When I was a boy, the Ute Indians came to Salt Lake City every fall to sell pine nuts on the corner of Main Street and South Temple Street. It was a great time for kids but the Indians made some people nervous, were considered a nuisance by mothers who jerked their kids back from the Indians, and were declared a nuisance by the City and banned from the streets of Salt Lake.
We kids loved those Ute Indians all dressed in tribal garb and selling hot pine nuts to those who could raise the few coins it took to buy them. I never had such coins but I did get hold of some pine cones and tried to cook them in my mother’s oven. I can’t remember if I had success or not but I do remember how sticky the cones were. Anyway, the city banned the fun for the kids, the needed income from the Ute Indians, and any sense of common decency.
I didn’t expect this kind of intolerance and racial prejudiced in Salt Lake until one day my dad took me down under Main Street to the public rest room. There was a black man down there shinning shoes, jabbering away with the men using the facility. I had never seen a black man. But something inside me made me sick. I felt that this man was actually banned from society and was degraded.
I didn’t know then that black people could not stay in the hotel across the street from where the Indians were selling pine nuts. But I was surprised in Junior High School when I brought my good friend, Donald Lopez, home with me. My mother said in my ear, “He is a Mexican!”
I broke out laughing. I said, “Mother, I didn’t think you had a prejudicial bone in your body.” Mother was born in a tent in Silver City, Utah in 1901. She was raised in the mining towns of Utah and Mexicans were looked down on.
My dad was raised on farms and ranches in Utah and Idaho and despised any mistreatment of blacks and Mexicans. This could be considered unusual for a man who was kidnapped by Ute Indians in 1900 when he was only 10 days old. Of course the actual event was not in his memory but the story was. My grandmother even told me about it. The Indians took the child by a simple stratagem. While my grandmother was tending Indians begging at the front door, an Indian lady crawled through the back window and grabbed my father. (Note: Don’t ever call an Indian woman a squaw. It is degrading.)
Now of course by Indian practice, they owned the baby and Dad was part of the tribe. However, he could be purchased for a price. The price was food and blankets provided by the Mormon Church (LDS) Elders. The Indian lady said simply that my mother had plenty of children and she had none. She also said she would make Dad a great chief. That is why I am also not a Ute Indian chief.
When the pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, the Ute Indians were hunter gatherers who were in excellent health. That was destroyed by the American Government when they put them on reservations and fed them food that had little nourishment. A dynamic and energetic people gave up hope and got a reputation for being lazy. That was also applied to blacks, words that can be used to degrade other people.
When I went to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma in 1950, I learned quickly that I was not allowed to sit in the back of the bus because it was reserved for black people. Black soldiers from New York City were being forced to the back of the bus. If they refused, the driver would stop the bus until they complied. On one trip the guys from New York tossed the driver off the bus and drove the bus into Fort Sill. I think that was the real beginning of the civil rights movement. In Lawton, OK, the blacks had their own drinking fountains and rest rooms. I drank were I pleased.
We had all black units at Fort Sill but black units were being phased out of the military. In Korea, we were fully integrated. The black GIs in our unit were capable and heroic men with only one exception.
Our family had a descendant of Geronimo living in our home in California, Now Rosy Sinclair married to a Navajo Indian, so she could attend school. She was from the White River Reservation in Arizona where she still lives. Sadly we had to part when we left California (where she joined a new family named Sinclair). I have talked to her only once by telephone (after I visited the reservation to try to find her) so I have to dig up her number again. That will be my project for this afternoon.
When I was more able financially, I donated to several American Indian charities. Now I’ve decided to focus on the American Indian College Fund. The reason is that this charity actually provides most of the money donated to the education of American Indian youth. The money does not end up in the pockets of charity executives. No matter what charity you give to, check it out first.
Education is the way to bring the standard of living of American Indians up to where it belongs. It inegrates the American Indian into our society. They after all were the first society on this continent.
Brigham Young insisted the Indians be treated fairly. I guess that didn’t pass down to the officials in Salt Lake City when I was a boy.
Let’s all treat others fairly from now on.
Have a blessed new year!
AMERICAN INDIAN COLLEGE FUND
8333 Greenwood Blvd.
Denver, CO 80221
Toll Free: 800.776.3863
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