Friday, November 28, 2008

More Than a Turkey: U.S. American holocaust denial & "Thanksgiving" day

As you well know yesterday was "Thanksgiving Day."

Yet another way in which -- another day on which -- U.S. Americans do not acknowledge the present-day existance as well as the historical resistance and inordinate suffering of people indigenous to the "Americas."

Since college, on every "Thanksgiving Day," (and Columbus Day), I remember the historical genocidal campaign against people indigenous to "the Americas."

When a well-meaning person wishes me a "Happy Thanksgiving" -- the massacre the mass murder, mass rape, and wholesale land theft committed against indigenous people by so called European "settlers" between the late 1400s and late 1700s -- a genocidal campaign
continued by the U.S. government after the "American Revolution" (or "American War of Independence") established it in 1783 -- a genocidal project that culminated in the murder of unarmed Lakota in 1890 at Wounded Knee.

(**I place the term "American War of Independence" in quotes because that war DID NOT translate into independence for everyone -- that was never the war's aim (so why not give it a more honest title... like the "American War to Become the Leaders of Genocide and Slavery," for example). The so called "American War of Independence" did not stop the U.S. government's efforts to supress/repress/entirely strip formal recognition of indigenous people's freedoms and land claims. The so called "American War of Independence" also left slavery intact -- and, in fact, put more concrete, legal protections in place to ensure its continuance in the U.S. Constitution, for example. The so called vision of independence driving this U.S. War did not include extending the francise (voting rights) to white women and poor white & European immigrant men (until president Andrew Jackson recognized their voting rights in the early decades of the 1800s. Granting poor white & Euro. immigrant men a measure of white privilege must be why Jackson's face is on the U.S.'s $20 dollar bill -- and himself was a merciless and vigorous leader of the holocaust against people indigenous to "the Americas"). Nor did the so called "American War of Independence recognize the voting rights and civil rights of "free"(not enslaved) women and men of color. In short, the "American War of Independence" was a military campaign to wrest power from British coloniasts over white U.S. American men -- so that wealthy white U.S. American men could take the place of British imperialists.)

Returning to the subject of Wounded Knee as part and parcel of the U.S. American genocide project:

At Wounded Knee, writes Tim Giago, "...nearly 300 of...[Lakota] relatives were shot to death in cold blood by the enlisted men and officers of the 7th Cavalry. Ironically, 21 members of the 7th Cavalry were awarded Medals of Honor for this horrific slaughter of women and children....

On December 29, 1890, my grandmother, Sophie, was a 17-year-old student at the Holy Rosary Indian Mission, a Jesuit boarding school just a few miles from Wounded Knee. She was called out with the rest of the students to feed and water the horses of the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry that had just rode on to the mission grounds chasing down survivors that had escaped the slaughter. My grandmother recalled seeing blood on their uniforms and she overheard them bragging about the mighty victory they had just scored at Wounded Knee."

I offer this perspective on "Thanksgiving Day" to my students -- they almost always respond with silence. I always wonder what they are thinking. How many of them, I wonder, think I'm crazy and/or an asshole for suggesting that they reject observance of this national holiday. How many of them don't know what to think, but in the end, settle on denial as the most favorable choice. I know that at least a few of them embrace the view -- and at least one of them told me recently that he read a blog that said words like "settlement," "expansion" and "removal" (as in "Indian Removal," for example) mask/conceal the true nature -- the essential reallity -- of the events to which they refer: centuries of genocide -- a holocaust of indigenous people in which ordinary people of all races and national origins -- that is, our ancestors -- directly and indirectly participated in/ carried out and/or directly and indirectly benefited from.

A holocaust that you and I continue to benefit from in the present day.

As the homes in which we sleep, the shopping malls we visit, the schools we attend, the churches in which we worship, the parks in which we picnic rests on stolen land...

Land soaked in the blood of indigenous people that resisted genocide --- a land on which a fraction of that population continue to unconsciously resist just by surviving and consciously resist through the unrelenting pursuit of social, political and economic justice (-- an estimated 90% of the indigenous population depleted as a result of European/U.S. American genocide).

So, most of the time -- I tell the person who wishes me "Happy Thanksgiving" that I'm not into the "Thanksgiving" thing and I offer a quick explanation of why that is -- I can't celebrate national denial of mass murder, mass rape and land theft in the form of a holiday and a family meal -- I mean think about that...

WTF??

A celebration of food and family where one gives thanks for benefits reaped from mass murder, mass rape and land theft??

Another blogger declared, "Happy Thanksgiving! Pass the genocide gravy."
(I'm not feeling the representation of indigenous people in this cartoon but I appreciate the point of the blog post)

Most of the time, the person will reply to me by saying something to the effect of "yeah, I know, that's why I just 'give thanks' for family (etc etc)"

For many years the aforementioned response from these good people sat well with me. For a few years I may have even uttered a version of those words mySelf.

This year, though.. I finally got it (or came close to getting it).

The very act of asserting one's ability to ignore or overlook or attempt to overcome. the centuries of atrocities the "Thanksgiving Holiday" commemorates and denies and commercializes -- is the very manifestation of the privileges wrought by the near annihilation of indigenous people.

Fuck that -- you can keep that Kool-Aid.

Yesterday, I wondered (just as I have many times before) -- what do indigenous people living on and off reservations do on "Thanksgiving Day"... do they give thanks? If yes, what do they give thanks for?

Tim Wise's superb blog post addresses the subject of U.S. American holocaust denial from another angle here.

5 comments:

Truth said...

The relationship of the White Man to the Indians is a complicated history. By the standards of the world at that time, it was better than most. African Muslims were still enslaving anyone they could get hands on well into the 19th century

Even so, it depended on where you were. It's not as simple as saying: In every encounter, Whites were scum. Some tribes were dealt with decently, others were treated shamefully, and some Indians were scum themselves. he Apaches and Iroquois were brutal mothers -- not only to the White Man, but to other Indians. In fact, a lot of the initial contacts between European settlers and Indians in the East -- we're required not to know this now - consisted of completely unprovoked attacks by the Indians.

It was the Cherokees who really got screwed, which was entirely the doing of racist scumbag Andrew Jackson, Democrat. Jackson broke treaties, evicted the Cherokees and sent them off to Oklahoma. Did I mention that Jackson was a Democrat?

In New England, the settlers were perfectly fair to the Indians -- much nicer than the Spanish were. The French were supposedly the most benign, but that's because the French never sent people to America in great numbers (which is a relief, otherwise we'd have even more lefty cowards in the U.S. than we already have). The French just wanted to trade with the Indians, while the English were interested in acquiring land. But the first instinct of the English was to make treaties with the Indians and purchase their land, not to steal it.

The worst thing that happened to the Indians in New England was that they had no immunity from European diseases like smallpox. Despite the claims of semi-retards like fake-Indian Ward Churchill, it is preposterous that this was done intentionally. Louis Pasteur didn't figure out how diseases were transmitted until the late 19th century. Even then, his discovery was met with skepticism. The settlers wouldn't have known enough about transmission of diseases to do it on purpose.

Violating Indian treaties was generally not official government policy -- except in the case of President Andrew Jackson (Democrat). The U.S. government usually tried to abide by its treaties with the Indians. The problem was that settlers just kept moving into Indian territories and the government didn't stop them -- much like illegal immigration today.

butchrebel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
butchrebel said...

Hello Truth:

Thank you for reading -- please note, I was in the process of making changes/adding new information to this blog entry when you left your comment.

So, your point is what exactly??

The genocide of indigenous people was, in part, an accident so U.S. Americans and their government weren't/aren't really to blame for the depopulation, land dispossession, and centuries of violence enacted against them?

Your point is that they/ "we" aren't so bad?

Because?? indigenous people defended themselves using violence, compromise, assimilation etc.,.?

Your point is that U.S. Americans weren't the only ones to devastate and radically alter the histories of entire populations of people through slavery, for example, so -- again -- why make a big deal about what happened to indigenous people?

And you purposely refer to "African Muslims" to prove/supoort your points!!!

Are you referring to the ancestors of Arab speaking people in Africa? Or are you referring to the ancestors of non-Arab speaking people in Africa?

In the post-9/11 era AND in context of the present day U.S., which is fundamentally structured by the legacy of the enslavement of Africans -- your statement -- albeit true -- is a loaded one.

But I will say this alone for right now: You should have also acknowledged the complexity of slavery in Africa (which include African Muslim slave institutions) -- most importantly, that African slavery looked completely different than slavery in "the Americas." In slaveholding African societies, for example, enslaved Africans could accrue formal, political power acknowledged by their masters -- they could hold prestigious positions in slaveholding royal families.

Re: the general thematic thrust of your response --

Sounds regrettably similar to what white U.S. Americans say when they are asked to acknowledge the racial advantages they accrue involuntarily & involuntarily -- the same kind of response far too many white people give when they are asked to consider the way in which they diretly benefit from the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and government endorsed-legally protected white racist violence (ex. lynching) against people of color.

I am aware of the complex history of European, and later, U.S. American interactions with indigenous people -- that's a very important history that, in my blog entry, I summarize with the term "indigenous resistance" for the sake of brevity AND in order to make my over-riding, and most inmportant point:

U.S. Americans ARE IN DENIAL about their ancestors involuntary AND conscious/deliberate participation in AND the federal government's deliberate/conscious implementation of a genocidal progam against indigenous people carried out by the military, unrecognized treaties, laws, "whitening" programs etc.,.

I agree with you -- Jackson was a pig -- but he had lots of help -- 5 whole centuries of help (and counting). He also had the approval of contemporary U.S. Americans -- especially those who established homes and businesses on Cherokee land -- land that the descendants of these complict U.S. Americans occupy today.

The second part of my over-arching point is that present day U.S. Americans BENEFIT from this horrific, inexcusable violence -- violence that you nor anyone will ever convince is anything else but genocide.

Truth, I'm saying that you seem to be using all that good, important knowledge of yours to, ultimately, justify your denial of the historical fact of genocide against indigenous people and the historical fact that you and I benefit from that project.

Yes, the history is complex -- but that history, I believe, is part and parcel of the final result: a holocaust of indigenous people.

Why not -- at the very least -- include an argument in your post that takes seriously the views that I express here -- and more importantly, that of indigenous people who feel the same way.

Do you really believe that you can accurately tell those indigenous people that they are wrong? That U.S. Americans are simply misunderstood?

Because that is what the comments you leave here do implicitly -- i.e., tell indigneous people who remember the holocaust of their ancestors and continue to fight its effects in the present day to "stop complaining, they've got it wrong" because the history is "complex" and "we weren't the only ones."

Explain that intellectual and psychological posture to me, please.

Because, in the end, it reads like more silencing of the voices and dismissing of the perspectives of oppressed people.

butchrebel said...

Truth: please note -- the shorter comment came AFTER the longer response to your comments.

Re: your point about Jackson being a Democrat --

The pre-LBJ/pre-1964 Voting Rights Act Democratic and Republican parties (as you probably know) were VERY different than the Repubilcan and Democratic parties after this period.

In light of this fact, it is disingenuous of you to suggest that Jackson's status as a Democrat is remarkable/important.

Members of both parties were complicit in the genocide of indigenous people AND remain complicit in the continuing institutionalized oppression of indigenous people.

butchrebel said...

Truth -- I'd like to address this point as well:

You write: "It's not as simple as saying: In every encounter, Whites were scum. Some tribes were dealt with decently, others were treated shamefully, and some Indians were scum themselves. he Apaches and Iroquois were brutal mothers -- not only to the White Man, but to other Indians. In fact, a lot of the initial contacts between European settlers and Indians in the East -- we're required not to know this now - consisted of completely unprovoked attacks by the Indians."

I CONSIDER SHOWING UP IN A PLACE, labeling/perceiving it as uninhabited and misused for a myriad of reasons (including the rational that the products of various indigenous societies looked different than those that various European groups were accustomed to, AND thus,) CALLING IT YOUR OWN A PROVOCATION FOR ATTACK.