Shoshone historian Darren Parry on remembering correct history and celebrating Thanksgiving
The Deseret News interviewed Parry to learn how the American public can celebrate Thanksgiving while also being respectful to and cognizant of Indigenous tribes
When the Deseret News asked Darren Parry how Americans could celebrate Thanksgiving while also respecting Indigenous tribes, he immediately said, “I love Thanksgiving.”
He added, “I love getting together with family and sharing a meal. I love offering a meal. Those principles are deeply ingrained in Native American culture.”
Parry is the grandson of Mae Timbimboo, a tribal historian from the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation. He is the former chairman of the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation and a historian. Parry is also a sixth-generation member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Deseret News interviewed Parry to learn how the American public can celebrate Thanksgiving while also being respectful to and cognizant of Indigenous tribes.
What Thanksgiving means to Darren Parry
Parry told the Deseret News that Thanksgiving reminds him of his grandmother. “Sharing a meal was a big deal — she always had a pot of stew at home,” he said. “She taught me to never let anyone leave your home without feeding them. If they were on the brink of starvation, you make sure they left with a full stomach.”
Reflecting on the first Thanksgiving meal in 1621, Parry added, “That’s what the Native American people did. Them sharing a meal with people was something they always did.”
Thanksgiving commemorates a 1621 harvest feast between the Wampanoag people and British colonists. The Washington Post reported that celebrations of Thanksgiving began in 1789, for only one year, and then Abraham Lincoln set it as the official holiday in 1863. While the holiday celebrates a harvest feast, relationships between Indigenous tribes and British colonialists became increasing complex.
According to the Deseret News, “By 1691, some estimate the population of Indigenous peoples had declined by 90%.” This was caused by some diseases that British colonialists brought with them and ensuing conflicts and warfare.
During the Thanksgiving season, Parry said, many people approach him about how to be respectful while commemorating the holiday. “We need to be humble,” he said. “What the story needs to be is what we can do together to remember what happened.”
When a local elementary school teacher approached him, he told her, “Why don’t you talk about the Shoshone people who are here? Why not talk about what the Shoshone people eat?”
He also recounted what he called a “Shoshone and Brigham Young Thanksgiving moment.”
“The Shoshone welcomed Brigham Young and the saints on their arrival,” he said. “They showed them what plants they could eat, they really helped them in converting water and finding food.”
Parry acknowledged that the history later became more complicated, but that it’s also important to highlight the local tribes and show how helpful they were.
Significance of Thanksgiving food
Every Thanksgiving, Parry highlights his tribe through a Shoshone meal. He told the Deseret News that this Thanksgiving, he and his grandchildren will make pemmican together. He gave instructions on how to make it: “Mix up dried choke cherries, pine nuts and deer jerky on a grinding stone. Smash these three ingredients up and make cookies. They are really good and really good for you.”
Parry said that learning about what local tribes would have eaten at the time is one first step that someone can take to better understand Indigenous tribal histories.
Deseret News asked Parry what else he eats at Thanksgiving. “Loaded yams,” he replied. “I don’t care if people bring nothing else, desserts all day. That sums up the whole meal, it includes it all.”
Parry said that yams were frequently eaten by Indigenous tribes and that he loves putting brown sugar and marshmallows on them — that’s his favorite Thanksgiving food.
Learning more about Indigenous tribes
Parry said that one of the most important things to remember is that Indigenous people and tribes aren’t a monolith.
“We’ve always been portrayed as boiled down to one group of people, but there are hundreds of tribes,” he said. “Six hundred individual tribes, 600 ways of doing things, 600 distinct cultures, each tribe has a vibrant culture.”
Parry added, “For Utah, we have eight Indigenous tribes. The best thing to do to learn more is to google ‘Native Americans and Thanksgiving’ and also find what tribes are in your state or area.”
Parry also recommended that Utahns look at the Utah Division of Indian Affairs website to begin learning more. “Find out who the cultural resource specialists are and who the tribal resource person is. They would be more than happy to speak with you — they want people to know the accurate history.”
For Parry, the history behind Thanksgiving as well as the meaning of the holiday is important.
“Even before religion was important to me, my grandmother taught me to give thanks and to pray,” he said.
“My heritage and religion have taught me the importance of gratitude. As a sixth generation saint, from an early age in church, we give thanks. The church has always taught me how to give thanks.”