Why the Indigenous American Holocaust Must be Centered…
In American Education.
American history and secondary school teaching must focus on the Native American Holocaust as an example of general genocide/Holocaust behavior rather than marginalizing and minimizing its reality. As a first-generation mixed race/ethnicity Near/Far East Asian, I believe that one’s country’s own historical crimes should be centered and taught such that all Americans understand the authentic underlying context of the United States. That means the US must center its own history, and do so authentically. This means teaching the TransAtlantic Slave Trade accurately also, though this particular essay focuses on Indigenous Americans.
My daughters are in high school. Since grade school, their teaching at several schools has minimized the Native American Holocaust and excluded critical aspects of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade. Despite my efforts (and some other parents) for several years and at several schools, social studies and other history classes neglect to center these crimes and, when they do offer instruction, neglect to explicate them in true authentic detail.
Instead, Native American Holocaust is minimized as ‘only disease, not real extermination’ and authentic texts such as the 1619 Project are rejected outright, wholesale. Instead, the realities of genocide are conveyed by focusing on a foreign crime, the German Holocaust/Third Reich, and using this example of Holocaust as the ultimate ‘real’ Holocaust, even though it was foreign AND there is a native one, in America, which is one of the most extreme on the basis of both absolute numbers (50 million) and percentage of overall population (90+%).
As a result of this eccentric focus — in AMERICAN schools — my daughters had read Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel before they were in high school but did not learn ANY actual American history from the 1619 Project and were taught such as to actively minimize the extent of the Native American Holocaust. When I specifically requested that the 1619 Project be taught — that I, as a parent, wanted my children to learn from it even though we are not African American — I was gas-lit and told it was ‘under consideration.’ Why? A bunch of white people don’t want to hear the truth about their own history. I asked myself why my daughters knew minor details of Elie Wiesel’s life by the time they were 12 but they aren’t taught in nearly as much detail about the crimes of the actual country in which they are citizens, and sometimes not taught about details at all. Why so much focus on one foreign country’s genocide while ignoring the many millions of others who have died, especially in one’s OWN country?
What is the strategy? Who benefits from this?
Narrative: Writing Group Meeting
I offer this narrative as a way to give texture and ambience to the experience of minimizing others. Firstly, the strategies are obvious: 1. Distract from American crimes by minimizing impact, thus allowing white people to avoid collective shame (= return of stolen assets); and 2. Frame Zionism as ‘democratic’ and desirable despite all evidence to the contrary, thus obscuring the fact that it is the last global active, violent white settler colony and a last-ditch attempt to maintain white global power after Europe has largely abandoned its murderous excursions.
I attended a writing group for ‘leftist’ women who generally agree with critical race theory and the institutionalization of white supremacy, which was led by an African-American woman. There were about 12 women, mostly women of color of different ethnicities (the leader runs different groups for African-American women only).
One of these women was mixed, Indigenous/Native American and white, and she read a portion of her personal narrative about the Indigenous Holocaust in the US, the way it was extended over a period of centuries and included both active extermination and disease, and that ultimately 50–55+ million Indigenous were murdered, comprising about 90–95% of the overall population. She mentioned that high schools and universities do not teach this completely: they minimize the percentage as well as the overall number and thus minimize both the impact AND the white collective responsibility for the history. They give the same attention to it as to other crimes outside of the US. She pointed out that her Holocaust is one of the biggest in terms of both absolute numbers and percentage population and should be centered and taught honestly in schools. She suggested that US schools change their approach to Native American history and teach it as the major Holocaust from which general principles of genocide can be gleaned.
Personally, I agree with this — even though I am not Native American — because one’s own country should be prioritizing and centering one’s own history FIRST, then foreign crimes. My ancestors were subjected to the Armenian/Assyrian Holocaust (1915) AND Assyrian (1933) ‘Simele,’ and the German Holocaust (1936) and in our household, the major Holocaust discussed are those: because it involves our family history. BUT I assume that, in the objective arena of a school classroom, the teaching should center one’s own historical crimes, then add others if time allows. This means Indigenous Holocaust and the TransAtlantic Slave Trade, then other crimes, as this writer suggested, in that order of focus, centering, and priority with these 2 US crimes CENTERED equally.
A white woman intervened and asked that the writer/Indigenous woman abstain from referring to Native American genocide as a ‘Holocaust.’ She stated that there was only one ‘real’ Holocaust — of the Jewish people in Germany — and that Native American genocide was ‘awful,’ but common, similar to all other genocides. The ‘real’ Holocaust, on the other hand, was perpetrated against Jewish people , and that is why a distinction between the two matters. That is why is deserves a separate category of historical tragedy which implies her ancestors deaths are more tragic. She referred to Guenter Lewy.
The Native American woman looked stunned. Frankly, so was I. While I gathered my own thoughts, the African-American leader asked her why she felt the need to classify the genocides of one group of people as ‘worse’ than the genocides of another. The white woman didn’t answer. The leader told her that it sounded as if she was saying that the Native American woman’s history was less important than foreign history (since the thrust of her essay focused on teaching US history in US schools). The white woman doubled down on her rhetoric, saying that Indigenous deaths were ‘mostly disease,’ while ‘we were actually exterminated.’
This appalling display of internalized superiority was delivered with pure hubris: this woman was actually indignant that any other woman would feel as worthy as she and her ancestors. How dare an Indigenous brown person feel that historical (non) Holocaust and trauma was as important as her white actual Holocaust?
Here, the white feminist illustrates her investment in oppressing all of the women of color in that room, not just Native Americans. She has insulted multiple women of color on multiple dimensions:
1. The white woman scolded the Indigenous woman as if to suture her mouth WHILE this woman was describing her silencing at the hands of the US government and American white people, effectively replicating the exact toxic behaviors which the Indigenous women was attempting to express;
2. The white woman told ALL of us — regardless of our backgrounds and histories of genocide and/or Holocaust — that none of us mattered as much as she did. NONE of us. Our genocides were similar and common, her genocide was unique.
We heard this, loud and clear, and so did the leader. When the white woman failed to apologize or show any humility, she was asked to leave the group. This is one of the ways this group became women of color only.
To be an authentic citizen of any country, that country’s history must be centered in order to expose the basis of the current realities. Our system distracts from this focus in multiple ways, chiefly by marginalizing and even negating histories of extreme violence in the US present since its inception, and then distracting away from US crimes by centering the crime of another country, Germany, so that it dominates most conversation about genocide.
The best representative for Holocaust in any particular country is one’s own accountability: thus, in the US, Indigenous Holocaust should be centered and used to generalize genocidal behavior, and Germany can decide whether or not to center its own Holocaust in its narrative. In fact, when they decided to give land to Zionists, they should have given their own — and not stolen the land of some random Indigenous brown people on another continent. It should be normal to read Wiesel in Germany; in America, Indigenous and African-American stories should be centered rather than texts such as Anne Frank. Why is it that I have an extensive history of multiple genocides but am ready to focus on THIS COUNTRY, but white women can only focus on themselves? What makes white women believe, at baseline, that they deserve more than the rest of us?
As this African-American leader pointed out, ANY group which claims ‘special’ or ‘chosen’ status automatically implies that others are not chosen, and this attitude — almost exclusively exhibited by white women — damages others.
It is a form of schadenfreude to derive exclusivity by destroying others.
Any group claiming exclusivity has, on that basis, planted the seed of their malignant narcissism and thus the eventual disgust of everyone else. ‘I am chosen’ conveys a dark underbelly, because the word ‘chosen’ assumes a comparison point: everyone else is not chosen. Not unique. Common, as this white woman hastened to remind us. We must have forgotten that she is superior.
As this leader pointed out, ANY person who thinks he/she/they is chosen should not attend meetings in which other people have self-respect. This white woman was damaging to all of the rest of us in a context where we look for self-care and respect specifically because we cannot find it elsewhere. All of us, multiple ethnicities, were able to grant each other equity in these discussions: why is it that only the white woman requires relative superiority, and our agreement that she is more important, her ancestors’ deaths more relevant? Because white women are assured, in the normative ambience of white supremacy, that their bodies matter more. This white woman wanted to make sure everyone in the room knew it: only her (white) ancestors’ genocide is real Holocaust (ie, ours is lesser). Lewy doesn’t even want to call Indigenous Holocaust ‘genocide.’
Here is an article in which the author vigorously tries to prove that Native American Holocaust is not a real Holocaust (or even genocide!) even while quoting from a white historian, as referred to us by this woman (Guenter Lewy):
Lewy’s racism is evident when, after pointing out the many historians who DO believe that the Indigenous American Holocaust was a real Holocaust, he proceeds to deny that: “American Indians suffered horribly is indisputable. But whether their suffering amounted to a ”holocaust,” or to genocide, is another matter.”
At first reading, I wondered why Lewy is so invested in minimizing the Indigenous Holocaust, but he proceeds to reveal his tactical motivation later in the document:
“David Stannard, for instance, states that just as Jews who died of disease and starvation in the ghettos are counted among the victims of the Holocaust, Indians who died of introduced diseases ‘were as much the victims of the Euro-American genocidal war as were those burned or stabbed or hacked or shot to death, or devoured by hungry dogs.’”
He refutes Stannard’s expertise, stating instead:
“It is demonstrably untrue that, like the Nazis, the missionaries were unconcerned with the welfare of their native converts. No matter how difficult the conditions under which the Indians labored — obligatory work, often inadequate food and medical care, corporal punishment — [Indigenous American] experience bore no comparison with the fate of the Jews in the ghettos.”
In this emphasis at the end, it is clear that what offends Lewy is the fact that ANY other collective catastrophe would be as important as his own: he is the body that REALLY matters. Note how this white settler on Palestinian land, Guenter Lewy, rejects not only the word ‘Holocaust’ but even the word ‘genocide’ when referring to multiple ethnicities: only HIS ancestors, and their Holocaust, actually matters. Only his body matters.
Yes, this is the ‘historian’ to which this white feminist and ‘liberal’ referred.
It is no surprise that Lewy stole and settled on stolen Palestinian land: his hubris — his willingness to erase the relative import of all human beings — would be consistent with violent white settler behaviors and apartheid. (https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/7302 )
Note the extent to which this author wants to separate the populations into Jewish Holocaust and (generic) everyone else (just) genocide. Beyond mere implication, this author illustrates the reasons that exclusivity is repugnant to others: it assumes (their) superiority relative to (our) inferiority. This allows him to steal Indigenous brown/Palestinian land in another country: note that by ‘demoting’ the white settler violence in America to ‘not genocide or Holocaust,’ he also implies that the white settler violence and apartheid in Palestine deployed by Israel is not of import.
It is critical to note this: when white people erase or minimize the import of the Indigenous Holocaust, they also imply that Zionism is the result of ‘victimization’ when in fact it is another Holocaust, Al Nakba, perpetrated by people who have extended this apartheid into the next century, for 74 years and ongoing. This tremendous failure of basic humanity, illustrated by this individual, is erased by his classification of Indigenous Holocaust as lesser because he can erase his participation in the collective lapse in human morality known as ‘Zionism.’
Lewy can justify being a violent white settler on somebody else’s land as long as he fails to notice that is what white Americans are on US land: thieves and settlers. Lewy, a white man, benefits either way: he lives in both countries. But each of those Indigenous — who actually belong there, unlike him — whether Native American or Palestinian — are deprived of their own land so that a white man who belongs on neither can claim both.
Reasons to Center the Indigenous/Native American Holocaust in American History…
1. Along with the TransAtlantic Slave Trade/African Americans, Indigenous are the other collective group which has experienced American exploitation and ongoing discrimination. These are the TWO exploited groups, which is different from any other group in the US. BOTH should be centered before any other history.
2. The Indigenous Holocaust represents an extreme genocide and Holocaust, terms of which should not be questioned. David Stannard indicates as much above, as well as multiple others. This is true on both on an absolute basis and on a percentage of population basis. This is extremely relevant: a Holocaust of 90% indicates that many entire families have been permanently wiped out. The representative percentage is under-emphasized, or even obscured.
3. The Indigenous Holocaust covers the wide range of genocidal behaviors inclusive of those listed on Genocide Watch and which were sustained over a period of many generations. Thus, general aspects of Holocaust can be readily illustrated by the wide range of these behaviors as experienced by Indigenous Americans.
4. The notion that Indigenous American Holocaust was ‘just disease’ should be scrubbed from the historical canon. Its implication, as the racist Lewy above shows, is that someone else’s deaths matter more. This attitude should be overtly discouraged.
5. Marginalizing or minimizing (‘the Indigenous genocide was mostly due to disease, not extermination’) allows white people (and for that matter, others) to avoid responsibility for the actual history by minimizing the event.
Centering this American Holocaust and elaborating on its effects allows all Americans to take responsibility for their settler-based histories around the world, such as Palestine/Israel.
6. Exposing the US’ history as a violent settler country from its inception also underlines this behavior in other countries such as Palestine/Israel. When the German Holocaust/Third Reich is centered, the narrative focuses on previous victimization of Jewish people. This Holocaust was deployed politically in the form of Zionism, a variant of white settler violence. The Holocaust is PREVIOUS violence which, however horrific, is now deployed tactically by Zionists to justify CURRENT violence against Palestinians, which should be deemed overtly unacceptable. CURRENT violence is more relevant than previous violence. No matter how much one was a victim in the past, if one is currently a perpetrator, the current behavior trumps history. When a man abuses his wife because he was abused as a child, who should we treat as a victim? The priority is to treat the current victim first. The person who has allowed himself to become a perpetrator has illustrated a failure in morals that the current victim does not exhibit.
7. Current perpetrators, regardless of previous victim status, are PERPETRATORS. They should view themselves as such.
American schools center the German Holocaust — a foreign one — which frames not only actual victims, Jewish people, as victims but also conflates Judaism with Zionism, which is a form of white settler violence. Zionism is white settler violence and apartheid; Judaism is a monotheistic religion. Many Zionists are not Jewish, and many Jews are not Zionists. These concepts are falsely conflated by centering Zionism as a necessary outcome of the Holocaust, when it is just a reiteration of global white power for centuries, an extension of active colonization and apartheid.
Thus, actual white settler violence and stealing of brown land (in this case, Palestinian), is subconsciously associated with victimization when it should be overtly associated with apartheid instead.
This association is coddled and actively promoted by US schools: center the German Holocaust of almost a century ago so as to whitewash Israel, whose ongoing crimes constitute continuous apartheid violence. This allows American white people to deny their own crimes as well.
Centering the Indigenous Holocaust allows us to expose the similarities between violent white settler behavior in the US and in Israel: both countries are born entirely of attempts to destroy the entire Indigenous population and steal/rename the entire land.
Jewish people were victims of the Holocaust in Germany.
Zionists — whether Jewish, Christian, or otherwise — are violent white settlers committing Holocaust against another group of people.
Lewy illustrates that Zionism is connected to a refusal to acknowledge not only Palestinian Indigenous trauma but that of other Indigenous peoples. Inadvertently, Lewy shows why all women of color are invested in all other women of color: all of us, at some point or another, have been subjected to violent white settler colonization.
Zionism represents a failure to deal with transgenerational trauma with either ethics or empathy and is similar to the stance of white Americans: they delude owning land that they stole.
8. Centering Indigenous Americans Holocaust exposes the US’ Judeo-Christian bias AND the way Europeans disfigured the Bible by weaponizing it. Europeans/white people used the Bible as a weapon repeatedly to colonize, murder, and steal land worldwide for centuries, since c. 1400’s: their entire premise was that ‘God made me do it’ as they traipsed about the globe murdering some 300 million Black and brown people, century after century, so that they could over-resource their white women back home.
Then, in the US, they deformed the Bible once again c. 1870 (‘Manifest Destiny’) so that they could justify, again in the name of ‘God,’ murdering and maiming millions of Indigenous people and stealing that land.
In 1948, the Bible was deployed once again to justify stealing land from yet another group of Indigenous brown people, Palestinians, and to establish yet another white settler colony as if to hold onto their methods despite being at the end of their white empire.
This Indigenous woman emphasized to this white woman — — and to the group — — that she did not frame the Bible as a favorable text and made little distinction between Old and New Testaments. Her story also reminded the group, as she read it, that the Bible was not only used against Indigenous people to steal land through self-deception but also used repeatedly, for years, to decimate the culture by separating them from their parents (see white feminist Alice Fletcher).
It is important for all members and citizens of any particular society to focus on their own histories first, then those of other countries. Schools in the US should be obligated to center the narratives of exploited peoples first — Indigenous and African- Americans — then crimes against other people of color in America, then foreign crimes.
The default setting for any country should be their own historical realities. Thus, the notion that we center the crimes of other countries — 12 year olds reading about Elie Weisel’s favorite supper while getting marginal education about the Indigenous land and bones we are sitting on and no engagement with essays such as the 1619 Project— also implies that those others are more important.
As the leader of the writing group indicated, people in any group who perceive themselves as special should take responsibility for the internalized superiority this conveys to others, as well as its attendant subordination of the rest of us.
The assumption should be that subordinated people will not want their oppressors around unless those oppressors understand and convey humility and a willingness to center others, to change the circumstances of their over-resourcing.
American education must center the histories of exploited peoples and must, when doing so, grant all of us the full range of our historical Holocausts.
Any minimization damages all of our humanity.