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Native American At Transcontinental Railroad
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Spike 150 Celebrations Honor Native American Culture and Legacy

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – As Utah and the nation celebrate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, Native Americans hope we also remember and honor an often forgotten legacy of progress.

“It came at a devastating cost to Native American communities,” said Darren Parry, the chairman of the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation. “My role is to make sure that story is not lost.”

Parry is a member of the Spike 150 committee.

“As we celebrate the Transcontinental Railroad, what a wonderful time for all groups to come together,” said Parry. “It wasn’t a pleasant experience for the Native Americans or the Chinese or the Irish. But what this whole celebration has done is it has given us a voice.”

His goal is to make sure people learn more about that often overlooked perspective.

Rios Pacheco (Photo - Deseret News)

Rios Pacheco (Photo – Deseret News)

“Everyone has a story worthy of being told. Everyone,” continued Parry. “Ask yourself: is there another side to this story? Because then real learning takes place.”

The marvel of cross-continent transportation dramatically altered the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the Native American tribes.

The railroads displaced many tribes, including the Sioux, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Shoshone and Paiute.

As settlers followed, natural resources were permanently altered. Hunters killed the bison nearly to extinction.

“We used every part of the animal for food, clothing or shelter,” said Parry. “When the buffalo were completely gone, it really signed the end of the Native American resistance.”

That’s reflected in an art exhibit at the Rio Grande Depot in Salt Lake City about the impact of the Transcontinental Railroad. Thirty artists were commissioned to provide pieces for “Transcontinental: People, Place, Impact” on display through June 14.

“Our spiritual leader, Rios Pacheco, has done a piece that’s here,” said Parry.

Pacheco used a white deer hide as a backdrop to his depiction of how the railroad changed the traditional way of life for his people.

“It tells a story,” said Parry. “The railroad cutting through the heart of that really speaks volumes for what it did. It cut through the heart of indigenous tribal lands.”

“I’m grateful that the Governor and those involved with the Spike 150 [celebration] have given the Native Americans a platform,” said Parry. “The fact that they’d be willing to talk about sometimes difficult issues is wonderful.”

“As we celebrate the greatest accomplishment in the history of our country, it’s awesome, and what it did to transform the West, really,” said Parry. “Let’s take a moment and reflect on what it did do to a community that was already here. And then let’s go celebrate again.”

Pacheco will also have a role in Friday’s festivities at Promontory Summit.

“To be able to have a tribal elder, a spiritual leader, give a blessing to start the festivities is a wonderful way to start the whole thing,” said Parry. “That brings happiness to my heart.”

Parry said a teepee village and a drum group will also be part of the festivities.

“We’re going to just celebrate and let people see what a teepee looks like inside, hear our elders playing songs that have meaning – spiritual meaning and social meanings – so we just want to share the way we live,” said Parry.

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