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At least one Native American group views Pioneer Day as a racist symbol of colonialism

Posted at 10:14 PM, Jul 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-25 00:14:36-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Some people in Utah say they disagree with the idea of celebrating Pioneer Day, especially with a parade, because of the way some pioneers treated Native Americans.

This year’s Day of 47 Parade was canceled due to COVID-19.

Gavin Noyes, the executive director of Utah Diné Bikéyah, said he doesn’t mind people celebrating July 24th, but he thinks the holiday should make an effort to be more inclusive.

“Here in Utah, we had one of the bloodiest histories, but we actually rarely acknowledge that,” Noyes said. "We committed massacres against virtually every tribe in our state… They weren’t all committed at the hands of the pioneers, but the pioneers were calling in the federal government to go and massacre tribes.”

Noyes did not offer an alternative name to Pioneer Day, but one of the ideas he’s heard is “Ancestors Day.”

“There’s no doubt that the Church has done some good things in the past,” Noyes said. “The Black Lives Matter movement deserves a lot of credit for raising awareness of white privilege and whiteness… I think the best way to do that would be renaming the holiday.”

“Other states might call it Founders Day,” said Greg James, the executive vice president of Day of 47 Incorporated. “We have no real control over whether the state calls it Pioneer Day.”

James said the annual parade is inclusive and that organizers have always welcomed Native American groups to participate.

“We’d be glad to have a conversation with them. If you have a problem, come talk to us. Let’s see if we can work it out,” James said. “If you’re constantly looking for something that’s wrong, you can always find it. I’m sure that there were bad pioneers. I’m sure there were things done that weren’t probably proper, but I don’t think those are the people we’re celebrating.”

Although the Days of 47 Parade is scheduled to return in 2021, with the pandemic James said thee are no guarantees. Preparations typically begin in January.

“There are basic tenants in the world that people should live by, and we hope that the examples of the pioneers are good ones,” James said. “Probably not all good, but we think principally good.”