A better relationship between Indians and non-Indians could be promoted if a proposed Bear River national monument would not label the historical incident a "battle."

Descendants of Shoshone Indians who survived the Jan. 23, 1863, incident near the Utah-Idaho border believe that referring to the tragic event as a "battle" would be perpetuating a serious historical error.Stories passed on from their ancestors tell a story of the massacre of some 250 Shoshones by Col. Patrick Edward Connor and 100 volunteers. The Indians have passed on a disturbing account of their people - including women and children - being shot with Army muskets while they lay sleeping.

The account found in history books refers to the incident on Bear River 10 miles northwest of Preston, Idaho, as a battle arising from Indian interference with mail and harassment of white settlers.

Because history is not a pure science, it is always subject to error because of difference in perspective. Even modern wars are interpreted and recorded quite differently according to the politics of the writer. Villains can be portrayed as heroes; victims as perpetrators; the guilty as innocent - all depending on what side of the fence an observer sits on.

It would inappropriate for the National Park Service committee considering the proposed Bear River monument to decide the facts of Jan. 23, 1863.

Whether it was a battle or massacre, it would be insensitive to assume one point of view over another.

A monument acknowledging the lives that were lost at Bear River is appropriate. But to refer to the incident as a battle shows unjustified callousness to the descendants of the Shoshone.

While being historically accurate, the monument should seek to promote healing and understanding, not differences.