By Jane Stillwater
I recently toured the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian. These two museums are both very similar — and also very different.
The U.S. Holocaust Museum is devoted to chronicling the genocide of Jews by Nazi Germany — and this museum rightfully reminds us that genocide is a bad thing. One of the exhibits that moved me to tears was commemorating the heroic Jewish resistance fighters. They risked their lives fighting fascism. Many of them were tortured and murdered.
Then I moved on to the American Indian Museum — same story there. Genocide on a grand scale. Millions of Native Americans murdered in cold blood. But there was one big difference between the two museums. When the Jews fought back against the evil Nazis, they were called resistance fighters and heroes. But when the Natives fought back against genocidal attacks by Americans, they were given no place of honor in the American Indian Museum. They were not considered heroes. In fact, they were barely mentioned at all.
There was only a very small collage-type thingie in a back corner of the fourth floor of the museum that mentioned a few Native “activists” and the 1973 protest at Wounded Knee. Custer’s last stand was mentioned. And there was just one mention in passing about the American Indian Movement — but nothing at all about Leonard Peltier, the resistance fighter who defended his people from a deadly FBI attack and who is now serving his 44th year of a life sentence in some lonely Florida prison for a crime that he didn’t commit.
There is another kind of genocide going on in America today — or should I say “femicide”. It is shamefully easy for a non-Native person to enter a Native reservation and then murder or rape or kidnap a Native woman or child — and get away with it because tribal police on American Indian reservations have no jurisdiction to arrest non-Natives.
While I was at the American Indian Museum, I suddenly found myself in the tragic midst of the REDress Project — dozens of empty red dresses, swaying tragically in the wind and rain, symbolizing the thousands of raped, maimed, murdered and disappeared Native women on reservations across America. Something like 86% of these crimes have been committed by non-natives.
At a symposium entitled “Safety for Our Sisters” held at the museum, we learned that almost half of Native women have been abused or raped or disappeared. “It’s actually closer to 87%” said one speaker. Native women have become an endangered species — and meanwhile many politicians are too busy reveling in a sick and addictive love affair with Walls and Wars to notice.
The grim history of these many centuries of violence and genocide against Native Americans continues today, as White Americans continue to value money and greed and power over any kind of humanity or love of fellow human beings. The Jewish Holocaust lasted a decade, but the Native American genocide is still going on today.
We can wallow in the sense that America is morally doomed, or we can take a page from the Jewish and Native resistance fighters and resist. Resist injustice. Resist corporate greed. Resist colonialism. Resist bigotry.
For centuries it was mainly American Indians who suffered from genocide by colonialists — but now it is the entire world facing extinction by corporate America’s bottomless greed.
Isn’t it time for all of us to start righting these horrendous wrongs? Let’s join our Indigenous brothers and sisters in seeking justice!
Jane Stillwater is a child of the 60s living in cooperative housing in Berkeley. She blogs at jpstillwater.blogspot.com.