last year, to talk about the massacre and our Interpretive Center, the Church Historian, was there, Elder Snow.
GT: Steven Snow.
Darren: Yeah. So Steven Snow was there. He said, “I’ll bet you can’t tell me what was the first language spoken from the pulpit, at general conference, other than English?” I said, “I know what it was.” The Presiding Bishop didn’t know, nobody knew. A lot of them thought it was probably a Scandinavian, because a lot of those people join the church. I said, “I know what it was. It was Shoshone.” He said, “You’re right. How did you know?” I said, “Well, it was my great-grandfather that gave the talk, gave his testimony.
Darren: One thing he said in his testimony that I just think is funny–I’ve got a copy of this talk and his testimony, but he said one thing, “The gospel has changed my life in a way that I no longer have a desire to kill the white man.”
Darren: I thought that was awesome. I thought, “I can just see farmer Joe on the first row of the tabernacle being, half asleep, hearing that from the pulpit.” I thought, “That’s awesome. That’s classic.”
What would your reaction have been to hear Darren’s great-grandfather in General Conference?