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Harjo: Reject genocide-denier's propaganda

Michael Medved wants his audience to ''reject the lie of white 'genocide' against Native Americans'' and says this is one of the ''most urgent needs in culture and education.'' The neocon author blogged on Sept. 19 that ''the word 'genocide' in no way fits as a description of the treatment of Native Americans by British colonists or, later, American settlers.''

Colonial and American government ''never endorsed or practiced a policy of Indian extermination,'' wrote Medved. Rather, ''official leaders of white society tried to restrain some of their settlers and militias and paramilitary groups from unnecessary conflict and brutality.''

Medved rose to national prominence as guest-host for talk radio star Rush Limbaugh and as a movie critic who defended director Mel Gibson's ''The Passion of the Christ'' when many other Jewish-Americans denounced it as anti-Semitic.

Medved claims that the ''real decimation of Indian populations had nothing to do with massacres or military actions, but stemmed from infectious diseases that white settlers brought with them at the time they first arrived in the New World.'' Would that Medved were correct in his use of the word ''decimation.'' That would mean that only 10 percent, rather than 95 percent, of Native people actually died by 1900.

Medved is wrong about his main point, too. While many Native people died of foreign diseases, non-Natives killed and nearly killed entire nations and cultures, and meant to do so. Thus, genocide is the right word.

The most widely accepted definition of genocide is in the United Nations' 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Article 2 defines genocide as ''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.''

Article 3 lists the following punishable acts: (a) Genocide; (b) Conspiracy to commit genocide; (c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide; (d) Attempt to commit genocide; (e) Complicity in genocide. Article 4 states, ''Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.''

A reasonable person (or even just a reading person) would be hard-pressed to make a case that there were no European or American genocidal crimes committed against Native peoples. Did officials, entities or individuals intend, direct, incite or conspire to commit genocide? Yes. Were some complicit in genocide? Yes. Did they succeed in genocide in some cases? Yes. Did they attempt genocide without actually succeeding? Yes.

That about covers it.

Medved claims that describing early colonists and settlers in ''Hitlerian, mass-murdering terms represents an act of brain-dead defamation.'' Official colonial and territorial bounty proclamations, which announced pay scales for scalps as proof of Indian kill, were Hitlerian, mass-murdering edicts that produced Hitlerian mass murders.

All the forced marches of Native peoples under President Andrew Jackson's Indian removal policies - notably, the Muscogee and Cherokee Trails of Tears, the Potawatomi Trail of Death and the Navajo Long Walk - resulted in Hitlerian mass murders, ethnic cleansings and generational dislocation and damage that continues today.

It is more precise chronologically to say that Hitler's Holocaust or the genocides in Rwanda or Cambodia may be described in Jacksonian or Sheridanesque or Custerish, mass-murdering terms. In analyzing genocidal plans, it is fair to compare the ''Final Solution to the Jewish Question'' to the federal ''Indian Crania Study'' or to the ''Civilization Regulations'' that brutalized, confined and killed American Indians, criminalized traditional ceremonies and customs and wrenched Indian children from their families.

The world knows there was genocide and attempted genocide against Native peoples. Only fools and propagandists would make a claim to the contrary, which brings us back to Medved, who is no fool.

We need not guess why he is raising this issue now. He tells us. And he reveals much along the way: ''The notion that unique viciousness to Native Americans represents our 'original sin' fails to put European contact with these struggling Stone Age societies in any context whatever, and only serves the purposes of those who want to foster inappropriate guilt, uncertainty and shame in young Americans. A nation ashamed of its past will fear its future.''

Where to start? Let's jump right in at ''Stone Age societies,'' shall we? Medved is very smart, so he probably knows about those Native peoples who perfected irrigation systems, performed brain surgery and formed democracies and confederacies, which some Europeans dreamt about but never saw until coming here. He might respond that only some Native peoples did that. And I would like to say to him that, of all the ships and wagons filled with white folks, there wasn't a Shakespeare among them.

Medved uses that ''Stone Age'' term to plant a falsehood in readers' minds that advanced Europeans simply had to do something about the backward Native peoples - kill them or tame them. Using this ''context,'' Medved actually pins genocide on the colonists and settlers. As Christians, they were supposed to help struggling societies, not try to exterminate them.

I don't know what ''inappropriate guilt'' means, but a quest for historical truth is not the same as a guilt trip. Honorable people are strengthened by facing their fears, even if acknowledging past shame is part of it.

Medved calls on his readers to discard the ''stupid, groundless and anti-American lies that characterize contemporary political correctness'' and ''to confront, resist and reject the all-too-common line that our rightly admired forebears involved themselves in genocide.''

The truth is that many admired forebears did involve themselves in genocide. Georgians and Coloradoans and Californians and all those who killed Indian people in their rush for gold were involved. Those who massacred innocents at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee were involved. Those who raped Native women and children were involved. Those who killed Indian people for praying, decapitated them and robbed their graves were involved. Anyone who looked the other way was involved.

Here are a few lies that are anti-American Indian: that Native children and women and men had it coming; that massacres were battles; that ''harvesting skulls'' was science; that torturing little kids for speaking their mother's language was OK in anyone's culture; that genocide wasn't genocide when it was committed against Native peoples.

Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, is president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C., and a columnist for Indian Country Today.