Monday, October 10, 2005

Happy Genocide Day!

In honor of the initiation of five centuries of genocide, I'm going to break my long silence and comment on this anonymous blog in regards to Ward Churchill. These comments should not be construed as representing the position of any tribe, Indian activist group, corporation, educational institution, or sports team.

Chris Clarke posted earlier in the week about Ward Churchill, particularly about issues of concern to Indians which Churchill has helped to keep in the public consciousness. He closed with a comment that we've reached a state where the FBI no longer has to go to great lengths to marginalize Native activists, that liberals seem to have taken that role upon themselves. There's also an interview with Churchill over there which you should read.

The original post provoked a comment alluding to the lack of evidence of specific instances of Churchill being marginalized by progressives. I think that misses the mark in that it assumes that marginalization is necessarily an active process, which it certainly can be. I would respond that shunning or just plain ignoring constitute marginalization every bit as much as the active attempts to discredit which followed the publicizing of Churchill's 9/11 essay. Wake up people, Churchill published the essay three years before it got any widespread attention. Someone please present me with an argument that Churchill had not been marginalized prior to the implosion of the right. Indian issues just plain aren't important to most, unless there's some sort of overlap with an outside group. Like, say, during election season in South Dakota.

I don't really care about that right now, though. The problem most people have with Churchill is that he tends to operate way out on a ledge, where they aren't comfortable going. He tends to frame issues in very extreme terms. He's inflammatory. He's abrasive. So am I, I'm not criticizing.

One of Churchill's favorite buzzwords is "genocide." I'm a big fan myself. But most of America gets uncomfortable, defensive, or downright hostile when anyone brings up genocide. I've actually had people tell me that I'm anti-semitic if I use the term genocide in reference to anything other than the Holocaust. Well, fuck you.

Purely from a numbers standpoint, it's scary. Scholarly estimates put the population of North America prior to contact anywhere between 1.8 and 12 million. I personally put the most stock in extrapolation based on known population density for foragers in various environments, which puts the number somewhere around 4-5 million. Pretty good middle of the road number. By the beginning of the 20th century, the Indian population stood at 237,000, meaning that the Indian population had been reduced by 94 percent. In contrast, during the Holocaust 66 percent of Jews in Nazi occupied countries were killed. Before anyone goes off, I'm not in any way trying to minimize the genocide perpetrated during World War II, I'm providing context within which people can understand that what happened to indigenous people in the United States was, and is, genocide.

For apologists who want to point out that European imported disease killed sixty percent of the native population, I would point out two things. One, if you know what you're doing is killing people and you continue to do it, you're fucking culpable. Two, assuming that sixty percent of four million died of disease that leaves us a remaining population of 2.4 million, meaning EuroAmericans directly reduced the remaining population by a mere ninety percent.

And this was not a mystery or surprise to anyone. Modern anthropology did a lot of growing up in the U.S., as "salvage anthropology" in the late 19th and early 20th century. Budding young anthros like Cushing, Benedict, and Kroeber rushed out to document Indian cultures before all Indians were dead. The old label of the "Vanishing American" indicates the bland acceptance of the U.S. that it's policies were leading inexorably to the conclusion of centuries of genocide.

And how did public sentiment run during these times? This comment appeared in an editorial that was published in the Aberdeen, South Dakota weekly paper in December of 1890: "The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are." The editorial was written by L. Frank Baum. Ignore the fat bastard behind the curtain.

"I never met an Indian I didn't kill, and never killed an Indian I didn't scalp." Andrew Jackson, President of the United States and architect of the Trail of Tears.

"The only good Indian I ever saw was dead." General Philip Sheridan.

But I digress. It should not be assumed that the little problem of genocide was somehow restricted to times of open warfare between tribes and the U.S. In 1974 Dr. Connie Uri began a personal investigation into the unusual number of sterilizations of Indian women which were occurring at the Claremore, Oklahoma IHS facilities. Her interviews uncovered several hundred sterilizations taking place over a two year period at this facility alone, involving both tubal ligation and hysterectomies. Her findings prompted a number of investigations throughout Indian Country, which found an alarming number of Indian women who had been sterilized; many of them testified that their consent had been coerced, or that the doctors had misrepresented the purpose of the surgery. Congress eventually commissioned the GAO to investigate; the GAO found no wrongdoing. And did not interview a single Indian woman.

Let's say that together: they did not interview a single Indian woman.

They did recommend that the IHS review its consent procedures. The GAO also found 3,400 Indian women who had been sterilized. What they neglected to publicize was that these 3,400 women were from four service areas over a two year period. There are twelve service areas. One study estimates that by 1976 42 percent of Indian women of childbearing age had been sterilized.

"Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group." Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

While we're talking about Convention, go take a look at ratifications and reservations. Please note that the U.S. did not ratify until 1988. Please also note this reservation: "That the term 'intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such' appearing in article II means the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such by the acts specified in article II." This is fancy lawyer talk, it essentially means that in order for the U.S. to be guilty of genocide, it has to specifically intend to commit genocide. In personal terms it's analogous to me shooting someone, but with the stipulation that I can't be found guilty of murder unless I specifically intend for them to die. If I shoot you and hope you live, I'm not guilty of murder even if you die, because I lack the intent. It basically makes it impossible to pursue a charge of genocide against the U.S. under the Charter.

Anway, I'm tired and need to do some actual work. Maybe some other time we'll go into boarding schools and stolen children. Happy Genocide Day.