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Truth, Repair & Reconciliation: What We’ve Learned

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General Assembly 2009 Event 5023

Sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Staff. Speakers: Forrest Cuch, Rev. David Pettee, and Dr. Ted Fetter.

The 2007 General Assembly (GA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) passed the Truth, Repair & Reconciliation Resolution. That resolution calls on Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations to research UU histories to uncover links with racial, ethnic, and cultural oppression. In this workshop, Cuch, Pettee and Fetter reported on the research they have conducted into the events leading up to the Meeker Massacre of 1879.

Forrest Cuch is the Executive Director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs and a member of the Ute Indian Tribe. He told the participants about the life of the Ute Indians prior to the arrival of European settlers.

For thousands of years, the Ute homeland extended over the mountains of western Colorado and most of Utah. The Ute acquired horses earlier than most Native-Americans and became excellent horsemen, hunters, and fishers. Their secret weapon was an especially powerful bow, and, under their charismatic leader, Antonga Black Hawk, they almost succeeded in pushing the Mormons out of Utah.

Dr. Ted Fetter described the early involvement of the American Unitarian Association (AUA). Under President Grant's peace policy, twenty church denominations were asked to assign religious professionals to be Federal Indian Agents. The AUA was asked to assign agents for the Utes and, over a period of 7 or 8 years, four AUA ministers were assigned. According to Dr. Fetter, they were men of good will and often complained to the Federal government about white incursions into Ute land but they were largely ineffective.

In 1878, Nathan Meeker was assigned to be the Federal Indian Agent. He was not a Unitarian, but he had the support of the powerful newspaper editor, Horace Greeley.

Meeker had a utopian vision of turning the Ute Indians from hunters into peaceful farmers. According to Cuch, the Ute tolerated Meeker but ignored him.

Meeker persevered and eventually succeeded in plowing some tens of acres (out of a total of 12 million acres). At this point, all would have been well if he had not decided to plow the Ute horse-race track. That decision cost him his life.

A quarrel broke out; the quarrel led to shouting, pushing, and perhaps fists. Meeker claimed he had been assaulted and sent for help.

In response, the Federal government sent 190 soldiers under the command of Major Thomas T. Thornburgh to restore order. There had been an agreement that the troops would not come onto Ute land until talks were held on the border, but there was a miscommunication and the soldiers continued into Ute land. According to the history books "shots rang out," there was a fight, the soldiers were surrounded for 3 days, and eventually Thornburgh was killed. Twenty Utes then went to the agency offices and massacred Meeker.

As a result, Congress passed an act to remove the Utes from the 12 million acres that had been guaranteed to them in perpetuity. Chief Ouray of the Uncompahgre Utes had tried to mediate and keep the peace, but his people were also forced to leave and Chief Ouray's heart was broken. He had negotiated the 12-million acres for the Ute and had tried to cooperate with the Federal government.

It is easy to blame the government, but democratic government actions usually reflect public sentiment, and the white public wanted that land. A U.S. Cavalry officer of the time wrote that as his soldiers pushed the Ute out, the whites followed close behind, and within 3 days these rich lands were occupied.

During the closing remarks, Forrest Cuch discussed the importance of learning history. Most of us don't understand the profound effects of oppression so we don't understand terrorists. If we understood that history, we wouldn't interfere in other cultures, because oppressed people will fight to the end. Apparently, we have not learned from our own history.

Reported by Mike McNaughton; edited by Bill Lewis.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Tuesday, August 23, 2011.

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