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Spiritual leaders from several American Indian tribes will gather this summer at Mountain Meadows with the aim of healing the rift among those at odds over a massacre thought to have been orchestrated by Mormon pioneers in 1857.
Paiute Indians were once blamed for the slaughter of members of a group of Arkansas settlers heading west, which took place near what is now the southern Utah town of Enterprise.
"It's like a big open wound and it will be closed," said Larry Williams, a Cherokee spiritual leader, who will take part in the five-day healing ceremony for the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Organizers say they will also invite leaders of the Mormon church to take part in the ceremonies.
Dale Bills, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he couldn't comment on plans to attend because his office wasn't aware of any offers presented to church members.
"We'd love to hear about it, but we're not aware of the opportunity," he said.
The event will begin Sept. 7 at the site where more than 120 settlers from the group known as the Fancher train were slaughtered. Though many reputable historians believe Mormons committed the killings, some also believe Paiutes took part in the massacre Sept. 11, 1857.
Raine Bowen, one of the event's organizers, said the Utah State Parks and Recreation Department has granted a permit so they may hold American Indian ceremonies at the site. To date, no Cherokee ceremonies have taken place there even though some of the victims descended from Cherokees, Bowen said. Forensic analysis of remains accidentally unearthed at the massacre site in 1999 revealed that some of the slaughtered emigrants had distinct American Indian characteristics, attributed to the Cherokees.
"We're looking to bring a blessing for the dead and to settle their energies," said Bowen, who is a Cherokee.
Bowen said anyone is welcome to attend, to offer prayers, to write letters and express remorse for what happened in the past, or to offer tobacco, which is considered a way to communicate between the spiritual world and humans.
"We want them to do whatever is necessary for healing," she said. "Even if you can't be there in body, be there in spirit."
Some spiritual leaders will hold all-night ceremonies, while others will open the day with prayers, Bowen said. No cameras or recording devices will be admitted since the ceremonies are sacred, she said.
"It's no political statement and we request that people come down with a good heart to bring about the healing," Bowen said.
Bob Taylor, Sr., a Northern Ute who serves as one of three spiritual advisers to American Indians in Salt Lake Valley, will attend. And Bowen said organizers are also contacting other spiritual leaders, including some from the Goshute and Paiute tribes.
In 1999, LDS Church representatives participated in activities during a monument dedication that honored the victims, and it sponsored a graveside dedication Sept. 11, 1999. But Bowen said it's important that American Indians orchestrate their own ceremonies on the site to bring peace to their ancestors' spirits.
Organizers aren't seeking to place blame on anyone, she said, but want to get past the bad feelings that the massacre continues to evoke. It will also serve to get past a similar tragedy, she said.
"We're looking at it as doing the healing not only for Mountain Meadows but for others dealing with Sept. 11, 2001," she said. "Until we can remove the cloud of guilt and shame of this, there can be no healing."