Thursday, January 10, 2008

Yes, It was Genocide

Via, Sadly, No! we read about Eunice Wong's visit to the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, where she learns that playing down the genocide of Natives is all the rage. Having visited the museum I can attest to the truth of her impression, which is that the general extermination of the peoples who lived here before the European explorers/invaders arrived does not get the billing it probably should. That being said, I can tell you that there are many, many Natives who don't have a problem with this (at least not among the thousands who were there to participate in the festivities that accompanied the opening of the museum, which is when I was there.) Walking into a museum that focused more on extermination would be more like walking into the "Smithsonian Museum of Your Hundreds of Years of Defeat and Cultural Annihilation" which, frankly, isn't going to attract a lot of people descended from either the conquerers or the conquered. The museum serves to educate, but it also serves as an affirmation of the indigenous way of life both past and present. I think it succeeds remarkably well in that goal.

Unfortunately reading the bulk of the post over at Sadly, No! reminds a reader that there are many, many on the far-right these days who think-as many of their ancestors did-that the near extermination and enslaving of Native peoples was entirely legitimate behavior on the part of the European conquerers. I'm not exaggerating; read the posts Mencken links to. But I just can't carry Wong's story about the Smithsonian and all the right-wing pro-genocide posts as far as Mencken does and conclude that what we need is a "shitload of national guilt." I think if you asked the average man on the street what he though of the conquest of America, he'd tell you that the Natives generally got screwed and that it was wrong. It's wackos on the right, for whom America can do no wrong past, present or future and to whom appreciation of other cultures is an alien concept, who skew the message, and trust me, they would only react with further resentment and racist-motivated outrage. Now I do think that many Americans are extremely ignorant about modern Natives (being a Native really isn't a free ride to college, I promise) but the remedy for that is education about the present, not rubbing the past in their face. I'm definitely not someone who's into letting the present generation off the hook for the sins of the past (at least not until the Sioux and other tribes get both the land and the billions they're owed by the government.) It's just that in this case, I think our society does a pretty good job of teaching Americans of the present what really happened to the Natives of the past.


Nat-Wu said...

Sadly there seems to be plenty of those wackos on the right who think that whatever bad stuff America did in its past is either heroic or shouldn't be held against it.

As far as the museum, it is largely put together by the tribes themselves. Most of us don't choose to focus on the genocides and exterminations of the past. The Cherokee will never forget the Trail of Tears, but if you ask the average Cherokee whether they'd rather have (non-Cherokee) people know about the Trail of Tears or the brand new Cherokee Nation casino, they'd probably vote for the casino!

As I've said many times before, recognizing that America has many past sins to atone for does not mean that we cannot take pride in our nation as it is. Slavery was horrible and African Americans still suffer under its legacy (or is someone going to get on here and argue that black people are poor because they're lazy?), but they have achieved suffrage and civil rights and right now, a man of color is a serious contender for President (Alan Keyes does not count). Sure, we have to remember the past, but we're living in the present and that's where we need to focus on making changes.

Andrew said...

Nat-Wu is right about focusing on now.

The genocide American's need to consider is West Papua, why has this genocide continued for 45 years? Why does GW Bush condone Indonesian Laskar Jihad and similar terrorist groups? And why did Bechtel in 2005 use its lobby to block Section 1115 asking questions about West Papua?

From Iraq to globalization, the U.S. economic and foreign policies have been tied to this little known Pacific island since 1936...