Telling the truth about history

I have blogged several times about the value of Americans and everyone around the world knowing, and facing up to, the full truth about their histories. In fact, my book on how the interntional law called the Doctrine of Discovery was used in North America to limit and take the property, commerical, diplomatic, and human rights of Indigenous Peoples is an example of telling the full story.

Some people would call my book and other similar attempts to be “revisionist” history, and they might mean that phrase in a negative way. In my view, however, anyone who looks anew at history and attempts to tell the whole historical story from all perspectives is telling a new, or a revision, of the accepted historical account. In my opinion that is a good thing. It helps all of us to see the various ways history really happened and how it can be interpreted and how it can be taught and perceived today.

I have pasted here’s an email report I received today about a plaque that I have seen in Denver Colorado at the state house about the Civil War in Colorado.

The email reads: “As many of you know, there is a statue on the west steps of the Colorado State Capitol building with a Civil War soldier atop it. That is a monument to honor the Civil War soldiers from Colorado who died in the conflict. As most of you also know, the plaque on the north face of that statue honors those soldiers of the 1st and 3rd Colorado Volunteers who were killed while engaged in the Sand Creek Massacre on November 30, 1864 (during the Civil War). During the Sand Creek Massacre, hundreds of innocent children, elders and women were slaughtered in the November cold.

Colorado AIM [American Indian Movement] agitated for years to have the plaque honoring the Sand Creek murderers removed from the monument. On occasion, the plaque would be decorated with blood or paint,or other substances, apparently to show people’s disdain for the monument. The legislature was never mover [sic] by conscience to remove the plaque. Finally. in 1999, at the behest of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people, the murderers’ plaque was not removed, but the legislature authorized the placement of an alternative interpretive plaque at the base of the monument. The plaque read:

“The controversy surrounding this Civil War Monument has become a symbol of Coloradans’ struggle to understand and take responsibility for our past. On November 29, 1864, Colorado’s First and Third Calvary, commanded by Colonel John Chivington, attacked Chief Black Kettle’s peaceful camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians on the banks of Sand Creek, about 180 miles southeast of here. In the surprise attack, soldiers killed more than 150 of the villages 500 inhabitants. Most of the victims were elderly men, women and children.

Though some civilians and military personnel immediately denounced the attack as a massacre, others claimed the village was a legitimate target. This Civil War monument, paid for from funds by the Pioneers’ Association and State, was erected on July 24, 1909, to honor all Colorado Soldiers who had fought in battles in the Civil War and elsewhere. By designating Sand Creek a battle, the monument’s designers mischaracterized the actual events. Protests led by some Sand Creek descendants and others throughout the twentieth century have led to the widespread recognition of the tragedy as the Sand Creek Massacre. This plaque was authorized by Senate Joint Resolution 99-017”

Now, the plaque has been stolen — not the murderers’ plaque, but the Indian plaque. Not the plaque that lies about history, but the one that corrects history. The Columbus plaque wasn’t stolen, not the Kit Carson plaque, not the Columbus Park sign, not the street signs for Jackson and Washington and Sheridan and Sherman and Custer and Evans and Byers and the scores of other Indian killers — not those plaques. The Indian plaque was stolen.

There is a lesson here. We are told that when we teach an indigenous view of history – about Columbus, discovery, homesteading, pioneers, the “winning of the West,” that we are historical revisionists — that we are making up, or lying about, history. Yet, when the invaders try to write us out of history, erase our version, our perspective, steal the plaques that try to provide just a sliver of our voice, it is just considered to be normal.

See, this is part of a process — it is called the production of history. The stories that our children are told in school are not accidental, or coincidental, those stories are manufactured, produced, to serve a particular worldview. All of these monuments and street names and textbooks and holidays and tv shows and movies, they are all part of that production process. Stealing this plaque — its part of that process, too. The message of that production process is this: In the war for control of America we won, you Indians lost, get over it. Accept your fate.

I am writing you to ask that you not “get over it,” that you not accept your “fate.” That you never surrender. I am asking you to get on the phone or the internet tomorrow and call your state senator and/or representative and tell them that you want that plaque replaced, and you want it replaced now. Although the legislature is not in session now, it is important for your voice to be heard. Here is the directory of the state House and Senate: http://www.leg.state.co.us/Clics/CLICS2010A/csl.nsf/Directory?openFrameset. If you don’t know your rep., pick one and call them — anyone. Or, call Suzanne Williams, the only Indian in the state senate: 303-866-3434, suzanne.williams.senate@state.co.us

It’s not that the replacement of the plaque will get our territories back, or treaties respected, or Indian babies fed, but it will show that there is a limit to how much we will take. There is a limit to how much disrespect we will tolerate, and this is one of those lines. That if we cant even have one little whisper of our voice in the cacophony of racism around us, then something is going to have to give. Let them know, and let’s get that plaque back.”

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2 Responses to Telling the truth about history

  1. Erol Fiel says:

    Very interesting blog… It was nice reading it.. It’s worth a read after all

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  2. tariq says:

    Some monuments are great, some are small – no matter the size however many monuments are grand in their meaning to the history of the locals.

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