Quiet Genocide

Reading through Facebook memories from a year or two ago, I noticed that a friend had said something along the lines of, “Native Americans aren’t currently subject to genocide.”

I couldn’t put a good response together then, but I think I can now. It starts with me calling BULLSHIT.

Note that most links here are about South Dakota reservations, and Pine Ridge in particular, because that’s the reservation my family is from and so it’s the situation I’m most familiar with….but these problems are problems across the board for Native Americans and reservations.

Raphael Lemkin, who coined the word genocide, wrote in his book, “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe,” as follows:

Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. (thanks Wikipedia)

My tribe? Yeah…the government wanted them to be farmers, and then gave them land so bad, that I can remember years that my grandparents (who were ranchers until a few years before my grandfather died; my grandmother still rents out her pastures to other ranchers for their livestock) sold the cows, and the horses for wrangling them, because they couldn’t grow enough alfalfa to feed them through the winter. Thousands of acres of ground, and not enough grass for cows, but we’re supposed to farm? Even in a good year…the “rule of thumb” I learned growing up in Missouri was 1.5-2 acres of land per animal would feed them for a year, but the basis for most leased ranch land at Pine Ridge assumes you need at least 10 acres per animal.

The health care system promised by treaty is a disaster. Many reservations in the Dakotas had hospitals shut down in the last year because they weren’t safe. Everyone I know who uses the system can tell you of people who’ve been misdiagnosed in ways that have hurt their long term health. And health care is an issue because poverty and living in a food desert makes chronic illness a big problem.

There are reservations without clean water…..there are homes without running water. Poverty is the norm on most reservations (and where it’s not, it’s largely because of the loopholes that allow gaming on federal land against state regulations).

Various systems over the years have taken Native children from their families – boarding schools destroyed language and culture, and “neglect” (i.e., being poor) calls mean that most of the kids in SD foster care are Native, even though we’re a very small percentage of the state population.

There have been “secret” programs to sterilize Native women.

Poverty and a lack of hope for improvement make suicide a problem. And alcoholism. And domestic violence.

But no….that’s not genocide. Not in the “just kill them all” sense of the word. It’s the sneaky wasichu sense of the word….

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