Navajo is the name that the Spanish have given one of the region's Native American tribes. But the tribe calls itself Dine´ meaning The People. The name bestows a special sense of identity on the tribe. It implies that others are not the People. Interestingly, other American Indian groups also call themselves The People.
A band of Utes mounted on horses raid a Paiute village. The Paiutes, who don't have the horses and weapons that the Utes have, can't put up much of a fight. So the invaders easily grab a number of children and take them off. They'll take the children to New Mexico, where they'll sell them as slaves.
For years, Mormons have called themselves Saints and everyone else Gentiles. In general, Mormons and Gentiles don't at all get along well. When Brigham Young dies, editorials show how differently these two groups view the world. The Mormon Deseret News praises the "Lion of the Lord." But the Gentile Salt Lake Tribune writes that "the most graceful act of his life has been his death."
William Roundy and Daniel Seegmiller, both respected citizens, engage in a quarrel over irrigation water. Each is looking after his own family--his own special group--each wanting to make sure his family gets its fair share. Resentment grows into rage, and Roundy kills Seegmiller. Shortly afterward, he kills himself.
The developers of Highland Park place restrictions on their subdivision. These restrictions prohibit non-"Caucasians" from buying lots, so that Highland Park residents will "forever be assured of desirable neighbors."
A lynch mob in Carbon County murders a black man while several hundred men, women, and children watch. Later, not one person in the community will testify against the murderers. They go free.
Schoolboys taunt a Chinese American girl by pulling their eyes out at the corners and calling her "Chink"--and they beat her up whenever they have an opportunity. The city won't let this girl or any other "non-white" person swim in the public pool at Liberty Park. Movie theaters make "non-whites" sit together upstairs.
Judge Dean Conder rules that, after decades of being for men only, the exclusive Alta Club must admit women as members.
All of the above stories demonstrate it. In one sense, a tribe is "a group of people having a common character, occupation, or interest," according to Webster's.
Is there anyone on earth who is not a member of some kind of group? Humans naturally band together for protection and survival. Even a family can become a small culture, with its own customs and values.
Although groups offer support and a sense of belonging, they can also have divisive and destructive effects.
This process is by no means rare!
Often it happens so subtly that we don't notice it. But whenever one group (whether ethnic, political, religious, national, or other) looks at others and thinks, "You're not one of us, so you must be inferior," mutual respect cannot exist. Constructive relationships cannot flourish. Instead, relationships are marked by indifference, disdain, resentment, fear, hate, or sometimes violence.
And these struggles continue--on many levels. Read the paper. Watch the news. Consider your own special groups. You'll probably see tribalism in action.
Consider the years of World War II, when many Americans hated Japan and all things Japanese.
After Pearl Harbor, the State Department commissioned a report on the loyalty of Japanese Americans. The report found no problems--no disloyalty. Nevertheless, in 1942 the government ordered the relocation of all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast.Forcing Japanese Americans out
U.S. citizens and legal immigrants had to abandon their homes and move to internment camps, like Topaz, a camp near Delta, Utah. But a few managed to relocate on their own terms. Fred Wada was one. Wada, a produce dealer from Oakland, decided to move a group of Japanese Americans to Keetley, Utah. In this town a few miles east of Park City the group would establish a produce farm.Food for Freedom
Wada had no desire to be interned and become a ward of the U.S. government. Instead, he proposed to support the war effort by growing vegetables.
The mayor of Keetley, Jack Fisher, supported and sponsored the move.Tribalism and dynamite
However, when the people of Summit and Wasatch counties found out about the plan, they were alarmed. The Park City Council passed a resolution opposing it, saying "If twenty-five or thirty Japanese families move into this district, in a short period living standards will be lowered...." The resolution urged Governor Herbert Maw to do whatever it took to keep the Japanese from coming. The people of Heber City also complained.
Soon after the Japanese Americans arrived, somebody threw dynamite at a shed on the property. A couple of nights later, another harassing explosion shook the community.
Publicly, Governor Maw expressed concern. Privately, he asked Wada and the others to go back where they came from.Friendship really can happen
But the group stayed put. Over their colony, they flew a flag proclaiming, "Food for Freedom."
Over time, long-time residents got to know the newcomers. Mayor Fisher helped this process, talking to various organizations about Wada's group. The media wrote stories about how hard the Japanese Americans worked to help the war effort.
The newcomers began to play with local children. One local mother asked her son if he liked playing with the "Jap boys." The son replied, "They're not Jap boys. We're all Americans."
Over time, understanding grew, while suspicion and fear dwindled. Two different groups learned to know and appreciate each other. After the war, most of the Japanese left Utah, though a few stayed. The little settlement at Keetley became nothing more than the name of a junction, and now it lies, at least partly, under the water of Jordanelle Reservoir.We can overcome
But what happened there during a time of war and high tensions shows that groups can choose understanding over the all-too-common, all-too-destructive tribal divisions.
Read an interview with Pamela Atkinson about working for unity in Utah.