The Denver Gazette
26 Nov 2023
By Pius Kamau
I joined the Coalition Against Global Genocide, a local organization, several years ago. It has deepened my knowledge of genocide. CoAGG was founded 15 years ago by Roz Duman, an indomitable dynamo of intellectual power. A child of Holocaust survivors, “Never Again” is seared on her brain. The group educates, motivates and empowers many to oppose genocide, succeeding to get the Colorado Genocide Education Law passed and signed by Gov. Jared Polis.
Just before a gala to celebrate CoAGG’s 15th year, Hamas breached Israel’s vaunted walls meant to contain the denizens of Gaza. Human hate incarnate lives on.
My tenure with CoAGG has given me the opportunity to peer into the darker recesses of history; I see where people’s dastardly acts upon others are hidden. The genocidal many dress their cruel acts in a finery of language and idiom to aggrandize their own heroism. It is this willful amnesia I write of today.
We don’t often think much about the Native Americans who owned the lands where we live, which makes the enactment of a law proclaiming November as National Native American Heritage Month by President George Bush in 1990, so remarkable. The observance celebrates and commemorates the history, heritage and culture of Native Americans and Alaskan natives. We honor and celebrate their rich and varied cultures, traditions, history and societal contributions.
As I host CoAGG’s recently established podcast, “Never Again,” I’ve learned a great deal about Native Americans whose lands were forcefully taken by Europeans. In my youth I saw my share of Cowboy movies and cheered the white hero — righteous bearer of truth, opposed by criminal “Red Indians.” John Wayne, one of my heroes, always came out on top whenever he fought Comanches or other Indian criminal types.
History is written by the victors, Hermann Goring said. I now believe that the movies we watched told the dark invisible side of truth and it’s time to untangle the coils of the story. A revised history awaits telling; the light of authentic knowledge needs to be shone on the bloody pages of American Indian genocides.
The 18th- and 19th-century Comanches were the dominant tribe of the Southern Plains. But they unknowingly dealt with Europeans who rarely adhered to the treatises they signed. The treaty of 1867, promised the Comanche, Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache 3 million acres of land.
Today, only 4,400 acres are actually owned by the tribe. In the “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Martin Scorsese depicts the avarice and murderous behavior of white opportunists in 1920 Oklahoma. The movie focuses on a series of murders of Osage members and relatives in the Osage Nation after oil was discovered on their lands.
The list of traumatic events that befell Indigenous Americans is long. In the podcast we have dealt with Indian boarding schools that were famous for their coercive nature and deaths of Native children. There were about 350 Indian schools that were, according to Richard Pratt, Superintendent of Carlyle School, aimed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” Unbeknownst to families, children were often abducted; their hair was shaved and use of their native tongue was forbidden. Many more Canadian Catholic school children died than in American schools. Jim Thorpe, a giant of Olympic stature and an endless cause of pride, was the best known Indian pupil at Carlyle.
The problems Native Americans confront range from addictions, to poverty to early death. Missing and murdered Indigenous relatives (MMIR) — women and men — have historically been ignored. Statistically, most Native girls’ killers are non-Natives who literally get away with murder. Luckily today, where authorities drag their feet and seem unconcerned, Native groups are working together to tackle the problem of their young ones’ lives being cut down too soon.
On interviewing an Alaskan teacher, and tribal chief, he told me of two Inopiaq Alaskan women who died victims of domestic violence. Evidence pointed to the murderers — two sons of a borough mayor. No one was charged.
Looking with eyes of compassion and empathy one sees the deep wounds that cover the Native American body, results of centuries of unforgiving, unrelenting torment — to relinquish their lands, to give up being Indians and convert into some new imagined form. Unlike the Black chattel, Indians were a nuisance, squatters on land White people wanted. I beseech American Indians to seek electoral clout and non-Indians’ support. I prescribe intensive psychotherapy for the majority of them but doubt they would accept Western-style treatment.
Pius Kamau, M.D., a retired general surgeon, is president of the Aurora-based Africa America Higher Education Partnerships (AAHEP); co-founder of the Africa Enterprise Group and an activist for minority students’ STEM education. He is a National Public Radio commentator, Huffington Post blogger, and past columnist for Denver dailies.
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