Header

The U.S. Has a Holocaust Museum, But Why no American Indian Holocaust Museum?

Peter d'Errico
9/5/12

French officials recently inaugurated a commemoration of a dark part of their nation's history: the largest mass arrests of Jews in France, July, 1942. More than 13,000 people were deported to death camps in a matter of days. The New York Times reported, "The national police are exhibiting for the first time the documents that record the operation in cold administrative detail."

Prior to the commemorative events, officials suppressed this information, in a "tangle of pride, guilt and shame" that reflected French opinion generally. Much of the documentation of the historical events was ordered destroyed after the Second World War ended.

In opening the commemorative events, the Paris police prefect said the government is "conscious of the duty of memory that is incumbent upon it." This statement is in sharp contrast to the position of former French President François Mitterrand, who declared in 1992, "Let us not ask for an accounting" of what happened during the war.

Americans are no strangers to willful denial of the past. American presidents have called for forgetting the past, not investigating wrongs of prior administrations, insisting that America is only and always the "good guy" on the planet. Indeed, this is a core ingredient of assertions that America is "exceptional."

It is strange that there is a Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., to commemorate what the Nazis did in WWII, but no museum to acknowledge what a long series of United States governments did in the anti-Indian wars that are inextricable from American history. There is no American Indian Holocaust Museum, even though there are documented incidents in which mass killings, not just mass arrests, occurred across the continent over decades.

Exactly what is the "duty of memory"? Do we have a duty to remember anything? We know the adage from George Santayana, that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But what if we want to repeat the past? What if the past is celebrated, not mourned and commemorated?

There's an awful lot of American flag-waving at Indian Powwows, despite the bloody, anti-Indian history associated with that flag. Does this mean Indians have no memories? Does it mean they celebrate their Holocaust? This is a phenomenon discovered by some who have worked with colonialism: Frantz Fanon, for example, studying Africa, noted that colonized people strive to emulate the culture and ideas of their oppressors.

It seems that the first "duty of memory" is to remember. And how do we remember? By searching out the past, looking for evidence, facing facts, poking through facades, ignoring excuses, refusing lies.

Last year, President Obama ordered the creation of an "Atrocity Prevention Board," saying, "Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States." He also said, "America's reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide." He added, "history has taught us that our pursuit of a world where states do not systematically slaughter civilians will not come to fruition without concerted and coordinated effort."

One wonders whether America might do better to start with cleaning its own house, starting with its memory of its history. The U.S. cannot claim clean hands on the issue of mass atrocities and genocide. It cannot claim immunity from the charge of systematic slaughter. In Fanon's words, these historical events leave behind "germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land [and] from our minds…."

Only when we have removed the rot of historical denial and replaced it with the fresh air of historical memory are we able to say we have carried out the "duty of memory." Only then may we say we are ready to prevent atrocity and genocide.

When Secretary of State Clinton spoke at the Holocaust Museum in July of this year, she praised Obama's Atrocity Prevention Board, saying it is a means to "galvanize efforts across our government to focus on prevention, to ensure that all our tools and resources are being put to good use." We'll see if all our tools and resources are being put to good use when we see whether any effort is directed at the duty of memory, at discovering, uncovering, acknowledging, and commemorating the historical evidence of the U.S. as a fomenter of atrocities.

If the U.S. wants to take the high ground in the 21st century as a bulwark against state atrocities, it will need the credibility that can only come from admitting one's own faults, one's complicity in the evils that one now wishes to prevent. In short, there must be an atonement for wrongdoings to give foundation to a commitment to do the right thing.

The duty of memory is first and foremost a duty of acknowledgment and reparation.

Peter d’Errico graduated from Yale Law School in 1968. Staff attorney in Dinebeiina Nahiilna Be Agaditahe Navajo Legal Services, 1968-1970. Taught Legal Studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1970-2002. Consulting attorney on indigenous issues.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page

9

POST A COMMENT

Comments

soldierblue's picture
"What do you think the economic impact..never mind the cultural impact would be if that Dam Project in Brasil goes through?...there in the amazon basin?"....As well" Great Britain being the last to sign off on the accords in 1971...and the U.S. has yet sign off...on this significant set of documents they co-authored"...Also this would seem i the psychological field to be another way to introduce herd mentality...and by use of such...try to effect a cultural holocaust....assimilation by cultural annihilation...um good luck with that...we have held onto what is ours till now...and we will do so that much longer...thanks giving?...nah thanks for Nuthin!...no thanks to any of the ingrate population here upon our occupied grounds...OUR RedEarth....SoldierBlue
soldierblue
soldierblue's picture
Some proof reading "What do you think the economic impact..never mind the cultural impact would be if that Dam Project in Brasil goes through?...there in the amazon basin?"....As well" Great Britain being the last to sign off on the accords in 1971...and the U.S. has yet sign off...on this significant set of documents they co-authored"...Also this would seem in the psychological field to be another way to introduce herd mentality...and by use of such...try to effect a cultural holocaust....assimilation by cultural annihilation...um good luck with that...we have held onto what is ours till now...and we will do so that much longer...thanks giving?...nah thanks for Nuthin!...no thanks to any of the ingrate population here upon our occupied grounds...OUR RedEarth....SoldierBlue
soldierblue
tmsyr11's picture
I WOULD NOT support such a travesty to injustices toward American Indians. Considering how quickly social events can become hot topic political issues on the part of Democrats, I could not stand watching indian atrocities come into the public arena. Racial agitation has been a common theme of the Barack Obama White House and I would not want sensitive issues of such as the Navajo Long Walk come into mainstream politics.
tmsyr11
notnek's picture
tmsyr11, What exactly is your point?? Actual history should see the light of day rather than the generic feel good version of American history. I suggest you do some reading starting with Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' The Killing of Crazy Horse After those two references try American Holocaust If you still believe the injustices should never be mentioned try In the Courts of the Conquerors. Actual American history should be a part of references available to all Americans. The question here is what does your distaste for all things Democrat have to do with this story????
notnek
andre's picture
The presence of mind on a national level to acknowledge past wrongs does not exist truly in America. This country is 236 years old, in that time America has, evolved through the Doctrine Of Discovery to take everything from original Natives, enslaved blacks, interred Japanese, German and Chinese. When one reads the Declaration Of Independence, it's hard to imagine the circumstances under which this great country they described was founded. By a naked power grab. No one wants to celebrate the horrors committed upon Natives. Indian country is Americas quiet secret. It's truly sad but the freedoms and equality describes in that Declaration document do not exist on federal trust land. Barrack can for a Atrocity Prevention Board, history has shown, these same leaders who will control, steal and conquer others will do so with there church as their guide. Many an Indian and Black slave woman bore Mulatto children and these slave owners all went to church. The U.S. Government has a budget of over $1 trillion a year, yet the whole BIA budget is $2.3 billion for over 500 tribes. There is really no intention, save for lip service to honor those who were treated so bad. Barrack can say anything he wants, he is good at talking. I have seen him spend no time in Indian country and if he did, he would have to agree, the $5 trillion he spent so far did not manage to get here. There are still people living in squalor, poverty, hauling around water in a pick-up truck and using out-houses. Here in the middle of the richest country on earth. I a not sure a museum on Indian atrocities would do much good. I see non-Natives coming to look at the squalor on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with their $100,000 motor-homes, first thing out of there mouth is "Where are the Tee-pee's, they marvel at how there is not even one Target, K-Mart or Wal-Mart and then leave.
andre
wanbli's picture
Because Indian Policies of Genocide and racist attitudes of white domination, continues to exterminate our Red Sovereign Nationhood's of Turtle Island. The IRA and BIA systematic structure of Oppression and Genocide must be deconstructed with the help the the U.S....so we can final have true inter-independent sovereign authentic tribal governments with all our treaty and resources returned. Other wise what you and this paper is doing, is disingenuous and complicity to the killing, domination and control of a free Red People! Wanbli 2012
wanbli
nightrain's picture
Years ago, when the Museum of the American Indian was still located in New York City, I had a free Saturday so I went in about 10am wanting to kill a couple hours till lunch. The displays were so absorbing and haunting that it seemed like only minutes went by and there was an announcement, announcing 10 minutes to closing time, 6pm. The displays were of a mock-up of what, someone guessed, might have been a scene out of the normal life of a particular tribe. But what was surreal was the sign at each display listing the estimated population of that tribe pre-, and post-European contact. There were many, many tribes where the numbers were high before and zero post contact. I quietly shed many tears during my visit. I don't know if the theme was continued when the Museum was moved to Washington but, I really wonder if another Museum with a different theme would have a more powerful impact than this one did for me. And, what would you put in a American Indian Holocaust Museum anyway.
nightrain
marklaroux's picture
Undeniable evidence, for one.
marklaroux
soldierblue's picture
Well now..already you speak with your eyes closed seeking affirmations of what you say...instead of seeking the truth...I dont know how much public support or notice it has received or continues to receive...but I know that there IS a Native Holocaust museum in Houston Tx, and the curator has the support of Historian David E. Stannard...and if you really believe the flag waving represents your theory...then you have little understanding of the world views of native peoples indigenous to the amerikkas....that is more than not an acknowledgement of those of our young who serve in the military...and those whom have subsequently fallen in said duty...we are born with the cultural memories of our peoples sorrows...never think...for a moment...we have forgotten nor do we endorse what has happened here...nor what continues under other banners of "legality" of now and the present day...case in point...what do the economic impact of displacing 20,000 people in the amazon basin will be?...by starvation and displacement that will be an effective means of cultural genocide...holocaust whichever term you prefer..and speaking of...tell me this if you are versed in the matters at hand...the U.S. being a co-author of the Geneva Genocidal accords 1948...and Great Britain being the last and other co-author of said accords....has the U.S. even so signed off...yet on these documents?....To my knowledge they have not....Hmmm that says alot right there doesnt it?...maybe some more research is required for a more rounded opinion yea?....SoldierBlue
soldierblue