Sunday, July 5, 2015

"Pioneer" ≠ Pioneer

In order to maintain my Professional Educator License, which needs to be renewed every three years (at least if one has a level one license, as I do), one needs to accrue 100 points' worth of activities which can include teaching at the college level, substitute teaching, teaching at K-12 school, taking classes towards an advanced degree, etc. One of these options includes participating in workshops which may range from a day or two, be weeklong, or meet once or twice a week - either in person or online - for several weeks. I'm taking a weeklong teacher workshop class sponsored by the Latin American Studies Program this week at the University of Utah's Tanner Humanities Center. The workshop, appropriately titled, "Multicultural Education," provides:
an introduction to the changing demographic population of K-12 students and provide participants with models and strategies for effectively teaching minority students that create classroom and school atmospheres that are accepting of diversity. Topics of investigation and discussion will include: the causes of migration and of settlement patterns in the United States; schools as key locations for integration and/or marginalization; challenges and opportunities diverse classrooms pose for students and teachers; culturally appropriate curriculum; deficit vs. asset perspectives on students and communities.
In preparation, I was reading through the two articles that will be central to tomorrow's discussion. The second article ("Closing Educational Achievement Gaps for Latina/o Students in Utah: Initiating a Policy Discourse and Framework") is a bit on the long side, but I came to a mental halt when I read this statement:
Recognizing that the recent and increasing trends toward diversity enrich the lives of every student, we nonetheless recognize and embrace that Utah’s history began with indigenous peoples who were residents of this land for many centuries, and that when the Mormon pioneers arrived in the land that would later become Utah, they were in fact entering Mexico. (Alemán and Rorrer 11)
What I thought was interesting was the use of the word "pioneer" in conjunction with Mormon settlers. I've heard the phrase "Mormon pioneers" previously and it always stuck in my throat, metaphorically speaking, and this evening I realized why: I would disagree that the Mormons were in fact pioneers if there were already "indigenous peoples who were residents of this land for many centuries." I remain unconvinced that they were even among the first to develop a new knowledge of the area; not by a long shot were they the only group: The Spanish explored southern Utah in 1540; European trappers and fur traders explored some areas of Utah in the early 19th century. And, as the authors note, "indigenous peoples who were residents of this land for many centuries." How does that make later populations pioneering?

The Mormons were certainly colonizers - a word with not altogether pleasant implications. Describing Mormon settlers as "pioneers" is at the very least reminiscent of an colonialist mindset, reminiscent that an area or people need to be contained and "civilized."

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