Student fights for Indigenous perspective in college history class

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If the Native communities in the United States are to truly heal from the grievous injustices that have been perpetrated against them for four centuries and counting, a true reckoning of the genocide that took place on this continent is imperative.

However, recent events demonstrate this vision is not yet a reality.

Last week, a Cal State Sacramento sophomore of Navajo descent, Chiitaanibah Johnson, was shocked to hear one of her professors trivialize the atrocities committed against indigenous people by suggesting that genocide was too strong of a word to describe the actions of colonists.

Professor of U.S History, Maury Wiseman, preached that native groups were already violent towards each other before the arrival of Europeans, and that it was the introduction of foreign diseases that decimated the Native populations, rather than specific harmful intentions from settlers.

Johnson felt that this position did not fully reflect the truth of what had transpired, and went home to do her own research on the matter. When she challenged her professor at their next class, and argued for the inclusion of discussions about Native technology, society and spirituality in the course, Professor Wiseman grew hostile. When she refused sit down and accept his version of history, Wiseman ended class and told Johnson she would be expelled from his course. Johnson states that she had ‘zero support’ from her classmates during the confrontation.

Wiseman’s claim that the term ‘genocide’ is not applicable to the devastation of North American peoples is controversial, as many of his peers find it to be wholly appropriate. David Stannard, a historian at the University of Hawaii, described the plight of Native Americans as the “worst human holocaust the world had ever witnessed, roaring across two continents non-stop for four centuries and consuming the lives of countless tens of millions of people.”

In his position, Wiseman overlooks the multitude of unjust and officially sanctioned deportations inflicted upon native peoples by the Federal Government, the most famous of which being the ‘Trail of Tears, a forced march of the Cherokee Nation from their legally protected homeland in Georgia to a reservation in Oklahoma, a trek on which thousands died.

He also fails to account for the countless massacres enacted against Native peoples by US troops, such as the one which occurred at Wounded Knee in 1890, where three hundred men, women and children were killed. Webster’s dictionary describes genocide as, “the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation”. The events described, and many others, clearly fit that definition.

Johnson and her family are speaking with administrators in hopes of reconciling the situation amicably, and are hopeful it will be resolved soon. However, this episode is a sad reminder that the history of Native Americans continues to be marginalized and distorted by the mainstream.

By denying a history of oppression towards the Indigenous community, people like Wiseman not only derelict the historical record, but also gloss over the reasons why many Native American communities are having such trouble in the present times. Yesterday matters only so far in that it helps to understand and correctly perceive today. It is essential that we improve the American people’s understanding relative to the history of this Nation and Indigenous Americans, so collectively acknowledge the crimes of this guilty nation and move forward to address them.

Indian Country Beware: Another Legal Assault on ICWA

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Yet another major lawsuit attacking the Indian Child Welfare Act was filed in federal court last month, demonstrating the existence of a coordinated and well-funded effort to undermine a law that is so vital to the preservation of Native heritage.

The latest suit, filed in Oklahoma, alleges ICWA violated the constitutional rights of an Indian couple by allowing tribes to intervene in the adoption. The suit hinges primarily on their right to not have medical records disclosed to tribes and further alleges the couple should be allowed to decide the placement of their child without interference from tribal entities.

The Lakota People’s Law Project believes the plaintiff’s legal position is absurd on its face. Moreover, this attack on Native rights demonstrates why ICWA needs robust protections from adoption agencies and attorneys who make large profits off of wresting Indian children from their families and placing them in white families where they are cut off from their heritage, culture and language.

The suit is one of four major lawsuits filed in four different courts by plaintiffs closely connected with adoption-industry lobbying groups.

Our organization finds it hard to believe that four separate Indian parental units in four separate states have come forward after conducting a detailed analysis of ICWA and determining the long standing law, intending to protect the integrity of Native culture, was standing in the way of their constitutional rights.

The more likely scenario, in our view, is that these Indian couples/parents, were approached and recruited by lawyers affiliated with the adoption industry. It is highly likely that these Indian mothers and fathers were somehow persuaded to act as plaintiffs in these suits.

The United States Adoption Industry is a $13 billion a year industry, according to Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy, an expert on adoption issues who has been writing a blog since 2005.

The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys is a visible and aggressive consortium that has formed around the adoption-industrial-complex, which proves especially lucrative for adoption attorneys. In the latest suit, the attorney for the plaintiffs, Paul Swain, has been a member of AAAA since 2009. He claims to specialize in interstate adoption, contested adoption among other aspects of adoption law.

As our most recent press release states, AAAA President Laurie Goldheim revealed the organization’s plan of attack in a webinar entitled “A Call to Action Regarding the BIA Guidelines.”

“The Board of Trustees voted to include the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys as a plaintiff in a lawsuit being filed in federal district court challenging both the Guidelines and eventually the rule,” Goldheim said during the webinar. “We are exploring the opportunity for a political solution with our lobbyists and others to determine if there can be an impact/solution in Washington, D.C.”

Again, it’s exceedingly difficult to believe this organization genuinely thought the rights of Indians were being violated by a law enacted to protect their heritage and culture; rather, it’s much more likely this organization is intent on removing an impediment to their ongoing personal enrichment on the backs of impoverished minorities.

The fact that they would use the U.S. Constitution as a means of doing so, shows the level to which they are willing to stoop to exploit impoverished Indian mothers.

The lawsuit in Oklahoma is now one of four lawsuits filed throughout the United States, attacking ICWA, state laws that further enhance the protections in the federal law and the federal guidelines that were released by the BIA earlier this year in reaction to the consistent and flagrant violations of the law in South Dakota, Alaska, Oklahoma, Maine and elsewhere.

We need your help. Write your representative. Write op-eds to your local papers. Tell your friends.

As Turtle Talk, an Indigenous Law and Policy Center Blog, published the following when the first few lawsuits were filed:

“This should be a call to arms for Indian Country. [These groups are] presumably well-funded organizations with a litigation, scholarly and public relations strategy. Indian country lost Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl because the adoption industry won the PR battle before Indian country even noticed. It’s time to act.”

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