Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Stuff Your Pedestal

Of all people, Republican Senator Brownnose (oops, sorry!) Brownback of Kansas, a Presidential candidate, is backing a bill "apologizing to America's native peoples". There are more details here: (I linked to the Raw Story report, because the original had too many vicious racist comments appended.)
"Brownback's resolution opens with declarations that American Indians 'have for millennia honored, protected and stewarded this land we cherish' and that, with the coming of European settlers and the creation of the United States in the late 1700s, 'Indian tribes provided great assistance to the fledgling republic as it strengthened and grew,'"....
Historical nonsense, proposed for the same reason (and with the same honesty and usefulness) as the cliched political praise of motherhood and apple pie. It paints a nice picture of how wonderful all those noble savages were -- now that they're effectively declawed and no threat. It perpetuates the usual collectivist myths that all those Injuns were alike. The only difference from the same myth promoted by the supporters of Custer and his ilk is that now they're all alike in being good. This isn't new, as some may recall from those TV ads decades ago opposing pollution by showing a crying Indian.

Those people who made it here before Cortez and John Smith, and their many descendants that weren't killed by the newcomers' diseases or guns, were not terrestrial angels of the ecosphere. They were not a homogeneous collective mass of any kind. They were individual human beings, good and bad and uncertain just like "real" people with pinker skins. Some made a tiny imprint on the earth, and sometimes that was intentional, but some burned down forests and slaughtered animals as readily as they were able, and failed to make such huge piles of buffalo bones as the expanding Americans later did, only because they didn't have the weaponry. Do not confuse lack of power with virtue.

To paint "the Indians" as the cherishers of the continent is to deny once again, if less murderously, the individuality, and ultimately the very humanity itself, of all of them. This would be only stupid nonsense from writers or movie producers, but it is dangerous when it comes from politicians. Now that they're clapped themselves on the back, they can (and do) go on enabling the continued looting and exploitation of the comparatively few ragged remnants of the germicide and willful slaughter, by de facto federal and state policy in too many areas to list. Of course we don't see the compassionate, enlightened Brownback (or his several colleagues on this, in both parties) moving mountains to eliminate the barriers to Indian advancement today. They've done all they need to do by supporting an apology to all those great environmentalists who used to live here.

There are potentially more hopeful signs from some campaigns. Lilith at A Rational Animal quotes from an interview with Bill Richardson:
If I’m elected president, I would propose to make the cabinet secretary of Indian Affairs the Secretary of Indian Affairs; I would make it cabinet level. I would try, because I believe within the Department of the Interior it does not get the attention it deserves.
Even more usefully, he went on:
First, I would fully fund the Indian Healthcare Act. There would be a stronger budget in my administration on Indian health care. When it comes to education and when it comes to childhood obesity, the highest suicide rate is among Indian kids. I would try to set up on the reservations, as I have here in New Mexico, school-based health clinics: health clinics in schools that are able to work with kids, counsel them and give them early intervention.
Lilith says "I feel like dancing right now." We can only hope she's right about his intentions; how much traction he could get for this idea in Congress is a different question. But at least we wouldn't have to listen to the benevolent smotherers like Brownback who want to figuratively stuff us and shut us away in a glass display case at the Smithsonian.

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