Indians Are US? Culture and Genocide in Native North America is the title of the latest book by Ward Churchill, the co-director of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in Colorado.
Churchill, who is Creek/Cherokee Métis, touches on a broad variety of topics in the book’s various chapters, and devotes much of the book to showing how the First Peoples have been subjected to genocide.
The first essay, “Bringing the Law Home,” sets the tone for how the book must be read. Churchill quotes from Raphael Lemkin’s ground-breaking work Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, who writes that genocide has two phases: “destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group,” and “the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor.” This means that all or even most members of the oppressed group do not necessarily have to be killed in order for a genocide to have happened, Churchill says.
Churchill also cites the UN Draft Convention on Genocide, which defines genocide as the “disintegration of the political, social or economic structure of a group or nation” and the “systematic moral debasement of a group, people or nation,” as well as the “destruction of a group” or “preventing its preservation and development. ”
In the subsequent essay, “Let’s Spread the ‘Fun’ Around,” Churchill examines how the sports world trivializes Native names, images and symbols and by extension the cultures from which they are drawn. The following essay, “In the Matter of Julius Streicher,” examines the Nuremberg precedents and how they apply to the U.S. treatment of Native Peoples.
In “Nobody’s Pet Poodle,” Churchill examines the impact of the 1990 U.S. Act to Promote Development of Indian Arts and Crafts. This act “makes it a federal crime punishable by up to $1 million in fines and up to fifteen years in federal prison for anyone not federally recognized as being a Native American to ‘offer to display for sale or to sell any good… which… suggests it is Indian produced.'” To be recognized as an American Indian artist one must meet the blood quantum standard of one-quarter or more Native blood by birth, or be enrolled in a federally recognized Indian “tribe.” In short, this is the extension of what has been referred to as “statistical extermination” or “arithmetical genocide” to the world of art.
Readers in Quebec and Canada will be interested in the essay, “And They Did It Like Dogs in the Dirt,” Churchill’s examination of Bruce Beresford’s film, Black Robe. This film, Churchill argues, debases and demonizes Mohawk, Montagna is and Algonquin culture. Comparing Black Robe to Nazi propaganda films, Churchills says, “Black Robe is… the sort of ‘sensitive’ and ‘mature’ cinematic exposition we might have expected of the Nazis, had they won the war.”
In “Another Dry White Season,” Churchill examines Jerry Mander’s most recent book, In the Absence of the Sacred. When Mander turns his attention to the role that land-based Native cultures could play in addressing the problems we are all now facing, a problem arises. “Of 305 bibliographical entries at the end of the book only seventeen… are identifiably written by Native Americans,” Churchill notes.
Three essays, “Renegades, Terrorists, and Revolutionaries,” “The Real Revisionism”
and “AIM Casualties on Pine Ridge, 1973-1976,” deal with the events surrounding the Wounded Knee stand-off on the Lakota Sioux reservation of Pine Ridge in South Dakota.
Churchill then turns his attention to how traditional Native spiritual practices have been misused by both non-natives and Native profiteers. In “Indians Are Us?” he examines how the so-called Men’s Movement has adopted and bastardized Native traditions in what Russell Means has qualified as “cultural genocide.” In “Do It Yourself ‘Indianism’,” Churchill turns his attention to the parallel phenomenon of profiteering by Natives who recognize that they can make a tidy profit selling Native traditions to alienated Europeans.
Churchill concludes by examining the “Euroamerican’s continuing insistence upon referring to native societies as tribes rather than as peoples.” It’s more than an issue of semantics, he says. As the UN Declaration of the Inadmissibility of Intervention in Domestic Affairs of States and the Protection of Their Independence and Sovereignty states, “All states shall respect the right of self-determination and independence of peoples and nations, to be freely exercised without any foreign pressure, and with absolute respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”