Darren Parry says he’s learned some ways to help heal a divided America through his decades of trying to build understanding and forgiveness between his Shoshone tribe and the Utahns and Mormons he says are responsible for the Bear River Massacre of his ancestors back in 1863.
“I don’t approach the table and say, ‘I’m angry. You owe me. Promises were made by treaty. You guys owe us,‘” says Parry, 60, former chairman of the tribe’s Northwestern Band and the Democratic nominee in the 1st Congressional District race to replace retiring GOP Rep. Rob Bishop.
Instead, “It’s always, ‘We are grateful for what we received. Here’s where we’re at. What can we do to make things better? How can we take our own responsibility as a Native tribe to make ourselves better,” says Parry, who is a sixth-generation Shoshone-Latter-day Saint himself. “I just choose to forgive and move on. And let’s see what we can do today to make things better.”
That approach won many friends and developed trust in his heavily Republican district, he says, and could help him end the 42-year stretch of the GOP holding that congressional seat. Parry was never a Democrat himself until he ran this year, saying he opted to be an independent instead because he saw good in both parties and voted for candidates he liked in each.
Parry says he jumped into the race because he’s tired of caustic political battles. He hopes to help bring back civility as a bridge builder in a disunited United States.
“The far left and the far right are loud. They’re boisterous. And I don’t believe that represents America,” he says. “I believe there’s a whole bunch of us here in the middle that agree on 80%, 90% of the issues who are quiet and silent.”
It’s time, Parry adds, for that silent majority to speak up, and he hopes to be a voice for it.
“Some of the greatest crimes in the history of our country were not caused by hatred, but by indifference. It’s now time for good people to stand up and make a difference,” he says. “We live in a society today that’s so divided, I just thought we’ve got to stop the hate speech in this country. We’ve got to stop the way we treat people.”
Some of his friends say Parry truly listens without compromising his own beliefs, allowing others to feel secure as they discuss differences.
Rancher Edwin Wilde (brother of Utah Agriculture Commissioner Logan Wilde) was once a co-teacher with Parry of an adult Latter-day Saint Sunday school class in Layton, where he says Parry was not shy to give the Shoshone view of Utah history and how Mormon use of what had been tribal lands led to starvation and an Army massacre after Shoshones stole to survive.
“He didn’t try to force it on them and say, ‘This is the way it was.’ It was more like, ‘This is our side of the story,’” Wilde says. “He would honor the other side of the story, too, so everyone could feel like they could have their say. Everyone felt like they were heard and understood.”
Wilde and Parry kept in touch as they moved through the years. Later, Wilde became disaffected by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and says it led to a difficult time, but he found Parry to be understanding and not judgmental.
“Despite my different views, I’ve been able to have religious conversations with Darren and never once have I felt that he’s been gun-shy about considering my views and thoughts,” Wilde says, “even if they conflict with his own.”
Bear River Massacre
University of Utah history professor W. Paul Reeve tells how he would take groups of K-12 teachers learning about Western history to visit the Bear River Massacre site and listen to Parry (who wrote a book about the carnage) and to a similar lecture that he gave to others.
“It was one of the most healing presentations I’ve ever heard,” Reeve says. “There’s nothing resentful or vindictive; in fact, the exact opposite. Darren is very much a peace builder and someone who is capable of looking at problems from a variety of perspectives and is not defensive.”
Reeve says he has been impressed as Parry helped the tribe buy the 550-acre massacre site — just over the Idaho border in Preston — and was hired by the tribe to lead ongoing efforts to raise money to build an interpretive center there.
“He has done it in a way that has drawn in religious leaders, community leaders, state leaders, national leaders in a variety of ways,” he says. “He is able to bring people together and recognize the common good in all humanity.
Parry says that has been a highlight of his life, helping to protect what he sees as sacred ground where hundreds of Shoshones, including women and children, were killed in an Army raid. (Parry is also the third great-grandson of Chief Sagwitch, who survived the attack and 10 years later became a Latter-day Saint along with most of his tribe.)
“None of the people were buried. And so those bones are just beneath the surface,” Parry says. “That is sacred land to us.”
Parry was raised in Syracuse in Davis County, lived for a time in the Uinta Basin, where his father was a teacher, and now resides in Cache County. He graduated from Weber State University and was chairman of his tribe. He stepped down to run for office but remains on the tribal council.
He says his grandmother taught him “the old ways, taught me how we learn history through oral history.” He adds that his tribe’s past has shaped his views of the present.
It helped, for example, make immigration a top issue for him.
“I’m not a wall builder,” Parry says, noting most other Utahns would not live here if his ancestors would have held that view.
“We need to be more inclusive. We need to quit locking children up in cages and separating them from their families,” he says. “I believe those brought here as children should have a path to citizenship.”
Protecting public lands is also a Parry priority, and he opposes turning over federal lands to the state.
“If they were given to the state of Utah, they’d be sold to the highest bidder, which means gas and oil and industries that we need absolutely to be moving away from,” he says. “I don’t want to see an oil well outside of Moab or outside of Zion National Park.”
His stands on Bears Ears National Monument — and President Donald Trump’s reduction of it — have been controversial because he wrote a letter opposing its creation while other Utah tribes supported it. He says now that he opposed how it was created — under executive order by President Barack Obama without what he argues was sufficient hearing of all parties.
However, he says, “I was totally against the shrinking of the size” by Trump.
“The first thing I would do in Congress is to help return it back to its normal size,” says Parry, adding that he might even advocate giving it to the tribes “who have sacred spots there.”
Learning from mistakes
Parry says he has learned much in his 60 years, often from mistakes, that would help him as a leader — but acknowledges some troubles in his past that he says made him hesitate to run because he was not eager to have them aired publicly.
For example, a background check that The Salt Lake Tribune conducts on major candidates showed that Parry had a legal action filed against him four times between 2000 and 2007 by the Utah Office of Recovery Services for child support (he has had two divorces, is in a third marriage, and has seven children).
He says it resulted from a misunderstanding because he was paying child support directly into a bank account of his ex-wife, not knowing she had set up a procedure in which he was supposed to make payments instead through the Office of Recovery Services.
Parry says he didn’t know about that “until I got a summons to court and the judge said, ‘Tell me why I shouldn’t throw you in jail for being $70,000 in arrears. And I’m going, what…? My wife actually had to write a letter to ORS saying he’s been paying, but there was a misunderstanding.”
Parry says, “I wish I had lived a perfect life,” but adds he has learned a lot through adversity. “I’m a better leader today because of some of the hard things I’ve gone through” — better than he would have been at age 40.
He faces a 40-year-old in the Nov. 3 general election, Republican nominee Blake Moore.