Why Write About Indigenous People?
“Paha Sapa1 and its spirits and its mysteries, its vast pine forests, and its billion dollars in gold pass forever from the hands of the Indians into the domain of the United States.”
—Dee Brown · Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
The Black Hills Thomas Fields · Unsplash
Now that Indigenous People are starting to be recognized in mainstream US culture—from the Supreme Court ruling parts of Oklahoma back to Indigenous control, to the efforts to teach Indigenous languages in schools—why write about Indigenous People when things are moving in the right direction?
I’m an independent researcher — without a PhD — and I haven’t been writing on this topic for long. So why now?
I first had the idea to write about my take on Thanksgiving in 2016. I was struck by both the holiday and the length of time it took me to realize how strong my feelings were against it. I hadn’t been celebrating the holiday for years, though I hadn’t articulated my reasons for not celebrating it, or done any reading on the what happened to Indigenous People. I’ve known catastrophic violence was committed against the Indigenous population since I was a teenager, but the potency of that violence was muted from only being exposed to watered down history sources.
We all know catastrophic violence has been inflicted against Indigenous People in the Americas, without knowing the details of what happened, because they’re not apart of our primary [grades 1-12] education system. We’re not taught the right information.
This inadequate knowing-without-knowing-enough crops up in media from time to time. An example that comes to mind now is in an episode of Rick and Morty, where Morty’s alien son runs down the street shouting: “God is dead, the government’s lame, Thanksgiving is about killing Indians,” among other statements of frazzled-supposed enlightenment.
The stories of “Indians” scalping settlers, and being called “savages” in return, came from lying, bigoted minds. It sounds cliché to say it, the words strike me as being unserviceable as I write them, but that's what they were. Scalping was a European practice that was introduced to Indigenous by settlers.
Here I’ll make claims.
There are two factors preventing widespread recognition of the Indigenous Holocaust. The first is that we’ve been conditioned away from critically thinking through the cliché of knowing-without-knowing enough to know the history.
This is the result of conditioning from our government who has not acknowledged that genocide took place, and avoids implementing systematic formal teaching of it in our schools. The other factor is time.
The Armenian and Jewish Holocausts are documented and provable facts acknowledged by most countries—Turkey denies the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against the Armenians.
But time factors into our regard of the Indigenous Holocaust differently than it does with the Armenian and Jewish Holocausts—not only due to that the initial and prolonged action of slaughtering people took place five-to-one century ago—but also because 20th Century iterations of the genocide were muted by the promotion of agencies such as the Family Planning Act, and Native American Reservations—which relabeled genocide so that it could be seen as part of social services. The United States has had time to cover up its crimes and shape its relationship with Indigenous People.
Without education on the history of the United States, it's not possible to understand what happened. Forget about qualifying words like “real”: history happened—fiction was created.
Knowing about the crime is doing something about it—it’s laying the foundation of knowledge of what took place. The major immediate benefit this aim could achieve is the de-alienation of Indigenous People from American society. I'm not making a comment on whether or not Indigenous People are interested in fully integrated into US society, but that they were alienated from it by being pushed to the lowest level of the poverty line.
I’m of the mind that if enough people know about the obstacle—having a command of what there is to know about it—inaction has already crossed the tipping point into action to remove the obstacle.
So why now, with no formal training in the discipline would I start studying and writing about Indigenous People?
As Dr Martin Luther King, Jr said:
“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.”
With the apology to Indigenous People found in section 8113 of H.R. 3326 [page 45], the United States continues to be a country which aims to mythologize its past.
There has never been US acknowledgment that genocide was committed by the settlers against the Indigenous population.
As per the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention, the crime can be inflicted five ways:
a. Killing members of the group;
b. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical
destruction in whole or in part;
d. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
It's important to recognize that the a., b., c., and e. points of genocide were committed for the first four centuries it took place—while points b., c., d. and e. [mainly] were committed throughout the 20th Century—that is to say that the slaughter of people principally occurred during the first 400 years the crime was committed—and in the last century, mostly psychological and other physical aspects of committing genocide occurred—such as a campaign to force female sterilization among Indigenous women without their knowledge embedded within the Family Planning Act—spearheaded by George Bush, Sr in the early 1970s.
Some scholars have advocated for the goal that if the genocide against Indigenous in the Americas becomes common knowledge, genocide against Indigenous people would never again be committed here.
Genocide not happening in the United States again is initial transition. It doesn’t heal. It has to be more than common knowledge, and condemned harder than not happening again to improve the state of Indigenous People. We need to see positive action against genocide, with appropriate reparations made to Indigenous People. Education is one action against it. Education is key. But it is a means, not an end. Beginning starts with a formal public apology from the United States admitting in full disclosure the crime committed against Indigenous People living and past, by its name: genocide.