Europeans acknowledge Native American holocaust with series of events

Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring Group.Photo courtesy: Naila Clerici

Lisa J. Ellwood

Week-long series of Native American holocaust events taking place in Switzerland for Holocaust Remembrance 2019

Every year the Associazione Ticinese Degli Insegnanti Distoria which translates as the Swiss Association of History Teachers, dedicates the European International Holocaust Remembrance Day or Day of Memory (as it is often referred to in Europe) to a different case of genocide. This year their focus is on Indigenous genocide in North America. Swiss history teachers Massimo Chiaruttini and Maurizio Binaghi are the organizers.

The week-long series of events in Switzerland exploring the Native American Holocaust began with a screening and discussion of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee on January 27. The events will be facilitated by Oglala Lakota siblings 19-year-old Nina, and 17-year-old Nolan Berglund of the Minneapolis-based Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring Society and Dr. Naila Clerici, Professor of History of the Indigenous Peoples of America at the University of Genova in Italy and founder of the non-profit cultural organization, Soconas Incomindios Italy.

Associazione Ticinese Degli Insegnanti Distoria (ATIS) (the Swiss Association of History Teachers) has dedicated Day of Memory 2019 to Indigenous genocide in North America. Image: Lisa J. Ellwood, Indian Country Today Correspondent and Press Pool Manager from program materials provided by Associazione Ticinese Degli Insegnanti Distoria (ATIS).

Program Highlights

Sunday, January 27 - Bury my heart at Wounded Knee screening, We are unarmed and The Doctrine documentary trailers by Gwendolen Cates will also be shown. Nina and Nolan Berglund and Naila Clerici will introduce themselves and present the program of the week.

Thursday, January 31 - A lecture for the public, “Why the world has forgotten the genocide of Native Americans?” Dr. Naila Clerici will offer a historical perspective, talk about stereotypes, and explain the debate about genocide among scholars; Nina and Nolan Berglund, Oglala Lakota, will talk about their personal experience and their involvement in what is going on in Indian Country.

Monday, January 28 through to Friday, February 1 - Nina and Nolan Berglund, Oglala Lakota and Dr. Clerici will meet the students of three high schools, and the students of two middle schools. Professor Clerici will give a PowerPoint presentation introduction about the history of the Native Americans in the US and Canada and the debate of various scholars about genocide.

Nina and Noland Berglund will talk about themselves and the Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring Society. They might also explain how they prepared to speak to Vatican officials in Rome about abolishing the Doctrine of Discovery. If time permits there will also be a discussion about what is going on in Indian Country today along with a Q&A session.

Dr. Naila Clerici, Professor of History of the Indigenous Peoples of America, University of Genova, Italy and founder of non-profit cultural organization Soconas Incomindios Italy. Here she reads the ‘Red Power at Standing Rock’ edition of the organization’s bi-annual TEPEE journal. Photo courtesy: Naila Clerici Facebook Page.

​This year’s Holocaust Remembrance program came about through the friendship between Professor Clerici and Mitch Walking Elk, mentor of the Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring Group. Clerici’s SOCONAS INCOMINDIOS organization has organized various cultural events with Walking Elk during the years.

“The [Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring] group works to revive culture and spirituality, know history and stand for present-day urgent issues in Indian Country.” Professor Clerici explained to Indian Country Today via email. “The idea was that Swiss students should meet some Native Americans of their age and know from them what it is like to be a Native and what is going on in Indian Country.”

“Paddle to Protect 2017”. A film by Nolan Berglund . Berglund and sister Nina were amongst the Native youth who participated in a 3-week, 250-mile canoe journey to raise awareness of the proposed Line-3 Pipeline Replacement Project.

Nina, Naomi, and Nolan Berglund speak at Protecting our Sacred Waters Community Meal.

North American Indigenous scholars were consulted for input into the program and it's related promotional material, resulting in published material by Native and non-Native scholars alike.

“The bibliographical research done by the Swiss history teachers is quite large,” Clerici says. “Personally I have studied this (and of course other) topics related to Indigenous peoples all my life. In my journal TEPEE, you will find an article “Was it genocide?” by Scott Manning Stevens, Mohawk, another article about “What the websites of the Indian Nations say about genocide” by Vincenzo Chiarini, and an article about the scholars’ debate on genocide by me, among others.”

Europeans have long had a strong interest in American Indians, fuelled by depictions in literature, comic books, and films. For Dr. Clerici, popular culture was not enough.

“I had the opportunity to go beyond stereotypes and experience reality from a personal and scholarly point of view,” she says. “After getting a doctoral degree in Foreign Languages at the University of Genoa, I studied at the University of Oklahoma, in Norman, in 1974-5 and got a Master in Indian studies. Since then I have been doing research in Canada and U.S, and I have been an activist for Indian rights. I taught at the University of Genoa, and I am still working for the cultural association SOCONAS INCOMINDIOS, because I know how it is important to inform the general public.”

​Some examples of Dr. Clerci’s Indian rights activism can be seen online; SOCONAS INCOMINDIOS produced an evocative short film on the Dakota Access Pipeline protests (NODAPL).

About Associazione Ticinese Degli Insegnanti Distoria (ATIS) (translation)

The Ticino Association of History Teachers intends to promote cooperation between history teachers belonging to different school orders.

Through collaboration, we want to encourage the development of common teaching proposals, which can make use of the transmission of experiences between different generations or with different teaching experiences.

The collective elaboration of educational itineraries and the exchange of ideas has as its common background a critical teaching of history. The teaching of history must raise awareness of democratic values, tolerance and civil coexistence between people of different cultures and the need for greater social equality and equality between men and women. It aims to favor a critical look towards the great problems of our time. The teaching thus intended promotes active participation, favoring being in history and the association promotes reflection and debate on the teaching of history and on the different historiographic currents. It defends the professionalism of the history teacher in a school that is increasingly under pressure from the needs of a society dominated by the laws of economic performance.

The association organizes, with the support of professionals in the field of research, meetings, conferences, and study outings. It promotes discussion on specific historical themes, making teachers aware of a differentiated and in-depth view of historical analysis. With these initiatives, we intend to bring the teacher closer to the testimonies of the past and their practical use in teaching.

The association aims to discuss, create and publish online educational materials suitable for use in teaching history. It is also proposed to advertise, through the site, the meetings, activities and public position taken by the association. The site is managed by members.

About Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring Group

Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring Group is a program of Guadalupe Alternative Programs, an inner-city alternative school in St, Paul, Minnesota.The program is designed to teach ceremonies to Indigenous youth in St. Paul Public Schools.

About SOCONAS INCOMINDIOS (translation)

SOCONAS INCOMINDIOS is responsible for the TEPEE magazine and other thematic publications. Our goal is to provide original information that allows us to be able to evaluate and understand the news that comes, often distorted, from the media, avoiding, at the same time, to idealize a reality that is not ours. On TEPEE you will find current topics (whose information comes directly from Indigenous sources), stories, poems, artistic expressions, historical profiles of the various tribal groups, life habits and religious rites, reviews and any other topic that has to do with American Indians. TEPEE is a six-monthly magazine, drawn upon the basis of voluntary work, so it is naturally open to the collaboration of the members/readers, who are warmly invited to express themselves.

Follow correspondent and Press Pool manager Lisa J. Ellwood on Twitter.