Friday, December 3, 2004

Documenting Genocide, Floyd Red Crow Westerman

By Virginia Perez BROOKINGS, S.D.America had concentration camps long before Adolf Hitler's Germany, says Floyd Red Crow Westerman, and the Native activist is pushing that provocative message with his planned documentary on the holocaust of the American Indian. Westerman, born in 1936 on the Sisseton-Wahpeton reservation in South Dakota, and told an audience of students, faculty, friends and family at South Dakota State University that his description is not exaggerated. "Reservations were concentration camps, and we couldn't leave them so they were concentration camps," he said during his appearance Oct. 19. The federal government dehumanized Indian people and used two tools—the bullet and smallpox-infected blankets—to try exterminating them, according to Westerman. The gift of a blanket represents respect in many Indian cultures, he added, and using a tainted blanket to spread smallpox was the first instance of biological warfare against American Indians. Westerman, an actor and musician, outlined his views in promoting a documentary he is writing and producing. It is titled "Exterminate Them!—America's War on Indian Nations." According to Westerman, the series will look at the Indian holocaust region by region, starting with California Indian history. Although he has no formal agreement to broadcast the work, Westerman cited PBS and The History Channel as possible outlets for the series. Historical Resources According to Westerman's Web site, www.eyapaha.net, the documentary will utilize historical resources, tribal elders, historians and community leaders. The series will also feature celebrity cameos and an original soundtrack with Indian and non-Indian musicians. For some people in Westerman's audience, the holocaust comparison was apt. "I thought it was neat because I never thought of that, because I visited the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., and I never related it to that," said Paula Garcia, a Navajo and Acoma Pueblo. "I never thought of the reservations as concentration camps, but if you compare it to that, it was," said Garcia, who attends SDSU as an exchange student from Eastern New Mexico University. Marie High Bear, a Cheyenne River Lakota and journalism major, agreed. "It was good how he compared it [government policy] to the Jewish extermination," she said. "He made a good point there." During his talk, Westerman said that when it is established that a holocaust has occurred, there are provisions under international law to restore the wealth of holocaust victims. "I tell a lot of young people that we should go back to the old ways to heal," he said. "America will heal too, once they realize their wrongs." Native Americans in the audience were not the only ones who reacted positively to Westerman. "I think that he made the Native American perspective very visible to the whites that were present, and I think quite frankly he's a remarkable man," said Del Lonowski, a political science professor at SDSU. 'The BS Theory' On other subjects, Westerman challenged the anthropological theory that America was populated by Eurasians traveling across a land mass over the Bering Straits. He scoffed at that and said it was intended to show that Indians were not America's Native inhabitants and to allow others to take their land. "We call it the BS theory," he said. On the environment, Westerman said pollution has thrown everything out of balance. The evidence is in frogs with six heads and in children with cancer, he said. Westerman reminded his listeners of the Lakota phrase "Mitakuye Oyasin" that prays for harmony of all forms of life. "Everybody is so distracted by things for the self," Westerman said. "They don't care about their relatives anymore. The SUV shows how we feel about the environment. To turn this around, we need to go back to the earth and live with the earth spiritually." To address the nation's political shortcomings, Westerman suggested looking to the past, to the clan mothers. He said that the House and the Senate should be divided equally between men and women and that the women should have the final word. "The clan mothers ran everything and had the last word," he said. "I think that's the answer." Westerman closed the evening with what he said he loved to do best—playing music on his guitar—and he included folk and rap songs for his audience of about 60 people. article from groovinnativebeats@yahoogroups.com