American Culture (BD Shadow)

American Culture written with pictures from 'Red Rock'

Winona LaDuke
Learning from Native Peoples

The following is excerpted from an edited version of Winona LaDuke's talk first delivered at the Thirteenth Annual E F Schumacher Lectures at Yale University.

It is worth your time to read the complete talk, which is on the Lapis site. MOVED - not found it yet 2-24-01 This magazine "stands as a foundation stone, a lapis angulorum, for the construction of a new and necessary world view".

Now, over the past five hundred years the indigenous experience has been one of conflict between the indigenous and the industrial worldviews. This conflict has manifested itself as holocaust. That is our experience. Indigenous people understand clearly that this society, which has caused the extinction of more species in the past hundred and fifty years than the total species extinction from the Ice Age to the mid-nineteenth century, is the same society that has caused the extinction of about two thousand different indigenous peoples in the Western Hemisphere alone. We understand intimately the relationship between extinction of species and extinction of peoples, because we experience both. And the extinction continues. Just last year the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has legal responsibility for people like myself - legally, I'm a ward of the federal government - declared nineteen different indigenous nations in North America extinct. The rate of extinction in the Amazon rainforest, for example, has been one indigenous people per year since 1900. And if you look at world maps showing cultural and biological distribution, you find that where there is the most cultural diversity, there is also the most biological diversity. A direct relationship exists between the two. That is why we argue that cultural diversity is as important to a sustainable global society as biological diversity.

Our greatest problem with all of this in America is that there has been no recognition of this cultural extinction, no owning up to it, no atonement for what happened, no education about it. When I ask people how many different kinds of Indians they can identify, they can scarcely name any. The mythology of America is based on the denial of natives. Nobody admits that the holocaust took place. This is because the white settlers believed they had a God-given right to the continent, and anyone with this right wouldn't recognize what happened as holocaust. Yet it was a holocaust of unparalleled proportions: Bartholomew de las Casas and other contemporaries of Columbus estimated that fifty million indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere perished in a sixty-year period. In terms of millions of people, this was probably the largest holocaust in world history.

Now, it is not appropriate for me to say that my holocaust was worse than someone else's holocaust. But it is absolutely correct for me to demand that my holocaust be recognized. And that has not happened in America. Instead, nobody knows anything about the native people, not even people as educated as yourselves. Why? Because this system is based on a denial of our existence. We are erased from the public consciousness because if you have no victim, you have no crime. As I said, most Americans can hardly name a single Indian nation. Those who can are only able to name those which have been featured in TV Westerns: Comanche, Cheyenne, Navajo, Sioux, Crow. So the only image of a native which is widely recognized in this society is the one shown in Westerns, which is a caricature. It is a portrayal created in Hollywood or in cartoons or, more recently, to a minimal degree in "New Age" paraphernalia. We do not exist as full human beings in this society, with full human rights, with the same rights to self-determination, to dignity, and to land - to territorial integrity - that other peoples have.

The challenge that people of conscience in this country face is to undo and debunk the mythology, to come clean, become honest, recognize our demands, and understand the validity of our demands. People must see the interlocking interests between their own ability to survive and indigenous peoples' continuing cultural sustainability. Indigenous peoples have lived sustainably in this land for thousands of years. I am absolutely sure that our societies could live without yours, but I'm not so sure that your society can continue to live without ours. This is why indigenous people need to be recognized now and included in the discussion of the issues affecting this country's future.

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