Native North American art and genocide


From British daily The Guardian, by Brian Brivati:

An unmarked genocide?

A moving exhibition of Native American art reminded me of the extent to which the US is the original genocidal state.

If you are in New York in the next few months there is a small visiting exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian called Listening to Our Ancestors, which is worth a visit. It is an amazing building, the exhibition [and the whole museum] is free and the layout and structure is professional and engaging. The content was extraordinary and something of a revelation to me.

The aesthetic of Native American art has never particularly appealed to me. Many of the masks in the show, and I apologise for the analogy because these are sacred objects, reminded me of Mr Punch – the exaggerated facial features and so on. Others were strikingly original and the images of women flying on the back of birds and a carved canoe were beautiful. There were, however, two aspects of the show that stood out.

The first was the notion of songs in the culture of Native Americans. The tribes represented here were from the north Pacific coast, ancient peoples closely associated with the sea. Images of whales reminded us of the movie Whale Rider. The songs were sacred in the sense that they were given – the songs came. I had never really understood this idea before. The exhibit, however, made it clear that these songs would come to the people who wrote them and the act of their creation was seen as a divine act. The notion of song being given seems to me to be as good an explanation of creativity as any. The coming of the song, like the coming of a poem or a piece of music, cannot be explained so it is turned into a divine act, the coming of a god into the life of the tribe. These songs are then guarded and protected.

The second thing that came out of the exhibition for me only occurred when I read the catalogue back here in London. The objects were all in remarkably good condition. I did not question this as I walked around but afterwards I realised it was because most of them were made in the last hundred years. They were recreations of objects made much earlier that had been collected by the Canadian authorities and shown for a fee in parish halls. To an extent this was not an exhibition of Native American civilisation so much as an exhibition of the reconstruction of that civilisation after its destruction. Not in the sense of an invented tradition but in the sense of rebuilding from the fragments of what remained after a continental genocide. …

We do not teach the genocide of the Native Americans on our comparative module at Kingston [in England]. Nor do we teach the history of slavery or slavery as an instance of genocide. There is another module on slavery in the portfolio. In part the decision to exclude these two US cases was pragmatic – we could not teach everything and we wanted to concentrate on the 20th century. In part this was a necessary restriction because if we opened up the 19th century it could easily have become a module about imperialism and its victims. A worthy module to teach, but different from what we wanted to achieve with the course which was to explore the extent to which “never again” has not been a reality. There were deeper reasons at work as well I think, at least in myself. As I have written here before, I am very fond of the US – its people, its values, its democracy and its freedoms. A colleague has critiqued our choice of cases – Stalin, Hitler, former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Saddam Hussein and Sudan – as being cases in which the west are the good guys, or at least not the perpetrators. This is partially true, though in Rwanda our failure to intervene was a prime cause of the genocide.

Here, Mr Brivati does not mention French imperialist support for genocide in Rwanda; a type of intervention. Hitler’s Germany, of course, by most standards was a ‘Western’ country; and had good relations with ‘Western’ icons like Henry Ford, General Motors, IBM, and the Bush dynasty. Western economic policies laid the groundwork for 1990s violence in (ex-)Yugoslavia; in which Western military invasion killed many civilians. Saddam Hussein had been on the CIA payroll since he was young, and killed Kurds with Western poison gas and support. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush has broken Saddam’s records of mass murder and torture in his ‘new’ Iraq. In Sudan, the regime is hand in glove with George W. Bush.

Karl May and the Wild West: here.

Wounded Knee: here.

3 thoughts on “Native North American art and genocide

  1. The following is the statement made on behalf of Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organization by its secretary-coordinator at the South-South Solidarity Meeting held in Hanoi, 21st – 24th Sept. 2007.

    Best regards
    AAPSO Permanent Secretariat

    South-South Solidarity as the expression of AAPSO

    Globalisation did not appear from the blue. It was a long time process crystallized by the hegemony under the strong economic and military power in creating a world-wide new empire through the tentacles of transnational corporations. The global institutions of finance capital – the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund were providing needed ammunition and expertise along with the world trade organization. All these three global institutions are dominated, controlled and directed by the developed countries – the transatlantic powers.

    In other words, it is another form of neo-colonialism to keep the rest of the world in poverty to provide the maintenance of the consumerist societies of the US. and their European friends. It is in the same way to meet this challenge that the World Social Forum was born.

    Although the Social Forum initially was organized to voice the problems of the developing countries to counter the pernicious economic prescription of the global institutions and also their annual “exclusive club of Devos” subsequently, its projections became multifarious. The World Social Forum at the beginning was concentrated in one single region, thereby, its attendance was limited. With its “decentralization” and organizing several events in different regions, more afflicted people could participate and interact for common aspiration. This is an important vehicle for South-South Solidarity and cooperation.

    As we all know the South-South cooperation emerged from the “Bandung Spirit” of the 1955 conference held in Bandung, Indonesia of the emerging leaders of Asia and Africa. The non-aligned movement was born out of the Bandung Spirit to form the largest group of countries in the United Nations with a common aspiration of South-South Solidarity and cooperation. Despite its successes it also had its pitfalls with the onslaught of hegemonism backed by finance capital gradually transforming independence into dependence under the powerful developed countries, which turned into new form of “colonialism” where the “colonial masters” may not be clearly visible. Western countries may no longer be political colonial masters, but there is a territory they claim to know well, that is science and medicine. Therefore globalization has become a strenuous trend of the times that continue to impact on economy, politics, culture and different sectors of social life. As a result global economic imbalances are increasing rapidly.

    As we proceed from this given environment, consolidation of South-South Solidarity and Cooperation in the era of globalization could form a viable alternative for the all-round development of the south countries. In commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bandung NAM bureau organized the Asia-Africa summit in Jakarta in 2005 which was an important development to envigourate the south-south cooperation under Asia-Africa partnership. The 13th NAM summit in Kuala Lumpur debated the Asia-Africa partnership for the re-vitalization of NAM. At the 14th NAM summit in Havana, it was the Latin American countries which had provided practical solutions feasible within the given parameters. With Cuban experience of developing their economy and social life under tremendous stress resulting from continued sanctions for over four decades by the US., this example is emulated by a number of Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Equador and others with assistance and solidarity from the Cuban themselves. Without World Bank assistance these countries launched massive campaigns to eliminate illiteracy, training of medical personnel and other human resource development successfully within a short time. On the other hand the energy rich Venezuela has come forward to provide cheaper oil to energy deficit countries. Venezuela has put the oil income at the disposal of eleviation of poverty and social development, It has been able to check the US. sponsored “Free Trade” in the region. This solidarity has been extended to Africa, the most needed continent. In this regard, Africas’ closer relation with China is an important factor of solidarity and cooperation with the convening of China African summit in Beijing and the implementation of NEPAD. Impediments and hurdles are certainly many. The conflicts in Darfur and other areas in Africa are not without external interference to hinder the development of South-South Solidarity.

    In the field of South-South Solidarity and Cooperation, AAPSO has a role to play as a peoples movement. AAPSO’s observer status in the NAM has been used to influence the trends of these countries for a meaningful South-South Cooperation. Not as passive on-lookers but by critically examining the anti-people socio-economic policies. One of the biggest impediments is the massive corruption in most of these countries which hinders development as a result of the absence of confidence on leaders.

    Good governance and democratisation of the society with transparency is a sin-quo-non for consolidation of solidarity. Democracy has its variations. For the west to prescribe democracy to the south is to “accepting the unacceptable” South need to evolve its own democratic system of peoples’ participations to face the onslaught of the west and this has to be provided by peoples movement.

    The disappearance of the Soviet Union no doubt has been a big blow but with the hegemonic globalisation and US. unilateralism has also created the space for other countries to come together to resist this hegemony. One salient development in this area is the emergence of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation which is crystalising into a formidable force both economically and militarily.

    Its agenda is to develop multilaterism in the world recognising the sovereignty of states, and non-interference in the internal affairs. The organization has kept open the door for others. To join as members or observers. In the last meeting held in Krygistan, both Afghan and Iranian presidents attended as observers.

    The presence of a large number of leaders and their valuable contribution highlighting the diversity of cultures is new thinking that provided the resurgence of the dimension of the holding of the non-aligned ministerial conference on Human Rights and cultural diversity in Tehran which could be viewed as a positive direction to enlighten the south of against nefarious consumerism and stereotype cultural imperialism of the US. hegemonism.

    AAPSO will continue to through its national committees and friendly organizations to take this messages to the grassroots for stronger mobilisation. As the AAPSO enters its 50th anniversary at the end of this year we are preparing to commemorate this event in Cairo with an international conference.



    SIGN THE ONLINE PETITION to the Obama Administration and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction NOW!

    Sign online to tell President Obama, Attorney General Holder, Ohio Governor Kasich, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Moore, the Ohio State Penitentiary Warden Bobby, the Ohio Legislature, the Ohio Congressional Delegation, Congressional leaders, U.N. Secretary General Ban, and members of the media you want the right to Native religious practices of Native prisoner Jason Campbell (Native name Vo’kome Nahkohe) and all Native prisoners respected, Jason’s hunger strike demands met and Jason released from isolation with no reprisals.

    click HERE to sign. click HERE to view petition text.

    Statement from Native American prisoner Jason Campbell, an inmate on hunger strike at Ohio State Peniteniary:

    The following is a statement from Jason Campbell, an inmate in Ohio State Penitentiary, where Lucasville uprising prisoners Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Bomani Shakur and Jason Robb recently won significant improvements in the terms of their confinement through a 12-day hunger strike and an international campaign of support. Campbell chose Feb. 27 to start his hunger strike because it is the 38th anniversary of the liberation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement. On March 2, when his hunger strike became official after refusing his 9th meal, he was moved to isolation without access to tv, radio or walkman, and his religious necklace was illegally confiscated.

    Please sign the ONLINE PETITION at demanding he be released from isolation with no retaliation and that all his demands for practice of native religion be granted for him and all native prisoners

    Thank you for your interest in my current plight. I am grateful that there is at least one voice still willing to speak up on behalf of those in my position.

    Since my incarceration in 2003, I have diligently fought for the religious rights of incarcerated Native Americans in Ohio prisons. I feel – seeing that I have the ability, that it is my responsibility to insure that we have the same protections under the law that other faith based groups generally enjoy. Personally, I have requested everything I could think of, trying to get as much approved as I could – as I know it would set the tone for what others will be allowed in the future. Basically, I am being prevented from practicing my Native beliefs in every way. I have requested and been denied all of the following: Tobacco, tobacco ties(twists), moccasins, feathers, beads (sewn into objects like a head band or medicine bag)), fur, animal hair (such as horse and buffalo), head band (of a color other than white – where beads are concerned), sacred objects (for Medicine Bag and Medicine Bundle), Native American flute, hand drum, rattle, access to sweat lodge (for purification), and to have a ‘Sun Dance’ ceremony.

    I also have requested and have been approved for: A ‘prayer pipe’, Medicine Bag, and a Medicine Bundle, but I must point out that these are useless without: tobacco for the prayer pipe, and sacred objects for the Medicine Bag and Medicine Bundle. Without tobacco, I am unable to pray. Without sacred objects for the Medicine Bag and Medicine Bundle, they are just empty vessels – void of their purpose.

    One last thing. My hunger strike is not considered “official” until after I refuse my ninth meal – which will be Wednesday, March 2nd, at breakfast. When I get to the ninth meal and refuse to come off of the hunger strike, I will be moved to the segregation block (the Hole). I’m told it is to prevent other prisoners from giving me food. In fact, I believe that it is to punish me into coming off of the hunger strike by putting me in a cell with no electricity. If you can find a way to address this as well, it would be much appreciated.

    I hope – fervently, that this information can help you in assisting me – and through me, all other Native Americans in Ohio prisons. Present and future. Thank you again for your help. – “Mitakuye Oyasin” (to all my relations)

    Jason Campbell



    To: Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Moore, Ohio State Penitentiary Warden Bobby, Ohio Gov. Kasich, Attorney General Holder, President Obama

    cc: Ohio Legislature, Ohio Congressional Delegation, Congressional Leaders, U.N. Secretary-General Ban, members of the media

    Honor the right of Native American Prisoner Jason Campbell (Vo’kome Nahkohe) to practice his religion! All of his religious freedom hunger strike demands are just and legitimate. They must be granted immediately! His religious necklace, which was confiscated from him illegally, must be immediately returned. Remove him from isolation and restore all privileges. No reprisals for his just hunger strike action!

    On February 27, Jason Campbell #476-229 (native name Vo’kome Nahkohe) began a hunger strike to demand that his ability to practice his native religion be respected by the Ohio prison system. On March 2, having refused 9 meals, his action became an official hunger strike. He was sent to isolation where he is deprived of tv, radio and walkman, and his religious necklace, which has been approved as a religious accommodation, was illegally confiscated. Campbell is demanding religious objects necessary to the practice of his religion, such as tobacco, beads and animal hair as well as the right to practice his religious ceremonies including a Sun Dance ceremony. Over the course of the past several years he has exhausted all legal remedies to obtain what he needs for his religious practices. He therefore felt he had no recourse but to initiate a hunger strike for himself and other Native American inmates in Ohio’s prisons.

    Jason Campbell and all Native American prisoners must be accorded the same rights to practice their religion as other prisoners!

    (your signature appended here)



  3. Pingback: American football quarterback Colin Kaepernick protests police killings | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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