CÉCILE R. GANTEAUME — OFFICIALLY INDIAN, SYMBOLS THAT DEFINE THE UNITED STATES — 2017
Do not ask this book what it does not plan on doing.
It does not plan in any way to show the Indian genocide and what it meant for the USA. It does not plan to show the survival of the remnants of all Native Americans in squalid conditions of oppression, segregation and rejection that followed the final defeat of these men and women and their being kicked out of any fertile land after the infamous Trail of Tears that has become sacred to anyone who condemns this genocide. It does not plan to show the excellence of Indian culture thriving in spite of all in some surviving pockets of resistance like the Crazy Horse Memorial and all that lives and prospers around this memorial. It does not plan to even show the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe and the phenomenal creative heritage that is being born and raised there.
It only wants to show the Indian symbols that have been kept here and there on official monuments, buildings, and documents, forgetting to tell us these are like the screen that is supposed to hide the genocide itself, like Thanksgiving that celebrates one particular genicidal event in Massachussetts turned into a friendly encounter with Indians and exhanging of gifts, and later into a celebration of the White Anglo Saxon Protestant USA. The examples would be numerous like Pocahontas’ sole image being her christening in the rotunda of the Capitol of the United States (luckily it is not Walt Disney’s version). This forced christening after abducting the lady, raping her several time in custody and finally marrying her to John Rolfe so that he could learn how to grow and cure tobacco in Virginia and get a son who could develop this cultivation after the first batch of Virginian tobacco was presented to the King of England in 1616–1617, a trip from which she will not come back alive. The United States looted images from Native Americans to drape themselves in some kind of fake Indian identity they cannot have at all and that can make people forget the genocide. They might even dream of being forgiven.
And yet of course today the Smithsonian Institution that publishes this book for the National Museum of the American Indian is bringing up elements that the vast majority of Americans ignore, both because they don’t know about it and because they do not want to know about it, and this book, this museum, this “celebration” will remain confidential, marginal, unknown of the vast majority of people, at best folkloric like traditional dresses and dances in the various European provinces. Folkloric and meaningless like the football team of Biloxi MS High School, the Indians. How many Indians are there in Mississippi?
Luckily the Afterword of the book by Mr. Paul Chaat Smith reveals some essential facts.
“The United States is the strangest and unlikeliest country in the history of Earth.” That is so true. The only country that has built itself on the extermination of the native population of this continent and the enslaving of millions of black people brought to this continent by force. True enough, some other countries have done something close to this, but none has done it so systematically. The only country entirely and exclusively based on two crimes against humanity of a magnitude that has no equal or similar instance on the planet. As for Indians, we are not speaking of exterminating a particular group duly integrated in a society (which is then ethnic cleansing), but exterminating the whole population of a continent that was there on this continent before the Europeans arrived. The Anglo-Saxon Europeans exterminated them to take their land, to take all resources, and to get rid of these Indians by locking them up in reservations where they could starve and die slowly, and if resources were revealed to be present underground in these reservations they just pushed the Indians further off to some even poorer land to grab the underground resources like uranium, oil or whatever could be found.
This book is like George Armstrong Custer telling us some of his best friends are Indians. Guess who is coming to dinner tonight! Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, I guess.
The Black Swan theory of Nassim Nicholas Taleb referred in this afterword is an intellectual and historical theoretical monster. First by the color of that swan. Black it is, like the millions of slaves. But it is red too like the millions of Indians killed. It could also be many other colors, as many as you can imagine apart from white of course. But after all, white is not a color it is the mix that is produced by all other color being swallowed up, devoured, digested and excreted to produce this colorless color. Paul Chaat Smith speaks of “outlier events” that changed the world and he says that “the two most often cited examples are 1492 and 9/11. And the parallel is so striking he does not see it, entrenched in his American-ness as he is. Christopher Columbus was the terrorist who arrived in America just like the hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers. This arrogant ignorance is strikingly American. And I mean WHITE American. They are so convinced they are the center and future of the history of the cosmos that they don’t even see the rhetorical contradictions in their declarations which are no thinking, but just a dictate, an edict.
The Monroe Doctrine and “manifest destiny” formed a closely related nexus of principles: historian Walter McDougall calls manifest destiny a corollary of the Monroe Doctrine because while the Monroe Doctrine did not specify expansion, expansion was necessary in order to enforce the Doctrine. The consequences and results of this Monroe doctrine were best formulated antithetically by John Quincy Adams:
“America…in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own…She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet on her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished luster the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world; she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit. . . Her glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.” (July 4th, 1821)
And that’s just what the USA have become: the universal meddler in the business of other countries, the universal cop of the whole world, the universal good-doer who is killing more civilians than anyone else, the universal bomber that bombards us with more bombs of any sort, including chemical ones like agent orange or phosphorus, than anyone else ever did and will ever do. So after exterminating Indians and after having forced African Blacks into deportation and slavery, and then segregation and discrimination, and finally into police brutality and killing doubled up with prison slavery, they dare come up and give lessons to the world.
And hypocrisy can reign high in the sky. “The United States was also the first nation-state committed to the idea that all human beings have rights.” That is so true: all human beings apart from white Americans have the right to be killed or exploited by white Americans. “For all its horrific flaws and crimes, the American republic is more good than bad, more democratic than most, and still ruled by a constitution that’s lasted two centuries.” Mr. Paul Chaat Smith is so right. The Indian genocide and Black slavery are less bad than all the good the US have brought to the world like the police killing black males every day, like justice putting millions of black males in prison for long terms during which they are forced to work for private concerns and entities for a pittance. And democracy is so good that Kennedy, Bush Jr and Trump were elected president with a minority of the popular vote. That’s a good democratic system, isn’t it?
And as for Indians, the book is bluntly truthful about them.
“[The country] has never been able to escape the question of how to practice its professed ideals in its relationship with American Indians. . . Its intricate and complex relationship with American Indians. . . U.S. policy toward American Indians, often filled with rhetoric of deep concern and compassion, has been shaped with intense awareness of the country as a democratic experiment.”
That is so true. Kill them all and God will recognize hiw own. Such sentences are in themselves crime against the humanity of Indians. How can we deal with the surviving Indians locked up in their reservations? Ban their music, their dances, ban their drums and their rites or rituals, force them into a white education, take the children away, whitewash them, force them into Christianity, and yet keep them out of all Protestant churches. Indians are good enough to be Catholics, Popish creatures in the land of salvaging Protestantism. I just wonder how deep Indians have to sink for the Whites in the US to accept to wear an Indian image, symbols, or pattern. Luckily two films were made by Clint Eastwood (Flags of Our Fathers, and Letters from Iwo Jima) about the Iwo Jima Memorial (p. 135) where one of the US soldiers was an Indian. And we discovered in these films how this Indian was rejected by the military establishment after being forced to take part in a self-deculturizing campaign that turned him, an Indian, into a money-raising puppet to be manipulated here and there in exchange of some good food. That Indian will go back to active duty and will end up after the war in complete alienation and deprivation.
And the vanity is so great in the embellished and yet realistic image of the US today given by Paul Chaat Smith.
“The country remains peerless: it remains the planet’s oldest democracy, and the only superpower. . . Its international standing is declining (being a superpower isn’t what it used to be), sustained economic booms are a distant memory, and democracy itself is a question, to .millions a cynical joke. . . The economic gaps have grown vast, and so have the cultural divides. . . We all have smartphones and the Internet, but we experience them in radically individual ways. . .”
And the book forgets to say that the US are not able to envisage to be only second in the world, which is the direct perspective, except of course if the US starts a war against the challengers that China, India and Russia are. A nuclear war of course. Let’s find the Custer that will do that. And let’s pretend that will be the Indian side of American nature that will come up in this fiery and furious form.
“Indians represent authenticity and freedom. . . It’s the country saying to Indians, imaginary and real, past and present: without you, there is no us.”
Note the irony of “no us” sounding like “no US.” But this final sentence would be laughable if it were not sinister. Indians today are the very few survivors of the millions of past Indians who were exterminated, the very few survivors who are still segregated against and rejected. Wounded Knee, in its old reality as well as in its more recent reality, is the symbol of Indian rejection and Indian apartheid. To succeed when you have Indian blood in your vein, you better have some white blood too and erase your Indian-ness and try to pass for white. You’re lucky because it is easier for an mixed-blood Indian to pass for white than it is for a black person, even with some white blood in their veins.
The racial and ethnic problem in the US is the very core of what is happening right now: the victory of populist white supremacists in the presidential election and their coming out of the wood frame in subsequent public events (Charlottesville).
Indians today are imaginary more than real, and Indians were exterminated in the past and are segregated against and rejected survivors in the present. So really without these inexistent and unimportant Indians, what’s left is the US in its imperialistic and paranoid existence that menaces the whole world with war and sanctions and retaliation. The defeat of this US will not mean the resurrection of the millions of Indians and black slaves sacrificed for the white supremacists to grab and spoil the American continent. But it will be the deserved leveling of ambition and arrogance.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU