Today is the anniversary of the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in 2004. I attended the opening and walked with over 25,000 other indigenous people in the Native Nations Procession that started the festivities. My photo collection is here. I don’t live on or near a reservation so it was rewarding to be with so many other people who look like me. Complete strangers would smile at me as I walked around D.C. because we could see that we shared blood, the same cheekbones and dark eyes.
Below I’m going to excerpt some important comments about the opening of the museum and then end with an essay written by my friend, former original AIM organizer and Kossack Carter Camp aka cacamp.
It was an extremely hot day to sit in the burning sun but I enjoyed being one of thousands in the huge crowd and listening to all the speakers. Senator Inouye had an important statement:
Speakers included Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), who with [Sen. Ben Nighthorse] Campbell (R-Colo.), sponsored the 1989 legislation passed by Congress that mandated the museum’s construction. It is the Smithsonian’s 18th museum and the first on the Mall since 1987.
Inouye told the crowd that nearly two decades ago he made a discovery about the nation’s capital that inspired him to propose the creation of a museum.
Most of the comments and reviews about the opening were positive and along the lines of let’s put the history in the past and look forward, American Indians are still here and this museum celebrates that.
But then there was this from the L.A. Times:
The museum was approved by Congress in 1989, the same year the Smithsonian took over George Gustav Heye’s collection in New York. An investment banker who amassed one of the world’s largest collections of Indian artifacts – including Sitting Bull’s war bonnet and a collection of scalps – Heye left objects that date back more than 10,000 years and form the heart of the new collection. The Smithsonian umbrella covers not only the new museum and the George Gustav Heye Center, a permanent museum in Lower Manhattan, but also the Cultural Resources Center, a research and collections facility in Suitland, Md.
Almost 90% of the new museum’s holdings comes from Heye, who collected from native communities in the first half of the 20th century. Because some of his acquisitions were less than scrupulous, the museum has placed “our highest priority” on repatriation of human remains, such as war-trophy scalps and bones, said Pepper Henry.
A full-time staff of four is charged with researching the collections to see if human remains, sacred and ceremonial objects or other important cultural artifacts should be returned. Pepper Henry said that since the museum staff first began working in 1990, more than 2,000 objects have been returned to 100 native communities throughout the hemisphere.
The essay below was written by Carter Camp aka cacamp. In 1973, Carter was one of the original organizers of AIM, he was in charge of Military Operations in the take over of Wounded Knee. They held Wounded Knee for more than 70 days and brought important national and international media attention to the current American Indian issues. (An aside; Meteor Blades was at the take over for 51 days.)
I have Carter’s permission to post in full.
HIDING GENOCIDE: The National Museum of the American Indian
By Carter Camp
There is an enormous cultural rip-off being foisted upon our Nations by Washington D.C. I’ve warned of it before, but a small voice is easily drowned out when millions of dollars are being spent and the voice of the Great White Father anoints Indian leaders.
For a decade or more the Smithsonian fundraising machine has gone merrily along, draining much needed funds away from the Indian community and diverting America’s attention away from the economic, cultural and legal devastation going on across our homelands. Many interest groups coveted the final two vacant spaces on the National Mall. Congress in its wisdom awarded one site to a very politically powerful (and deserving) Jewish applicant and another to the very politically powerful Smithsonian Institution, their ‘keeper of the loot’.
Contrast the two new museums and you can see how they are used to support a conqueror’s cleansed view of history: For the Jewish museum no thought at all was given to using it to show the world ancient Jewish culture and artifacts. They could have displayed scenes of ancient Jewish life: hunting, tanning hides and pastoral living. Like an Indian museum, it would have been beautiful and easy for people to enjoy.
It wasn’t done that way for one reason…The Jewish people were in charge and they decided for themselves what aspect of their history to show the world. They decided with one voice to use the rare space as a shield to protect their people against a repeat of the Nazi holocaust. Jewish politicians funded and protected Jewish intellectuals, artists, historians, Rabbis, and survivors as they crafted a way to commemorate their dead and to use their past to protect their future. They refused to allow the dreams of others to distort the truth of their horror, and now their museum is a powerful testament to a Jewish dream, not a gentile revision of reality. Our space, and the world’s window to our Nations, was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution to enshrine the lie of ‘manifest destiny’ and the historical inevitability of the American Holocaust.
America’s museums have always been a prime purveyor of the big lies of American history, now the largest and worst is given an army of non-Indian historians, anthros, romance writers and a couple of Indian scouts, to define us to the world.
THEY decided with one voice NOT to use our rare and precious space as a shield of truth against the American Holocaust or to prevent the conclusion of its evil purpose against my people. We still die, our sacred sites are paved over, our dead dug up, our children stolen and mis-educated. Missionaries search the jungle for the last of us.
American’s sensibilities are being spared at the cost of continuing depredations against Indian people. Americans will go to the Holocaust Museum and be told the horrible truths of what Hitler and the Nazi’s did to the Jews. They will cry for the victims and mourn with the survivors, in the end they too will be determined to protect the Jewish people from a repeat of the Holocaust. All thinking people support this. They will also be comforted (and exempted) to know that America defeated the Nazi, stopped the killing, and helped Jews return to their homeland. Next, Americans can walk over to the museum of ‘Indian’ history.
They will be amazed and pleased at the beauty of our past. Scenes of tipis, tanning hides and pastoral living will hide the blood covering every-square-inch of America. Our blood. They will go home marveling at our ancient art and beauty and a little sad we had to pass into history.
They may even feel a twinge of guilt at the part their ancestors played in our demise. But they will go away without seeing or knowing the “time of horror” each and every Tribe went through upon contact with the European. They will go home without realizing how much of the slaughter was an officially inspired, government planned, and racist policy of genocide. They will not realize the depth of the crime committed so they will not understand the crimes being committed today or the need for reparations to heal the devastation. They will not understand that there were entire Societies for whom the “final solution” worked.
Entire Tribes, as whole and complete as the Jewish Tribes, were completely erased from Mother Earth. Their language will never be heard, their poetry, music, science and art is lost to the world because they met a people who believed in their own, god given, superiority and the inferiority of all else. (The base cause of all genocide.) They will go home without feeling the need to help Indian Nations secure their own homelands or becoming determined there never is another American Holocaust.
Worst of all, they will go home and not know that our people still suffer ongoing policies of genocide and attacks on our existence. Missionaries and Governments still work and plan to erase us from the face of our Mother Earth. Indian Country, from the Artic to Antarctica, is still awash in the blood of our People.
Should American Indians be suspicious about the placement and content of these two Museums? Jew and “Indian?” Did it take some C.I.A. psy-war expert to figure out how best to cover-up the murder of over 200 million people? Will this museum, with a mere nod to the 500-year holocaust, stand as the permanent enshrinement of the American lie and the final resting place of Indian history? I believe there should be a holocaust museum on America’s National Mall, in America’s Capitol city. But not one of the European disasters. It must be a Bright Red Museum of the American Holocaust! It must call the roll of entire Nations of beautiful people who succumbed to the genocidal onslaught.
“IT MUST BEGIN OUR TIME OF MOURNING BY ENDING OUR TIME OF FEAR”
…for all my relations.
I remember the international news coverage of Australia apologizing in Parliament to the Aboriginal people for “laws and policies that inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss” in 2008?
(For further reading see The Stolen Generation.)
A few months later Canada follows suit and in the House of Commons the Prime Minister says:
“Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country,” he said to applause.
“The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language,” Harper said.
On Dec. 19, 2010 President Obama signed off on the Native American Apology Resolution but the White House drew no attention to it.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., originally introduced the measure intending “to officially apologize for the past ill-conceived policies by the U.S. government toward the Native peoples of this land and re-affirm our commitment toward healing our nation’s wounds and working toward establishing better relationships rooted in reconciliation.” His bill passed the Senate in 2008 and 2009.
The version signed by Obama became watered down, not making a direct apology from the government, but rather apologizing “on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native peoples by citizens of the United States.”
The resolution also includes a disclaimer: Nothing in it authorizes or supports any legal claims against the United States, and the resolution does not settle any claims.
An official apology to the first inhabitants of these United States is important but apologies are not enough.
The museum cost $219 million. The museum does a lot of good but I’m conflicted when I see and read about the suffering and despair on our reservations today. It’s obvious that millions of dollars are needed on our reservations for proper housing, schools, power and water systems to build our people back up. These were promises made to our tribes in exchange for land and other things decades ago. It is common knowledge that these treaties have not been honored.
An ongoing series sponsored by the Native American Netroots team focusing on the current issues faced by American Indian Tribes and current solutions to those issues.