Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America

In the Matter of Julius Streicher: Applying Nuremberg Precedents in the United States

by Ward Churchill

 On October 16, 1946, a man named Julius Streicher mounted the
gallows. Moments later he was dead, the sentence of an international
tribunal comprised of representatives of the United States, France,
Great Britain, and the Soviet Union having been imposed. Streicher's
body was cremated, and-so horrendous were his crimes thought to have
been—his ashes dumped into an unspecified German river so that "no
one should ever know a particular place to go for reasons of mourning
his memory."
	Julius Streicher was convicted at Nuremberg, Germany of what
were termed "Crimes Against Humanity." The lead prosecutor in his
case-Justice Robert Jackson of the United States Supreme Court—did
not argue that the defendant had killed anyone, nor that he had
committed any especially violent act. Nor was it contended that
Streicher held any particularly important position in the German
government during the period when the “Third Reich” exterminated
6,000,000 Jews, as well as several million Gypsies, Poles, Slavs,
homosexuals, and other untermenschen (“subhumans”).
	Indeed, the sole offense for which the accused was ordered put
to death was having served as publisher/editor of a Bavarian tabloid
entitled Der Stürmer during the early-to-mid-1930s, years before
the Nazi genocide actually began. In this capacity, he had penned a
long series of virulently anti-Semitic editorials and "news" stories,
usually accompanied by cartoons and images graphically depicting Jews
in an extraordinarily derogatory fashion. This, the prosecution
asserted, had done much to “dehumanize” the Jews in the mind of
the German public. Such dehumanization had made it possible-or at
least easier—for average Germans to later indulge in the outright
liquidation of Jewish “vermin.” The tribunal agreed, holding
that Streicher was therefore complicit in genocide and deserved death
by hanging.
	During the trial, Justice Jackson observed that, in
implementing its sentences, the participating powers were morally and
legally binding themselves to adhere forever after to the same
standards of conduct being applied to Streicher and other Nazi
leaders. In the alternative, he said, the victorious allies would be
committing "pure murder" at Nuremberg-no different in substance from
that committed by those they presumed to judge—rather than
establishing the “permanent benchmark of justice” which was
intended. U.S. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson publicly concurred,
asserting in the pages of Foreign Affairs that “a standard has been
raised to which Americans, at least, must repair; for it is only as
this standard is accepted, supported, and enforced that we can move
onward to a world of law and peace.”
	Yet in the United States of Robert Jackson and Henry Stimson,
the indigenous American Indian population had already been reduced, in
a process which is ongoing to this day, from 12.5 to fifteen million
in the year 1500 to fewer than 250,000 by the beginning of the
twentieth century. This was accomplished, according to both official
and unofficial sources, "largely through the cruelty of
[Euro-American] settlers," and a sometimes informal but nonetheless
clear and consistent governmental policy which made it an articulated
goal to “exterminate these red vermin,” or at least whole
segments of them.
	Official bounties had been placed on the scalps of Indians-any
Indians—in places as diverse as Georgia, Kentucky, Texas, the
Dakotas, Oregon, and California. They remained in effect until
resident Indian populations were decimated or disappeared. Entire
peoples such as the Cherokee were reduced by half through a policy of
forced removal from their homelands east of the Mississippi River to
less preferable areas in the West. Others, such as the Navajo, while
concentrated under military guard suffered much the same fate. The
United States Army and cooperating militias perpetrated wholesale
massacres of native people at places like Fallen Timbers, Horseshoe
Bend, Bear River, Sand Creek, the Washita River, the Marias River,
Camp Robinson and Wounded Knee Creek.
	Through it all, hundreds of dime novels-each competing with
the next to make Indians appear more grotesque, menacing, and
inhuman—were sold in the tens of millions of copies. Plainly, the
Euro-American public was being conditioned to see Indians in such a
way as to allow their eradication to continue. And continue it did
until the "Manifest Destiny" of the U.S.—a direct precursor to what
Adolf Hitler would subsequently call Lebensraumpolitik (“the
politics of living space”)—was consummated.
	By 1900, the national project of "clearing" Native Americans
from their land and replacing them with “superior”
Anglo-American settlers was complete. The indigenous population had
been reduced by as much as 98 percent. Approximately 97.5 percent of
their original territory had “passed” to the invaders. The
survivors were concentrated, out of sight and mind of the public, on
scattered “reservations,” all of them under the self-assigned
“plenary” (full) power of the federal government. There was, of
course, no tribunal comparable to that at Nuremberg passing judgment
on those who had created such circumstances in North America. No
U.S. official or private citizen was ever imprisoned-never mind
hanged—for implementing or propagandizing what had been done. Nor
had the process of genocide against Indians been completed. Instead,
it merely changed form.
	Between the 1880s and the 1980s, more than half of all
American Indian children were coercively transferred from their own
families, communities, and cultures to those of the conquering
society. This was done through compulsory attendance at remote
boarding schools, often hundreds of miles from their homes. Native
children were kept for years and systematically "deculturated":
indoctrinated to think and act in the manner of Euro-Americans rather
than as Indians. It was also accomplished through a pervasive foster
home and adoption program-including “blind” adoptions, where
children would be permanently denied information about their
origins—placing native youth in non-Indian homes.
	The express purpose of all this was to facilitate
U.S. governmental policy to bring about the "assimilation"
(dissolution) of indigenous societies. In other words, Indian cultures
as such were to be caused disappear. Such policy objectives are in
direct violation of the second article of the United Nations 1948
Convention on Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide-an
element of international law arising from the Nuremberg
proceedings—under which the forced “transfer of the children”
of a targeted “racial, ethnical, national, or religious group”
is explicitly prohibited as a genocidal activity.
	Article II of the Genocide Convention also expressly prohibits
involuntary sterilization as means of "preventing births among" a
targeted population. Yet, in 1976, it was conceded by the
U.S. government that its “Indian Health Service” (IHS), then a
subpart of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), was even then
conducting a secret program of involuntary sterilization which had
affected approximately forty percent of all Indian women of
childbearing age. The program was allegedly discontinued, and the IHS
was transferred to the Public Health Service, but no one was
punished. Hence, business as usual has continued in the “health”
sphere: 1990, for example, it came out that the IHS was inoculating
Inuit children in Alaska with Hepatitis-B vaccine. The vaccine had
already been banned by the World Health Organization as having a
demonstrated correlation with the HIV-virus which is itself correlated
to AIDS. As this is being written, a “field test” of Hepatitis-A
vaccine, also HIV-correlated, is being conducted on Indian
reservations in the northern Plains region.
	The Genocide Convention makes it a Crime Against Humanity to
create conditions leading to the destruction of an identifiable human
group. Yet the BIA has utilized the government's plenary prerogatives
to negotiate mineral leases "on behalf of" Indian peoples paying a
fraction of standard royalty rates for their natural resources. The
result has been “super profits” for a number of preferred
U.S. corporations. Meanwhile, Indians, whose reservations ironically
turned out to be in some of the most mineral-rich areas of North
America, a matter which makes us the nominally wealthiest segment of
the continent’s population, live in dire poverty.
	By the government's own data in the mid-1980s, Indians
received the lowest annual and lifetime per capita incomes of any
aggregate population group in the United States. Concomitantly, we
suffer the highest rate of infant mortality, death by exposure and
malnutrition, plague disease, and the like. Under such circumstances,
alcoholism and other escapist forms of substance abuse are endemic in
the Indian community. This situation leads both to a general physical
debilitation of the population and a catastrophic accident rate. Teen
suicide among Indians is several times the national average. The
average life expectancy of a reservation-based Native American man is
less than 45 years: women can expect to live less than three years
longer. This, in a country where average life-expectancy exceeds 70
	Such itemizations could be continued at great length,
including matters like the radioactive contamination of large portions
of contemporary Indian Country, the forced relocation of traditional
Navajo to make way for massive coal stripping operations around Big
Mountain (Arizona), and so on. But the point should be made: Genocide,
as defined in "black letter" international law, is a persistent fact
of day-to-day life-and death—for North America's native
peoples. Yet there has been (and is) only the barest flicker of public
concern about, or even consciousness of, this reality. Serious
expression of public outrage is absent. No one is punished and the
process continues.
	A salient reason for public acquiescence to the ongoing
holocaust in Native North America has been a continuation of the dime
novel legacy, often through more effective media. Since 1925,
Hollywood has released more than 2,000 films, many of them rerun
frequently on television, portraying Indians as strange, perverted,
ridiculous and often very dangerous things of the past. We are
habitually presented to mass audiences in a one-dimensional manner,
devoid of recognizable human motivations and emotions, thoroughly and
systematically dehumanized. Temporally, we have been consigned to
another dimension entirely, drifting as myths through the vast
panorama of Americana.
	Nor is this the extent of it. Everywhere, we are used as
logos, as mascots, as jokes: "Big Chief" writing tablets, “Red
Man” chewing tobacco, “Winnebago” campers, “Navajo” and
“Cherokee” and “Pontiac” and “Cadillac” pickups and
automobiles. There are the Cleveland “Indians,” the Kansas City
“Chiefs,” the Atlanta “Braves,” and the Washington
“Redskins” professional sports teams-not to mention those in
thousands of colleges, high schools, and elementary schools across the
country—each with their own degrading caricatures and parodies of
Indians and/or things Indian. Pop fiction continues in the same
vein. There is an apparently unending stream of “New Age”
manuals purporting to expose the “inner workings” of indigenous
spirituality in everything from pseudo-philosophical to
do-it-yourself-kind styles. Blond yuppies from Beverly Hills amble
about the country purporting to be reincarnated seventeenth-century
Cheyenne “shamans” ready to perform previously secret ceremonies
for a fee.
	A concerted, sustained, and in some ways accelerating effort
has gone into making Indians unreal. It follows, therefore, that what
has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen to Indians
unless something is done to fundamentally alter the terms of our
existence, is also unreal. And the unreal, of course, is purely a
matter of entertainment in Euro-American society, not a cause for
attention or concern. As was established in the Streicher precedent at
Nuremberg, the cause and effect relationship between racist propaganda
on the one hand and genocidal policy implementation on the other is
quite plain.
	It is thus of obvious importance that the American
public-plain, average, everyday U.S. citizens—begin to think about
the implications of such things the next time they witness a swarm of
face-painted and war-bonneted buffoons doing the "tomahawk chop" at a
baseball or football game. It is necessary that they think about the
implications of the grade-school teacher adorning their child in
turkey feathers to commemorate Thanksgiving. Think about the
significance of John Wayne or Charlton Heston killing a dozen
“savages” with a single bullet the next time a western comes on
TV. Think about why Land-o-Lakes finds it appropriate to market its
butter through use of a stereotyped image of an “Indian
Princess” on the wrapper. Think about what it means when non-Indian
academics profess—as they often do—to know more about Indians
than Indians do themselves. Think about the significance of charlatans
like Carlos Castaneda and Jamake Highwater and Mary Summer Rain and
Lynn Andrews churning out “Indian” bestsellers, one after the
other, while Indians typically can't get into print.
	Think about the real situation of American Indians. Think
about Julius Streicher. Remember Justice Jackson's
admonition. Understand that the treatment of Indians in American
popular culture is not "cute" or “amusing” or some sort of
“good, clean fun.” Know that it causes real pain and real
suffering to real people. Know that it threatens our very
survival. And know that this is just as much a Crime Against Humanity
as anything the Nazis ever did. It is likely that the indigenous
people of the United States will never demand that those guilty of
such criminal activity be punished for their deeds. But the least we
have the right to expect-indeed, to demand —that such practices
finally be brought to a halt. 

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