Remember: There Was Genocide in the United States, Too

A column by Steve Melendez about the killing of Native Americans by Americans.

On the National Mall in Washington D.C there is the Jewish Holocaust Museum. Most people have only a superficial knowledge of what this museum stands for. You may, like I did, believe that it contained only images of dead bodies, stacked like cordwood and that it really wasn’t something I wanted to see. Why there is such a need for such a thing is a question that is left hanging in the space of our collective consciousness. Then when you finally go, you find that your understanding was just the tip of the iceberg.

Like the Egyptian “Art of Memory” practiced by the Freemasons in their lodges, the tour takes you from one chamber of thought to another. It begins with photographs of ordinary people, family photos, a youngster holding a violin. In the late 1930s the Jews in Europe were ordinary human beings living their lives unaware that they would soon be the objects of extermination. The first shock to your worldview comes as you read a quote on a plaque by Martin Luther who started the Reformation, “ …to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn…I advise that their houses be razed and destroyed...that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them…”. One of the greatest lessons to be learned here is that wars and genocide begin in the hearts and words of seemingly righteous men. Moving on, we read of the laws which outlawed Germans from marrying Jews. There were laws which prevented Jews from holding civil service jobs, and laws which stripped them of all their rights including the right to own property. We are told that in Austria, ‘Aryan Austrians’ submitted applications to acquire former Jewish owned businesses. By the time you reach the part of the tour dealing with the deportment of the Jews to the concentration camps, you get a sense of deja vu. If you leave the Jewish Holocaust Museum with an eerie feeling that the Jewish Holocaust and American history are somehow connected, you are right. Not only did Hitler pattern his land grabbing policy of lebensraum (living space) after the ethnic cleansing and genocide of the American Indians, but he referred to the indigenous Slavs as “redskins."

Why is there a need for the Jewish Holocaust Museum? Does it exist in order “to play the guilt card”? Are reparations the goal? No, the purpose of the Holocaust Museum is to prevent history from repeating itself. Likewise, our museum, the American Indian Genocide Museum here in Houston, Texas exists for the same reason. Currently we have been protesting the Buffalo Soldiers Museum, also located here in Houston. The Buffalo Soldiers take great pride in dressing up in Cavalry uniforms and parading around as if hunting our people down and forcing them onto reservations was at one time, the patriotic thing to do. Dr. Quintard Taylor (who is black) of the University of Washington has put the whole situation in perspective when he said, “Here you have black men killing red men for the white man”. Has it been forgotten that the Buffalo Soldiers were so recently emancipated from 200 years of slavery by the white man at the time? Also, our museum has uncovered evidence that the earliest account of anyone ever claiming to have coined the phrase, ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ was by a white man. Former Texas Ranger, Ed Carnal wrote, “At Fort Richardson were stationed what we Texans called the ‘buffalo soldiers’—U.S. negro troops”. Ed Carnal died in 1921 at the age of 72. Thanks to Ed Carnal, we can put the bizarre myth to rest that our ancestors ‘honored’ those who hunted them with the name, “Buffalo Soldiers’.

As long as America fails to admit the influence American history had on men like Adolf Hitler, then history will continue to repeat itself. America must learn from history that Hitler emulated the organized ethnic cleansing and genocide found in the history of America. Today, the indigenous people of the rain forests of Brazil continue to be forced off their land and killed just as it was done in America during the time of the Buffalo Soldiers. As in Nazi Germany, there existed a culture here in America that glorified extermination. William Henry Harrison, who would later become president remarked that most frontiersmen “consider the murdering of Indians in the highest degree meritorious”. In September of 1868 the Buffalo Soldiers killed 25 Apaches and were allowed after the battle to collect scalps and souvenirs by Lieutenant Cusack. Upon their return to Fort Davis, Texas, they were observed “rigged out’ in “full Indian costume with the most fantastic head-dresses” and their “faces painted in a comical style”. How did the Buffalo Soldiers differentiate between friendly Indians and hostile? The formula was simple: “Indians who rejected reservation life were regarded as hostile”. When genocide is not condemned, it is glorified.

President Teddy Roosevelt once wrote of the Sand Creek Massacre, “…the so called Chivington or Sandy Creek Massacre, in spite of certain most objectionable details, was on the whole as righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier.”

Steve Melendez is the president of the American Indian Genocide Museum and a member of the Paiute Nation of Pyramid Lake Tribe.