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Groups and Conflict

American Southwest, 1700s

Navajo is the name that the Spanish have given one of the region's Native American tribes. But the tribe calls itself DineĀ“ meaning The People. The name bestows a special sense of identity on the tribe. It might even imply that others are not the People. Interestingly, other American Indian groups also call themselves The People.

Paiute children

Paiute children near St. George. Photo taken by J.K. Hillers of the Powell Expedition, 1871-1875.

Central Utah, mid-1800s

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.

Salt Lake City, 1877

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." 

Man irrigating

An irrigated garden in Utah. Water was--and is--vitally important in a desert state like Utah.

Kanab, 1899

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.

Salt Lake City, 1919

The developers of Highland Park, in Salt Lake City, 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."

Price, 1925

A lynch mob in Carbon County cruelly 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.

Salt Lake City, 1930

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.

Side door of the Alta Club

Side entrance to the Alta Club, on State Street and South Temple in Salt Lake City. Women visiting the club had to enter through the side door, not the front door. They could not be members of the Alta Club until 1986.

Salt Lake City, 1986

Judge Dean Conder rules that, after decades of being for men only, the exclusive Alta Club must admit women as members.


The word "tribalism" may evoke images of Native American or African tribes, but think again.

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.

Consider how this might happen:

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.

It doesn't have to be that way.

The good news is, throughout history, many groups and individuals have learned to get along, work together, and become friends.

Read about a Ute boy who befriended a settler boy.

Read about how farmers, a mayor, and children helped turn prejudice into understanding.