What’s in a name? Dispelling the controversy about the Meeker Pageant

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MEEKER I An unfortunate controversy has arisen concerning the title of the annual historical pageant in which allegations have been made based on inaccurate information. This needs to be clarified and put to rest. This controversy is based on the fact that the previously unofficially publicized name of the annual historical pageant was changed and publicized in 2011 as the “Meeker Pageant” by the Range Call committee. In previous years it was advertised as the “Meeker Massacre Pageant.”This change has actually been under consideration for several years, was implemented after careful consideration by the pageant director and committee and was endorsed by the Range Call committee, based upon a number of factors presented in this article. Laurie Zellers, a respected and highly experienced Meeker performing arts director, agreed to serve as the 2011 pageant director which literally saved the production from being canceled for lack of a qualified and experienced director. The pageant was very well attended and in reports from many observers, lauded for being one of the best performances yet presented.  At the June 4 Oldtimer’s Reunion, a Meeker resident solicited signatures for a petition directed to the Range Call and pageant committees advocating that the title of the pageant be restored to “The Meeker Massacre Pageant.” Even if the request had been approved, it would have been impossible to implement, as the Range Call promotional materials had already been released for publication and distribution for the 2011 event. It is reported that approximately 120 signatures were obtained. The petitioner then wrote a letter to the editor to further advocate that position. The letter was published in the Aug. 4, 2011, issue of the Herald Times.While it is certainly the petitioner’s right to express an opinion, there are some allegations made in the letter and in previous documents and statements made by the petitioner, attempting to justify those viewpoints which (in the opinion of the pageant director and committee members) are inaccurate and fail to objectively address the rationale for such changes. Moreover, the petitioner asserts that the director and pageant committee “have no right to make such changes without the ‘consensus’ approval of the Meeker community” and implies that the approximately 120 signatures obtained on their petition constitutes such a consensus. The Meeker community has a population approaching 3,000. The petitioner’s alleged “consensus” represents less than 4 percent of that population. Consequently, it is felt that this does not constitute a mandate for the actions advocated by the petitioner. Some of the individuals who signed the petition have indicated that they were not initially made aware of newer mitigating information presented in this article and very likely would not have signed the petition if they had been more completely and impartially informed. In the Aug. 4 letter to the editor, the petitioner asserts that the “people who objected to history as being untrue are trying to change the history of this community because it offends someone.” Unfortunately, this also is an inaccurate assertion not supported by fact. The narrative in the pageant script has not been changed (since the last revision by Margaret King, nearly 40 years ago) in terms of factual content and is based on the best research available to scholars of history to depict actual events of that time. As new information is discovered and verified, changes may be made to more accurately reflect such updated information in the script, as has routinely been done since the script was first created in 1938.The petitioner apparently opposes changing the unofficial, previously publicized event title of the “Meeker Massacre Pageant” to the “Meeker Pageant,” and evidently associates that change with “trying to change the history of this community.” However, the change from the previous unofficial production title does not affect the original narrative or the accuracy of the historical reenactment. The deaths of Nathan Meeker and nine White River Agency employees, as well as 13 soldiers and 20 Utes (in the Milk Creek Battle) were tragic, and those events continue to be accurately depicted in the pageant narration and reenactment. It is the position of the Meeker pageant director and committee that the previously used, informal title “Meeker Massacre Pageant” is inconsistent with the overall scope of historical events depicted in the pageant production. The depiction of the Ute attack on the White River Agency and the Battle of Milk Creek constitutes only a short segment near the conclusion of the approximately 90-minute pageant presentation. The primary portion of the pageant includes a variety of scenarios about significant colorful characters and events which began nearly 1,000 years ago and evolved up through the 18th and 19th centuries to the time when the Ute Tribe was banished (from Colorado to Ft. Duchesne, Utah) by Congressional act. Certainly the 1879 conflict was a significant and pivotal event in the long history of the Ute Tribe and of the White River valley but it is not the exclusive or predominant focus of the historical reenactment production. Consequently, the long-standing and actual official title of the script “The Twilight of the Ute Empire” was emphasized along with “The Meeker Pageant” in the 2011 (and in future) promotional materials and publicity. The term “massacre”is considered inflammatory, sensational, inaccurate and thus inappropriate by renowned western history and Native American scholars and authors when associated with the actual facts of the 1879 conflict. They more accurately and commonly refer to the event as “One of the last major Native American uprisings of North America.” An accepted dictionary definition (Wikipedia) of the term “massacre” includes:1. The unnecessary, indiscriminate killing of a large number of human beings or animals, as in barbarous warfare or persecution or for revenge or plunder. 2. a general slaughter, as of persons or animals: the massacre of millions during the war. 3. to kill unnecessarily and indiscriminately, especially a large number of persons. 4. Informal: to defeat decisively, especially in sports http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_events_named_massacres) Although the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 is listed by Wikipedia as a “massacre,” the White River uprising of 1879 is not included. The pageant director and committee very much agree with the petitioner who asserted, “We do not want to change our history or protect our children from knowing about it. After all it was not the Indians who were at fault that this conflict started. To put it correctly, it was the fault of Nathan C. Meeker, a white man. However, if we do not teach our children where their own forbears went wrong, how do you keep this kind of thing from happening again in the future?”It is the intent of the pageant director and committee to continue to provide the most balanced, factual and accurate reenactment of the events of 1879 (and all depictions portrayed in the pageant). These efforts continue to provide appropriate education for children and adults as to what actually occurred so long ago.   Since 2007, Meeker residents and Ute Tribe members have worked diligently to develop cultural exchange opportunities for better understanding and appreciation of the rich history of both 19th century cultures in the White River valley. A concern expressed by Ute historians and cultural experts was the inflammatory title of the annual historical pageant and the manner in which the Utes were portrayed, considering the actual historical facts of the tragedy. It is anticipated that some involvement by members of the Ute tribe might be possible in future events. It is hoped that perhaps the petitioner, those who signed the petition and the Meeker community in general may gain a more accurate perspective, appreciation and understanding of the direction taken by the pageant director and committee, with the endorsement of the Range Call committee. In so doing, perhaps they may be persuaded as to the good intentions and ultimate positive outcome that may follow this process of change. Most of all, the ultimate goal should be an honest, unbiased and accurate portrayal of history, something that the people of Meeker and the White River Utes can agree is fair and objective, to help rebuild and share cultural bridges and to convey that legacy to future generations. To be continued in the future with … “the rest of the story.”