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Senate Republicans Reject 'Genocide' to Describe Treatment of American Indians

A column by Simon Moya-Smith about the voting down of the term "genocide" to describe treatment of American Indians.

It was 1:30 p.m. April 19 when I received a frantic phone call from Colorado State Senator Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, who said she had less than 24 hours to resurrect the Recognition of the American Indian Genocide resolution of 2008.

By noon the next day, the original draft of the new 2012 American Indian Genocide resolution, SJR12-046, was dead on the senate floor, and what was left was a watered-down euphemism that still reeks of sugarcoating and naiveté.

What was contentious to the republican state senators was the use of the word “genocide.” The bevy of right-leaning Reagan fans had nothing but acrimonious things to say about American Indians, including myself, who assert that genocide was inflicted upon the first peoples of this continent.

And the most boisterous polemic of the bunch that day was republican State Senator Ellen Roberts of District 6.

Her argument, which she repeatedly reiterated at the podium, was that she didn’t feel the death of millions of American Indians since Columbus qualified as genocide because American Indians are not extinct.

“When I look up the word ‘exterminate’ it is to destroy totally,” she argued. “And my problem with this resolution is I thank God that we have not destroyed totally the Native American people. And one of my challenges … is (the) wording; that is as if they are extinct, because they are not.”

It is curious then that the day prior Roberts added her name as cosponsor to Senate Joint Resolution 32 – concerning the declaration of April 16 through 22, 2012, as Holocaust Awareness Week.

Today, Germany is home to more than 200,000 Jewish people.

Jews are not extinct.

Then, on the same day Sen. Roberts voted down the American Indian Genocide Resolution, she signed on as cosponsor to Senate Joint Resolution 33 – Concerning the Colorado Day of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.

Today, the Armenian population in Armenia is more than 3 million.

Eo ipso, Armenians also are not extinct.

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So, naturally, I’m prompted to wonder: How could Sen. Roberts, based on her logic, support two resolutions that recognize the genocide of both the Armenians and Jews when neither group has been expunged completely?


State Senator Ted Harvey of District 30 was the second loudest to object to the use of the word “genocide.” He asserted that it was a disservice to those “who have actually died at the hand of governments” and to those that were lined up “at mass grave sites,” and were shot and murdered.

Sen. Harvey either hasn’t heard of (or possibly rejects) the reality of the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 when more than 150 Lakota men, women and children were brutally murdered by the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment and dumped into a mass grave near the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Which is it, Sen. Harvey?

Soon after Sen. Harvey ended his pejorative diatribe, Sen. Roberts introduced an amendment that changed the language of the resolution from “genocide” to “atrocity.”

The new resolution passed 24 to 9 with the replaced phrasing, “Concerning the Remembrance of the American Indian Atrocity.”

“It’s contradictory that (Sen. Roberts) supported the other resolutions but jumped all over ours,” said Tessa McLean, of the Ojibwe Nation and senior at the University of Colorado Denver who attended the floor hearing. “She was denying the genocide against our people. I felt very angry and upset.”

Amanda Williams, 18, of the San Carlos Apache and Navajo nations and a University of Denver student, later cried in the office of Sen. Williams and said she felt personally offended by the arrogance of the senate republicans and their inability to recognize the systematic murder of American Indian peoples.

“I felt that it was a slap in the face and a further attempt at erasing the truth of the history of the native peoples (of the Americas),” she said.

The only conclusion I can come to is that our senate republicans suffer from blind patriotism. You can’t be the greatest nation in the world if you admit to genocide, right? Apparently not.

Simon Moya-Smith is a journalist and blogger from Edgewater and a registered member of the Oglala Lakota Nation.