Opinion

Doug George-Kanentiio: Don't blame Oneidas for tribe's actions






A soldier after the massacre at Wounded Knee. Photo from Brattleboro History

On December 21, the Oneida Nation of New York announced it would build a $20 million casino-bingo hall in Chittenango, NY on the ancestral lands of the Onondaga Nation and within 15 miles of its Turning Stone Casino. The ancestral boundary between Onondaga and Oneida nations is the north flowing Chittenango Creek and the new casino is west of that waterway. Oneida territory begins on the east bank.

The new facility will be named “The Yellow Brick Road” since L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz books, once lived in Chittenango (located 12 miles east of Syracuse, NY).

Not only was Baum a best selling author he was a notorious racist who, as editor of a South Dakota newspaper, called for the extermination of all Native peoples. One of his essays is as written:
“The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are.”

His advocacy for genocide fueled the anti-Native sentiment in the Dakotas at that time and was penned just weeks before 290 Lakotas were murdered by the US Army at Wounded Knee, South Dakota on December 29, 1890. Rather than show any compassion towards those victims (of which 200 were women and children) Baum elected to temporize this massacre by stating in his January 3, 1891 editorial-written while the Lakota dead remained unburied and frozen into grotesque death contortions:
"The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past."

Given that the Oneida Nation has been an advocate for the removal of offensive mascots such as the Washington Redskins the decision to call its proposed casino after Baum is as shocking and it is contradictory.

Baum was not only hostile towards Natives he also expressed his dislike towards people of African descent in blatantly racist poems such as “There Was a Little Nigger Boy”.

Baum writes:
There was a little nigger boy
hadn’t any collar
and when the cooper collared him
nigger boy did holler

Baum was a member of the Theosophist Society, a group which saw God through Nature but at least one of its leaders held very strong anti-Semitic beliefs. As quoted by Matt Lebovic in his “Lions, Tigers and Genocide” essay exposing Baum’s racism in a March 2013 edition of the Times of Israel:

Theosophical Society leader Helena Blavatsky organized a ritual and communal infrastructure into which Baum and his wife entered in 1897. Blavatsky preached about a world filled with interracial struggle, where a superior Aryan race toiled against “semi-human” Jews.

“Judaism is a religion of hate and malice toward everyone and everything outside itself,” wrote Blavatsky in her “Secret Doctrine.” Decades later, this and other Blavatsky teachings resurfaced in Nazi racial doctrine.

The power of Baum’s opinions carries on in his Oz writings where Natives are the winged monkeys completely subdued and in a condition of mortal servitude.

Perhaps the Oneida Nation is ignorant of Baum’s writings or it simply does not care about the explicit racism therein. But its callousness exposes the entire anti-Redskins movement as nothing more than a scam, a way to place itself as an advocate for indigenous peoples while it remains a pariah among the other Iroquois communities.

But make no mistake the entity calling itself the Oneida Nation of New York did not seek, nor did it receive, the approval of the Oneida people to construct the new casino or to tackle the Washington Redskins. In truth, the ONNY has been sued by its own members in US federal court for violation of the Indian Civil Rights Act and for stripping the Oneida people of their membership for engaging in acts of dissent such as speaking to the press and being seen in the presence of unnamed “Canadians."

With an administration isolated from its own people and whose laws are enforced by dozens of non-Native cops it is not hard to understand the blind arrogance which comes from such unbridled power and the pathetic decision to use Baum as an inspiration.

Just don’t blame the Oneida people.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the former editor of the journal Akwesasne Notes. A founding member of the Native American Journalists Association he served on the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian. He is the author of many books and articles about aboriginal people including "Iroquois on Fire". He may be reached via e-mail: Kanentiio@aol or by calling 315-415-7288.