Guest commentary by Carter Camp
Copyright © 2001 Camp
Seems we rez-based Indians always are slow to react to events taking place in Washington D.C., by the time we wake up the damage is done. The new "Redskins" stadium is one place we could have made a stand if we were serious about the mascot issue. Another cultural rip-off being foisted on our people is the National Museum of American Indian going up in D.C.. I once warned about about it in a letter carried by Indian Country Today in the early nineties, but a small voice is easily drowned out when millions of dollars are being spent and the voice of the GreatWhiteFather anoints Indian leaders.
For a decade or more the Smithsonian fundraising machine has gone merrily along, draining much needed funds away from the Indian community and diverting Americas attention away from the economic, cultural and legal devastation going on across our homelands. Our leaders are grinning and shuffling into line to endorse another whitemans dream, and our artists and writers can't seem to wait for a grant, the ultimate pat on the head from the hand of power.
Am I the only Indian who doesn't trust the graverobbing Smithsonian or who questions the basic premise of the use of this unique space on the National Mall?
The only good thing I can see coming from this place is it probably will have an Indian-artist designed front entrance, properly blessed by a medicine man, that we can use to protest the various acts of genocide as they are carried out and we ourselves become artifacts. Just what we Indians need, a museum to celebrate our "disappearance" (albeit with a nod to our survivance) before we're quite dead! All is normal in Indian Country.
Once upon a time there were two open spaces for museums on the National Mall. African Americans coveted a space as did Hispanic, Jewish and Native Americans. Many interest groups, from Veterans to the D.A.R., also wanted the rare spaces. Congress in its wisdom awarded one site to a very politically powerful (and deserving) Jewish applicant and another to the very politically powerful Smithsonian Institution, their 'keeper of the loot.'
Then the "fool the Indian" process began and it proved to be very easy. Just put an Indian face on it(out of the vast Smithsonian collection) and it magically becomes an "Indian" project. With a shamans wave, shape changes and crypt-worms become our friends, close enough to be Indian-endorsed as keepers of our precious past and tellers of our history.
Is it merely my imagination that over the generations of conquest and looting, enumerating and studying, digging and classifying, collecting and recording, the Smithsonain might have learned and be USING our own sacred secrets to blind our leaders to the real plan? What else explains the lack of a desenting voice as our leaders and artists shamble all in a line?
Indians stand REDLY in the way of the American dream. For centuries Americans have dreamed we are "vanishing" and have tried hard to make it true. The Smithsonian was created to enclose us in their white past and to chronicle our demise, what medicine has made them our friends? Where has Coyote been lately?
Contrast the two new museums and you can see how they are used to support a conquerors, cleansed view of history: For the Jewish museum no thought at all was given to using it to show the world ancient Jewish culture and artifacts. They could have displayed scenes of ancient Jewish life - hunting, tanning hides and pastoral living. Like an Indian museum. It would have been beautiful and easy for people to enjoy. It wasn't done that way for one reason...The Jewish people were in charge and they decided for themselves what aspect of their history to show the world. They decided with one voice to use the rare space as a shield to protect their people against a repeat of the Nazi holocaust. Jewish politicians funded and protected Jewish intellectuals, artists, historians, Rabbis and survivors as they crafted a way to commemorate their dead and to use their past to protect their future. They refused to allow the dreams of others to distort the truth of their horror, and now their museum is a powerful testament to a Jewish dream, not a gentile revision of reality.
Our space, and the worlds window to our Nations, was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution to enshrine the lie of 'manifest destiny' and the historical inevitability of the American Holocaust. Americas museums have always been a prime purveyor of the big lies of American history, now the largest and worst is given an army of non-Indian historians, anthros, romance writers and a couple of Indian scouts, to define us to the world.
THEY decided with one voice NOT to use our rare and precious space as a shield of truth against the American Holocaust, or to prevent the conclusion of its evil purpose against my people. We still die, our sacred sites still are paved over, our dead dug up, our children stolen and mis-educated. Missionaries search the jungle for the last of us. It hurts me to think about the many atrocities we may have been able to prevent had we Indian traditionalists, (for whom the American Holocaust still burns freshly) been able to tell a true history of our own people. I envy my Jewish relatives for serving their people so well. Our Indian leaders have seen fit to sell our history so the Whiteman can bend it to fit the myth they use to avoid histories judgement... Better for tourism in Washington D.C. too.
The Indian artifacts to be displayed in Washington and New York would be much better displayed by the people they were stolen from (or bought, same thing) upon their own reservations and homelands. If Americans want to know about my Tribe, the Ponca, they should learn from us, here at our home, they might invigorate our economy and begin to see us as Poncas and not "Indians." By coming here they might realize that after 500 years, vanishing is no longer an option.
The dispersal of the Smithsonian collections back to the Tribes would benefit our children the most. They would realize the artistry and beauty of their peoples history and the value of their Nations. They would come to understand that the years since white contact have been only a short, ugly wart on the beautiful history of our people. It would give them faith that one day we will pass back into beauty. Artifacts in Washington DC are dead, cut-off relics in nothingness. At home they are freed from limbo and recharged with life and need. Even Artifacts need to be Ponca or Navajo or Makah.
Americans sensibilities will have been spared at the cost of continuing depredations against Indian people. Americans will go to the Holocaust Museum and be told the horrible truths of what Hitler and the Nazi's did to the Jews. They will cry for the victims and mourn with the survivors, in the end they too will be determined to protect the Jewish people from a repeat of the Holocaust. All thinking people support this. They will also be comforted (and exempted) to know that America defeated the Nazi, stopped the killing and helped Jews return to their homeland.
Next, Americans can walk over to the museum of 'Indian' history. They will be amazed and pleased at the beauty of our past. Scenes of tipis, tanning hides and pastoral living will hide the blood covering every-square-inch of America. Our blood. They will go home marveling at our ancient art and beauty and a little sad we had to pass into history because our buffalo suddenly "vanished." They may even feel a twinge of guilt at the part their ancestors played in our demise. But they will go away without seeing or knowing the "time of horror" each and every Tribe went through upon contact with the European. They will go home without realizing how much of the slaughter was an officially inspired, government planned, racist policy of genocide. They will not realize the depth of the crime committed so they will not understand the crimes being committed today or the need for reparations to heal the devastation. They will not understand that there were entire Societies for whom the "final solution" worked. Entire Tribes, as whole and complete as the the Jewish Tribes, were completely erased from mother earth. Their language will never be heard, their poetry, music, science and art is lost to the world, because they met a people who believed in their own, god given, superiority and the inferiority of all else. (The base cause of all genocide). They will go home without feeling the need to help Indian Nations secure their own homelands or becoming determined there never be another American Holocaust. Worst of all, they will go home not knowing that our people still suffer ongoing policies of genocide and attacks on our existance. Missionaries and Governments still work and plan to erase us from the face of our Mother Earth. Indian Country, from the Artic to Anartica, is still awash in the blood of our People.
Should American Indians be suspicious about the placement and content of these two Museums? Jew and "Indian?" Did it take some C.I.A. psy-war expert to figure out how best to cover-up the murder of over 200 million people? Will this museum, with a mere nod to the 500 year holocaust, stand as the permanent enshrinement of the American lie and the final resting place of Indian history? I believe there should be a holocaust museum on Americas National Mall in Americas Capitol city. But not one of the European disaster. It must be a Bright Red Museum of the American Holocaust! It must call the roll of entire Nations of beautiful people who succumbed to to the genocidal onslaught. "IT MUST BEGIN OUR TIME OF MOURNING BY ENDING OUR TIME OF FEAR."
...for all my relations...
Carter Camp, Ponca Nation,
Independent Oglala Nation Akicita