LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Politics & Society
by A. Jay Adler
Will indigenous peoples ever receive justice for the crimes of colonization?
The original unredeemed social and political crime of human history is the displacement and genocidal destruction of aboriginal populations. Yet despite the powerful and irrefutable history of these events, overwhelming numbers of people in the Western world have yet to be moved by conscience. What is the reason for this demurral, and what is to be done about it? For those attuned to discordances in matters of social justice, this harsh reality is a historical given of the modern world. For others, whatever it is that may have occurred took place long ago? it is history, it is past, there is nothing to be done. Recent events in the United States and elsewhere suggest otherwise, however. During his visit to Brazil of May, 2007, Pope Benedict outraged many South American indigenous groups by suggesting that the deliverance of Christian faith to the native populations of South America had been a benefit of the colonial era?a benefit, indeed, for which the indigenous peoples had been ?silently longing? and that had ?shaped their culture for 500 years.? Speaking defensively, and in denial of the historical record, he declared, ?The proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre?Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture.? Of course, the belief that European civilization and religious conceptions were superior to the native cultures, which were barely dignified as such, was what originally rationalized the subjugation of those cultures for those uncomfortable with purely materialistic motives. In Africa, the Western Hemisphere, and Oceania, notwithstanding the pain and loss?whole societies, millions of lives?the native peoples would be better off in the end. The cross or the sword had really been the cross and the sword. And now, in the twenty?first century, the leader of one of the world?s predominant religions, that had in fact served as the handmaiden of conquest, that had offered spiritual balm to soothe cultural disembowelment, can still assert that no real crime was committed and the aboriginal peoples had been delivered a gift. How does the conscience not reel? Newspaper accounts reported the protests for a day or two and the world reacted with habitual indifference. Around the same time HBO premiered Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, an Yves Simoneau film inspired by Dee Brown?s seminal 1970 book of the same name. The book is a Manifest Destiny by John Gast 1872 MARCH/APRIL 2008 WWW.TIKKUN.ORG TIKKUN 15