Ray Halbritter: Family apologized for author's anti-Indian hate

Ray Halbritter. Photo from ICTMN

Ray Halbritter, the representative of the Oneida Nation of New York, explains why the tribe is commemorating the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. despite the racist views of author Frank Baum:
As Chittenango residents well know, their town is the birthplace of that story’s creator, L. Frank Baum. The tale he created represents some of this country’s most revered ideals - honesty, bravery and the courage of speaking truth to power, even when power hides itself behind a curtain.

Of course, in his personal life, Mr. Baum represented some of history’s most abhorred ideologies - specifically, the ideology of hatred against Native Americans. Some have claimed that this means his fiction work should not be honored. The trouble with this argument, though, is that it negates two significant points -- one about the Baum family, the other about how we understand history.

First and foremost, it is undeniably true that Mr. Baum’s views about Native Americans were reprehensible. But it is also undeniably true that his family has made a significant -- and very public -- effort to repudiate those views. They traveled to South Dakota in 2006 to meet with members of the Great Sioux Nation to personally apologize -- and ask forgiveness -- for their ancestor’s writings about Native Americans.

Looked at from a generational perspective, the Baum family represents a trajectory that is all too rare and worthy of veneration unto itself. Their request for repentance shows that there is no shame in admitting this nation’s history is indeed marked by oppression and stained with the blood of indigenous people.

They also show that even -- and perhaps especially -- the descendants of those who sided with oppression should recognize those atrocities and reject their underlying pathologies in the pursuit of a more tolerant future. Indeed, the owner of the Washington professional football team could learn a lesson from the Baum family - namely, that acknowledging a moral crime and making a change is the most honorable path of all.

Get the Story:
Ray Halbritter: Baum family has earned redemption (The Oneida Dispatch 1/8)

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