Pioneer Day and the Logic of Genocide


This logic holds that indigenous peoples must disappear. In fact, they must always be disappearing, in order to allow non-indigenous peoples rightful claim over this land. Through this logic of genocide, non-Natives peoples then become the rightful inheritors of all that was indigenous — land, resources, indigenous spirituality, or culture. — Andrea Smith, "Heteropatriarcy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy," The Color of Violence (South End Press, 2005)

Today is Pioneer Day here in Utah. Throughout this mostly White state, Utahns will be celebrating its colonization with rodeos and fireworks. Today could just as easily be called Genocide Day. The logic of genocide is just as much a part of what is being celebrated today as anything else.

In a lot of ways, Smith's wonderful summary of the logic of genocide succinctly describes what Pioneer Day is really all about. A celebration of Mormon pioneers as "the rightful inheritors of all that was indigenous."

For instance, Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon is scripture based on indigenous peoples, including a new testament of Jesus Christ who they say appeared before the Native Americans after the Crucifixion. So not only are Mormons colonizers of indigenous land and resources, but also of a presumed indigenous spirituality. Smith quotes Rayna Green:

The living performance of "playing Indian" by non-Indian peoples depends upon the physical and psychological removal, even the death, of real Indians. In that sense, the performance, purportedly often done out of a stated and implicit love of Indians, is really the obverse of another well known cultural phenomenon, "Indian hating," as most often expresses in another deadly performance genre called "genocide."

Even though Mormons claim their religion is based on indigenous scriptures, this never prevented them participating in genocide. If anything, it contributed to the genocide. The Mormon pioneers thought of themselves as the rightful inheritors of indigenous spirituality and land "in order to perform a narrative of manifest destiny in which [the Indians'] role, ultimately, was to disappear," as Ella Shoat and Robert Stam note. Smith writes:

The pillar of genocide serves as the anchor for colonialism – it is what allows non-Native peoples to feel they can rightfully own indigenous peoples' land. It is okay to take from indigenous peoples, because indigenous peoples have disappeared.

The picture above is of a mural at the U.S. Post Office in Preston, Idaho. It is a colonizer's racist glorification of the Bear River Massacre (titled the "The Battle of Bear River"). The Bear River Massacre was one of the largest single acts of genocide in the U.S. On Jan. 29, 1863, almost 500 Northwestern Shoshone men, women and children were killed by federal troops at the north end of the Cache Valley.