Shoshone leader competes for Utah US House seat

(Photo courtesy of Darren Parry)

Election 2020

Democrat Darren Parry says his message is ‘one of hope and bringing people together’  #NativeVote20

Meghan Sullivan
Indian Country Today

For too long, Native Americans have not had a seat at the table, says Darren Parry, Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation. This November, he is trying to change that.

The former tribal chairman and father of nine is running for election to the U.S. House, vying for an open seat in northern Utah's 1st Congressional District. Parry is running on the Democratic ticket after having defeated Jamie Cheek in a close June primary.

Parry faces Republican Blake Moore and two independents, Taylor Lee and Mikal Smith, in the general election.

It is Parry’s first time running for the position. His main opponent, Moore, a regional businessman, also is new to politics. There isn’t an incumbent in the race — Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, who has held the seat for almost 17 years, is not seeking reelection.

The region is historically GOP-dominated and hasn’t had a Democratic representative for 42 years. Still, the race could be the best shot Democrats have at filling the seat in the coming decade now that a Republican candidate no longer holds an incumbency advantage, said Damon Cann, a political science professor at Utah State University. Congressional District 1 includes Ogden, Logan and Park City. 

Parry, a self-described moderate Democrat, emphasizes that his ideals align with what many residents support: a “Utah Democrat for Utah values,” his slogan reads.

His platform includes commitments to public land protection, supporting LGBTQ+ rights, ensuring humanitarian immigration reform, combating climate change, and expanding voting access. He also is pro-gun and pro-life, according to his website.

Much of Parry’s advocacy centers around environmental issues.

“We need to get away from extractive industries and make better decisions for Mother Earth — making sure we live sustainable lives. Because our people live that way,” he said. “For thousands of years, we took care of the Earth, because she was a provider of our livelihoods. And I think a lot of that has been lost.”

Eighty percent of Utah’s land is public. Parry would work to keep it that way, to provide access “for everyone to enjoy the outdoors.” He also supports measures to combat climate change, such as adopting a carbon tax and investing in energy transitions for rural communities that produce coal and oil.

COVID-19’s negative impact on Indian Country also has created more room for Parry’s campaign to highlight societal inequalities that were worsened by the pandemic. This includes expanding access to healthcare, electricity, education and water.

“It is vitally important that all people of color — not only our people, but all people that are marginalized — have access to healthcare and have access to [meeting] their basic needs,” he said. “We live in 2020, in the greatest country in the world. And there are large segments of our populations in Native Country that still don't have access to clean running water and electricity. And that is not acceptable on any level.”

Parry says he has had a positive campaign experience so far. He grew up in Utah’s 1st District, so he feels he has been well-received by the community he knows so well.

It can be challenging to run as a Democrat in an area with a long history of Republican governance. But Parry hopes voters will be willing to look beyond political labels and explore the issues more deeply.

Helping to fix the nation’s current divisiveness is partly why Parry decided to run for office.

“I’m a bridge builder,” he said. “My message is one of hope and bringing people together.”

Parry added his work as chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation has uniquely prepared him for a role in the U.S. House. Through the position, he has worked with federal lawmakers, governors and county commissioners.

He has also learned how to advocate for tribal communities, even when others “don’t always have your best interest at heart.”

“Tribes are marginalized. And so we’ve had to work harder and longer than anybody else to have a voice,” he said. “There are people that would rather not see tribal sovereignty, but having a seat there and being able to say, ‘We're here, we've always been here, and we're still here, and we're not going away,’ is really vital. It’s important that we can stand up for ourselves.”

In addition to his experience as a tribal leader, Parry authored a book, “The Bear River Massacre; A Shoshone History,” and teaches American Indian History at Utah State University. He serves on several boards including the American Indian Services Board, American West Heritage Center and the Utah State Museum Board.

Parry has been endorsed by Democratic U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblo, and Sean Sherman, an Indigenous cook and author known as the “Sioux Chef.”

Moore, meanwhile, spent time in the U.S. foreign service in Asia and Washington before returning to take a job at the Cicero Group, a management consulting firm. He says his experience makes him uniquely positioned to represent Utah because of his exposure to many areas of the private and public sectors.

Moore has been endorsed by lawmakers including state Sen. Allen Christensen and state Delegate Janis Christensen.

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Meghan Fate Sullivan, Koyukon Athabascan, is a Stanford Rebele Fellow for Indian Country Today. She grew up in Alaska and is currently reporting on her home state from our Anchorage Bureau. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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