27 July, 2021
Deecolonized Un-Tour: “O My Father”
“O my Father, thou that dwellest In the high and glorious place: When shall I regain thy presence, And again behold thy face?”
-Eliza R. Snow
As a young, light skinned formerly houseless poverty skola and journalist with Poor Magazine, this place was a new sight. Not this town, with it’s empty sidewalks and quiet 1950's houses that felt like they had eyes focused on your back. What was a new sight for me was the poem and plaque that made a point to honor the poem of a woman who’s class and social status was low, which led to many deeming her as useless, yet showing that she created a work of art that was immortalized as among The Most Beloved of Mormon Hymns.
I believe the message behind this if any is that no matter what status or position you are in you have the potential to create something beautiful. Now here is my question. Does that apply to the Ute, Dine, Paiute, Goshute, and Shoshone people who were forcibly removed from their land in order to allow for Salt Lake City to become the home of the Salt Lake Temple, the Headquarters of the Morman Faith?
It doesn’t. It never has, because the voices, stories, art and songs of native people all over Stolen Turtle Island have never mattered, and the only thing that remains in the stolen and hoarded spaces and places are these bronze plaques, honoring the colonizers who created works of at such as “O My Father”, on land that was never theirs. That is the purpose of this Western Turtle Island Un-Tour, where me along with my family from Poor Magazine and Deecolonize Academy are doing we-search (that’s poor people led re-search) on the colonization and genocide that has happened in Utah and Colorado.
For 12,000 years before settlers moved into Utah, there were people living there. The Native people of Utah, which were many, as Utah is a big area, stewarded the land long before colonizers claimed it as there’s. Most of that changed, however, when the Mormons “settled” into Utah in 1847, beginning in Salt Lake Valley, and then moving up and down Utah, effectively cutting off Ute trade routes and displacing them from their land. The Black Hawk and Walker War were the Ute people raiding their own land that was stolen from them by the Mormons, for the sole purpose of avoiding starvation.
Knowing this, I think back to the Capitol Hill Neighborhood we visited that featured the oxidized copper plaque of Eliza R. Snow and many other women and prominent Mormon figures. I didn’t see a plaque showing the absolute forced removal of the indigenous people of Utah by the Mormons. When I read that plaque honoring Eliza for her poem, I wondered how much art created by native people was destroyed, how many voices were permanently silenced. I can’t help but feel sick looking at the bright flowers and freshly cut grass, blue skies and calm, well paved streets, knowing that all of it was built on lies and death.