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.