I've always liked this...sorry...took me a few minutes to find it in my files.
Cutcha Risling Baldy (Hupa)
In which we establish that there was a genocide against Native Americans, yes there was, it was genocide, yes or this is why I teach Native Studies part 3 million
I've decided to post pics of books that this Professor could read to actually learn about the Genocide against Native peoples in California.
Late last week this happened. A young woman by the name of Chiitaanibah Johnsen (Navajo/Maidu) told Indian Country Today about her experience in a history class at Sacramento State University where she disagreed with the Professor’s claim that Native Americans did not face genocide. She said that because she was trying to engage with him during class, he ended the class early, called her disruptive, and said that she was “hijacking” the class. She also said that her professor told her she would be disenrolled and expelled from the classroom.
You should read the entire article here if you haven’t.
Now, some people may be surprised to learn that when I talk about genocide in my classes (and I do, I often teach about California, and it becomes very clear, very quickly that what happened in California is a genocide) that students resist. There are many things that I tell them which they take at face value. If we are talking about basketry, they don’t question the methods or the outcomes of what I am saying about basketry. If we are talking about sacred sites, they nod along to videos I show them of Native people fighting for the right to protect their sacred places. But when we start talking about genocide, it usually results in few people who really, really, want there to have not been a genocide in the United States. That’s why this story hit so close to home for me. I mean, this dude is teaching in CALIFORNIA. CALIFORNIA. Genocide in California? Yeah, Native scholars have been writing about that for a while now…
Part of the problem is that many are surprised to hear there was a genocide, or even mass killings, or any horrific example of something that happened. When you start talking about sport killing, the hunting of Indians, the large sums of money that were paid for California Indian heads and scalps, the open, flagrant, killing of Indian children, -- well nobody’s ever heard about it before. The erasure of the genocide feels almost surreal, like nobody (especially our school system) could pull it off. If it was a thing that happened, we would learn about it, because you can’t hide something like that, right?
Bringing people into a discussion about how thoroughly we have “hidden” the genocide that shaped this “great nation” of ours is, yes, usually met with some skepticism. And what I noticed about this Professor’s response to some of Ms. Johnsen’s research is that these responses are ingrained, because we learn them even if nobody takes us aside and says “this is how you refute or question or muddy genocide against Native peoples.”
How we understand history is ingrained, it’s something that we have repeated… from kindergarten all the way through our required western history classes in college. We learn that history is benign, that history is the study of the past from an objective point of view that just wants to tell a story. We learn that history is in the past, and that our present and future depend on learning this story because we can learn a lot from it.
But in reality, history is about power. The ability to tell the story is a very powerful thing. And the history we have learned in the west, is about justifying, maintaining and supporting the illusion that western civilization, western control of, western ownership of this land was inevitable, beneficial, and destined (manifestly).
From a different perspective, history is not so benign. In fact, it is a constant presence meant to deny Native people’s very existence. Because if Native people exist, then all that history comes in to question. Who we will be, it’s not so set. And we are a country, not so settled.
I found this quote from Joy Harjo yesterday while I was preparing for class and it stuck with me because I know that to raise your hand, to say something, to speak as a Native person is a very powerful moment. Especially when someone will try to shut you down. In this case a Professor had an opportunity to maybe learn something, or at least bring this young woman into a discourse about the messiness of history. But most don’t want their history to messy. They want their history to be in the past, and for them easily controlled.
But for Native people our history is our present is our future. Actually, that’s for all people, but Native people are clear examples of how this is true. Genocide (which happened) doesn’t just go away. Genocide… well Native people in California we didn’t just call it genocide… many of us called it “the end of the world.” An apocalypse, that doesn’t go away. That changes the world for everyone.
Or as Joy Harjo said:
“We are still dealing with a holocaust of outrageous proportion in these lands. Not very long ago, native peoples were 100 percent of the population of this hemisphere. In the United States we are now one-half of one percent, and growing. All of the ills of colonization have visited us in its many forms of hatred, including self-doubt, poverty, alcoholism, depression, and violence against women, among others. We are coming out of one or two centuries of war, a war that hasn’t ended. …But to speak, at whatever the cost, is to become empowered rather than victimized by destruction.”
Anyway… here is my list of the top three things people tell me that try to explain why it's not genocide against Native Americans (even though it is. It's genocide.)
"Most Native Americans died of disease. "
This is the one. This is the one that comes up the most when I start talking to people. In fact, scholars still write this in many of their articles. The statistic usually goes something like this:
According to scholar Sherburne Cook (FYI Cook is a guy who did this whole thing on population of Native California before “contact” (invasion) and became very well known for that) there are three waves of destruction that reduced the population of Native people in California. The first was the Spanish Mission system, the second was the Mexican/Ranchero systems and the third was the Gold Rush. Cook says that close to 90% of the Native population died during this time.
Oh look, another book that was written a while ago that you really should have read if you're a historian, especially if you are working in California.
Of that 90%, Cook also said that “most” died from diseases. It could be true. But, it oversimplifies a very complicated thing about genocide.
So we start here. What do you do when you get the flu?
1. You go to bed. 2. You drink fluids. 3. You sleep. 4. You think about starting a marathon of The Vampire Diaries on Netflix but you probably just fall asleep. 5. You call your Mom to complain. 6. You go to the doctor. 7. The doctor says “rest, drink fluids, and rest some more.” 8. You go home and go to bed. 9. Your very loving and supportive friend/ partner/ random delivery service on the internet brings you food. 10. You sleep some more.
What do you do when you get the flu and you are a California Indian person in 1849? (Heck, if you are a California Indian person in the missions in 1769?)
If you're in the missions: You continue to work because if you don’t, they will punish you, or keep food from you, or punish your child or spouse. They have you on rations, they won’t give you anything different than what they feed anyone else. And at night they lock you in a dormitory. You are now sick with everyone else around you, in a crowded, cramped space and you have to go to the bathroom, vomit etc. in a bucket by the door. Explorers/ travelers/ other European people that come to visit will write about how bad it smells in these dorms. Like human feces. And since you have the flu, like puke. (It’s graphic I know… it was a lived existence.) And then after a couple of days of this you die. The Priest writes “they died of the flu.” That’s technically true. But did you die of the flu?
Now if you’re living in California during the gold rush and you get the flu, you continue to run for your life. Maybe you can’t sleep, because people are going through villages and gathering up women and children. Every time you hear a branch snap or a group yelling in the distance you jump awake because you can’t be caught off guard. Maybe you’re sick but you don’t want to send out your family to gather food, because women gathering acorns alone are getting taken, raped, left for dead. Maybe you’re finally get some sleep and a group comes in the middle of the night just to mess with your village by shooting randomly into homes, or setting things on fire. You run. You grab your child and the only safe place is to jump into the river, kneel down until it reaches just at your nose, and so you walk through the night, in the water, until you can no longer hear the violence. The next day as you are exhausted, holding your child on the shore of the river and you die… of the flu. But did you die of the flu?
Now lets say you are a Native person in the late 1800s and you get sick and all you want to do is get better. So you go into town to get medicine. They arrest you and put you in jail for “loitering” and tell you to pay your bail or someone else will and then they get to keep you as a slave (it’s called the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians - to protect Indians from loitering...). Of course you knew that, so you didn’t go in to town, you didn’t get medicine. Instead you decide you want to use traditional medicine, but you can’t do that. That’s been illegal since the Spanish Mission days. Any sort of Indian practitioner of medicine is targeted, because they tend to be women and also because they are a threat to settlers (who don’t like Indians knowing stuff, doing stuff, continuing to do stuff). So now you can’t even get medicine. And then you die of the flu. DID YOU DIE OF THE FLU?
This is the question I keep asking students. Yes, you technically died of the flu. But it wasn’t the flu. Jack Forbes, who was a Professor of Native American Studies at UC Davis, wrote in his book Native Americans of California and Nevada that what people discount when they start talking about “Indians died of diseases” is that Native people had been living in organized cultures and societies for thousands upon thousands of years. They had lived through epidemics before and their oral stories support this. They had developed medicine, surgery, psychology, and many other practices meant to keep them healthy. They had ways of addressing things like the flu, or small pox or other diseases that for some reason when we learn about them in history class become unstoppable epidemics.
Because that’s the implication right? It’s just that Native peoples immune systems were so weak and the super strong Europeans who had the antibodies they needed, they could survive. But Native peoples who were so (primitive? different? weak?) just couldn’t handle the super duper European disease.
Jack Forbes’ point, is that they could have. They already had in a number of ways. But when you are talking about genocide you are talking about the disruption of everything, you are talking about the end of the world. And maybe some Indians would have died of the “the flu” but had the government or the State of California stepped up and said “no genociding!” and provided resources, or even just protection… does a majority of a population die of disease? Or does the population continue what it has already been doing for thousands upon thousands of years--- living.
"There was no central government that said “let’s go genocide today.” It was mostly bad, bad individuals who were acting of their own accord."
A fairly recent book about this very subject.
One of the major tenants of genocide is that there needs to be a central government running the whole thing. This is the government that passes laws, or starts wars, all so they can keep their ability to genocide. This primarily comes from Lemkin’s definition of genocide. Raphael Lemkin, in case you didn’t know, was the first dude to say “this is genocide.” In fact, he coined the term (in 1944) by combining geno (a Greek word meaning race or tribe) and cide (from the Latin word meaning killing).
He used the Jewish Holocaust as his example of what he meant when he said “genocide.” And what he said was:"a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves."
The key to this was the “coordinated plan” which implied that it had to be organized, sanctioned and carried out by a central authority. Lemkin used the Jewish Holocaust as his example (because, as Brendan Lindsay points out, it was the most recent example) but this (as Lindsay says) doesn’t mean that Lemkin thought this was the only example.
In California, what people mostly latch on to is the number of “average citizens” who participated in the mass killing of Native people and how seemingly “random” it could sometimes feel. Groups of people would come together, start talking to each other about how mad they were they Native people were still alive, or how scared they were that Native people would retaliate, and they would grab pitch forks and torches and take off to kill a bunch of Indians.
This is not a central government organizing the mass killings of Native people. Only, these people were paid by the Government to carry out these killings. That’s right paid.
On average people were paid $5 per head and .25 per scalp in California for the killing of Native people. There are stories about men riding through town on their horses with the heads of Native people dragging along behind them so they could go trade them in and get money. In 1849 and 1850 the State of California paid out of 1 million dollars for the killing of Native people. (At an average of $5 per head and .25 per scalp.) And this was man, woman or child.
The State Government supported and designed this genocide because they actively paid people for it, they passed laws that would support and make it legal, and also because they did not protect Native people from being killed. In fact, to prevent people from being held responsible for their crimes against humanity they passed laws (like the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians) which said that no Native person could testify in court (also that you could keep Indian people as slaves, you could keep Indian children who had no parents, and you could arrest an Indian for just hanging around). So the only people who could testify in court were non-Native people and they had no reason to report on their crimes.
The federal government also participated in this by reimbursing the state of California for the killing of Native people. And when they finally decided to dispatch agents to California to negotiate treaties it was not because they felt bad for all the genocide. It was because it had gotten too expensive to subsidize the genocide.
Did the government specifically come together in a meeting and say “let’s genocide today?” Not exactly. But the second act passed by the State Legislature of California was to pay people for killing Native people. And the governor of California made this statement very soon after he became governor to tell people what his agenda for the “Golden” state would be:
... that a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected. While we cannot anticipate the result with but painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power and wisdom of man to avert.
"I don’t know, that sounds a little Hitler-y to me.
It was a war… and war is hell. "
But intent. The intent to genocide, to erase, destroy, and kill all members of a specific group of people, that’s not war. At a point, they aren’t fighting a war they are mass murdering. We didn’t genocide the South in the Civil War, because they were people. The union stayed together, the South got “convinced” to follow the rules of our “great nation” and we started reconstructing. But we didn’t start rounding up southerners to kill them all because we didn’t want any more southerners. Genocide is a choice, a deliberate choice to annihilate a group of people. We cannot erase that intent by calling it “war” because the intent is clear. Take the UN definition of Genocide for example:
[G]enocide 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:
(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.
And what I find interesting about this is the continuation of genocide that has happened to Native people throughout history. There was not a clear start or end to the policies that were set forth with the deliberate intent to “destroy, in whole or in part” Native people. The continuation of policies to do this throughout history is astounding.
And so silent. I can leave in my car right now and within 20 minutes I can visit the place where Juan Cabrillo landed to “discover” San Diego. There is a big statue of him there, overlooking this beautiful place, he “discovered.” And then I can head down the freeway and visit the “first Spanish Mission” in California. Mission San Diego, which would also usher in the “first” mass incarceration, mass enslavement, mass starvation of Native people in California. That won’t be on the plaque. Where do we go to remember? Where do we go to learn? (Apparently, not even history class...)
The collective silence on this genocide is so loud. It echoes when we sit in classrooms and someone says something like “I don’t really like to talk about genocide and Native Americans” or “I don’t think it applies.”
We cannot be silent. We can speak louder than the monuments. Watch as we speak louder than monuments.