My friend Paul de Armond once remarked that it seemed life in America was like a giant broken record in the sky that kept playing the same segment of a song he never really liked.
At the time he made this observation, Paul and I were up to our necks in sorting out the anti-Indian vigilantes from the run-of-the-mill bigots and real estate opportunists who inhabit the waterfront Indian reservations on Puget Sound. Our immediate task was trying to prevent lethal violence over treaty rights and environmental protection. As time went on, we discovered (with the help and guidance of people like Rudolph Rÿser, Daniel Junas, and Tarso Luis Ramos) the anti-Indian movement to be a multi-tiered interlocking network of politicians, trade and industry executives, and white supremacy demagogues.
Reading in the news this week about a spokeswoman for one of the national anti-Indian associations based in Washington state, I was reminded how the anti-Indian movement manages to recycle its anti-sovereignty propaganda time and time again as new issues crop up in Congress, corporate board rooms, or racist rendezvous. I was also reminded how the racist rhetoric always seems new to young journalists, activists, and social scholars. It’s as though there is no institutional memory in our country, no community voice to supplant this broken record.
Rudolph, Paul, and I wrote about this phenomenon, as did Daniel and Tarso. Anti-Indian Movement on the Tribal Frontier is the classic text on the topic.
Wise Use in Northern Puget Sound is available online as is Reign of Terror. Yet despite the documentation of how anti-Indian bigotry is systematically organized, funded, and conducted, mainstream media shows little improvement in its understanding or historical consciousness. Perhaps they just don’t care.
Whatever the reasons for this widespread neglect of our collective memory, which might act as a community safeguard were it properly exercised and maintained, two obvious remedies to this sad situation are for humanitarian philanthropies to consistently fund archival repositories and indigenous media. Research and education rely on them, and curating knowledge is no less demanding a task than preserving more tangible artifacts used to help us comprehend where we’ve been and where we’re going. Haphazard, erratic support only guarantees that the anti-Indian movement will be able to continue exploiting public ignorance and forgetfulness.
Maybe the problem is in how philanthropies conceive social conflict, organization, and evolution. If they have no sense of continuity, then short-term campaigns and intermittent events make sense. Unfortunately, history betrays that notion.
(Jay Taber — recipient of the Defender of Democracy award — is an author, columnist, and research analyst at Public Good Project.)