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Remembering Our Sites of Genocide

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Our history is all around us and yet most of us don’t know it because there is no way to know it. Especially for much of our problematic history, there aren’t sites of memorialization or recognition. The U.S. actually does a better job of this than most countries, even if much of it is dominated by the parochialism and self-aggrandizement of local historical societies and the like. Still, one reason for the grave series is as a reminder that there are actually sites we can talk about the important people and events of American history, literally standing on top of the mouldering bones of Henry Clay Frick or Melville Fuller or whatever villain we want to discuss.

So I am glad to see memorialization of our forgotten history take place. That’s especially true for Native history, which is so often relegated to a secondary role in our national discussion of race. This is positive:

The chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation is on a mission to make sure hundreds of tribal members who were killed by U.S. troops in the 1863 Bear River Massacre are never forgotten with a new cultural center in southeastern Idaho.

Darren Parry said he developed a deep respect for the site from frequent visits with his grandmother.

“She would say that if you’re here at just the right time in the evening sometimes you can hear the cries of the little ones for their mothers,” he said. “She instilled in me a love for my people.”

Parry and other tribal council members are working with GSBS Architects in Utah to develop the Boa Ogoi (Big River) Cultural Interpretive Center, the Deseret News reported earlier this month.

He hopes the center will teach others about Shoshone history, so they can appreciate it the way he does.

The tribe purchased about 1 square mile (3 square kilometers) of the massacre site for $1.75 million last January, two days before Perry and the Shoshone Nation commemorated the 155th anniversary of the Bear River Massacre. Between 250 and 500 Shoshone men, women and children were killed by Col. Patrick Connor and his federal troops on Jan. 29, 1863.

The site is designed to be minimalistic by being built into the earth.

Michael Gross, a tribal councilman and Parry’s cousin, said incorporating the landscape into the design was key. He thinks it will help to foster education and understand his people’s story.

“Everything they did was based off the land. That’s how they survived. The land was of great importance for a lot of reasons,” Gross said. “The design encapsulates everything we’re about.”

Hopefully the funding is there to make this happen and have good exhibits. But given that Shoshone history is largely totally neglected in the larger American story, even when people are trying to include a few Native stories, that can’t be anything but a step in the right direction.

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