Saturday, April 21, 2007

"Worst Massacre?"

A quick glance at two recent Zapiro cartoons finds the brother saying more than most, as usual. The first cartoon on the VA Tech massacre appeared in the Mail & Guardian on 19/4 and the second on 20/4.

I have also been thinking about the curious claim in some of the media that the VA Tech massacre was the worst in American history. How could it be? Then I came across Kat Teraji's excellent questioning of the claim. See her article entitled "A Native Perspective on Virginia Tech Headlines" in the Gilroy Dispatch.

Joan Redfern, a Lakota Sioux quoted in Teraji's article, put the claim in rightful historical perspective by saying the following:

"To say the Virginia shooting is the worst in all of U.S. history is to pour salt on old wounds-it means erasing and forgetting all of our ancestors who were killed in the past, ... The use of hyperbole and lack of historical perspective seems all too ubiquitous in much of the current mainstream media, ... My intention is not to downplay the horror of what has happened this week in any way. But we have a 500-year history of mass shootings on American soil, and let's not forget it."

The picture above is of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 when more than 300 Dakota Sioux where gunned down by the US 7th Cavalry. See the Wounded Knee Museum for more information.

Black Elk said of the massacre: "I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream ... the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead."

See Dee Brown's book "Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West" for a powerful discussion of the massacre and its place in American history.

We can't just forget the bodies that were thrown into this wagon after the Wounded Knee Massacre. We can't just forget the bodies dumped by US soldiers into this mass grave below.

And we definitely can't just forget the larger genocide that lies boiling beneath the surface ... the "worst" massacre in American history.

While we are not forgetting, take a moment to sign this petition to RESCIND WOUNDED KNEE 'MEDALS' NOW!

How shameful hey? The absolute brutality at Wounded Knee was rewarded with 20 'congressional medals of honor'.

See also the American Indian Movement website for more information.



Anonymous said...

The Wounded Knee massacre wasn’t the worse massacre in American history. The Fort Mims massacre of August 1813, in which Creek Indians massacred 500 men, women and children, was worse. Native Americans actually killed more whites than whites killed Native Americans. (Wikipedia: “Fom first contact (1511) to the closing of the frontier (1890), and determined that 9,156 people died from atrocities perpetrated by Native Americans, and 7,193 people died from atrocities perpetrated by whites.”)

The United States issued Medals of Honor rather freely during the Civil War and American Indian Wars. Most actions that won soldiers Medals of Honor in the 1800s would not have merited even a Silver Star in wars of the 20th century.

Ridwan Laher said...

It must be noted that the political conditions that led to the Ft Mims massacre began prior to the War of 1812. After the American Revolution the Creek were being courted by the US, France, and Britain who respectively sought to destabilize each other.

It was this competitive animosity between European settlers/invaders that defined and fueled the Creek War. In particular, it was the virulent animosity/hatred among the US and Britain that ignited/agitated the Creek Indian War.

The British armed the Creeks of the "Red Sticks" grouping.

The "Red Sticks" were under the command of Peter McQueen and Willaim Weatherford (both were of Scotsman and Creek parentage).

McQueen and Weatherford were paid by the British for every human scalp they brought back from Ft. Mims.

In essence the armed conflict that took place at Ft. Mims cannot be conveniently separated from the War of 1812 and its mediating preconditions.

Therefore, it is too simplistic, even disingenuous, to treat Ft. Mims as a one-sided massacre by Creeks, and/or to relegate it to a white/Indian racialized dichotomy where unbridled Creek aggression
‘victimized' innocent white settlers.

It is also important to note that the numbers you cite for those killed at Ft. Mims are not entirely made up of white lives. In fact, among the dead were significant numbers of Indians
"friendly" to the white militia and settlers, so called "half-breeds" or mixed race folk, and Black slaves.

Therefore, the total number of whites killed does not convincingly detract from my claim that Wounded Knee is the "worst" massacre in US history.

In a larger sense, the claim that more whites were killed by Indians 1511 to 1890 is nothing short of egregious. It boggles my mind to comprehend the ‘contexts' into which this claim must be massaged. What is being taken out and what is being factored in to reach such a dubious conclusion??

I would use the word genocide, nothing less, to describe what happened to Indians! How else would one see the decimation of 12 million Indians in the 1500s to just 237 000 in 1900?

Academics Stiffarm and Lane wrote in their influential chapter entitled "The Demography of Native North America: A Question of American Indian Survival" that "there can be no more monumental example of sustained genocide—certainly none involving a 'race' of people as broad and complex as this—anywhere in the annals of human history"

Noted Ethnic Studies Professor Ward Churchill (notwithstanding the Boulder Colorado fiasco) has called it "the most sustained" and "vast genocide ... on record." See "Acts of Rebellion: The Ward Churchill Reader (2002)" for a relevant expanded discussion.

Churchill also dispels the usual spurious denial and counter-massacre claims in his excellent book "A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present (1998)."

I think what also comes across from an expanded, and nuanced, reading is that the genocide is not merely about direct murders/killings. We should take into consideration the vast numbers of Indians who were extinguished more ‘indirectly' through strategic starvation and disease (biological warfare no doubt).

And, we should account for the detention of children in boarding schools where they were in essence ‘de-coded' for purposes of socio-cultural annihilation.

See David Wallace Adams book entitled "Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience 1875-1928", for example.

Historian David E. Stannard, perhaps puts it most forcefully when he says the massacres of Indians represents the "worst human holocaust the world had ever witnessed, roaring across two continents non-stop for four centuries and consuming the lives of countless tens of millions of people." See his book the
"American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (1993)."

If we are to accept your thinking on the awarding "Medals of Honour" by the US, is it not more reason to have them rescinded today? It would be a very late but bona-fide start towards a more equitable treatment of what happened at the Wounded Knee Massacre.

Nevertheless anonymous, thanks for looking in on my blog and commenting here.