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 years. 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.