By Chandler Jacobson
For the past semester, I have been a student in the CVU Holocaust and Human Behavior class. Throughout the class, we have explored systems of morality and ethics from around the world. As I have learned more and more about moral philosophies, I have begun to notice a trend in the country around me. Americans seem to believe that we stand on some sort of moral high ground that no one else can attain. Though I don’t disagree that America has acted well in certain situations— such as the liberation of concentration camps in World War II or the recent sanctions our government placed on Burma so as to halt mass atrocities in that region—I believe that we have no right to hold ourselves above even many of the perpetrators of the horrendous crimes this class has spent a semester studying.
The United States is a country founded on freedom, justice, stolen land and the blood of thousands of innocent civilians. When the first explorers landed in North America, they weren’t alone. After Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, our forefathers perpetrated one of the largest genocides since the crusades. Before Columbus arrived, there were 10 million Native Americans across the continent. Now, there are approximately 5.1 million living in the United States. That means that, at some point, roughly 5 million people disappeared from the map.
These people didn’t just leave the United States. They were systematically hunted down. Entire civilizations were obliterated so that our ancestors could claim what Hitler would call lebensraum, or “living space.” This slaughter wasn’t an act of war, but an act of genocide that seems to have been all but forgotten by our modern society.
As a member state of the United Nations, NATO and the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, our government has repeatedly made a pledge to protect civilians worldwide from mass atrocities. Unfortunately, if one looks into our past, we are no more a leader in this fight than Hitler or Stalin.
Although this “Native Genocide” has been over for some years, circumstances for Natives remain largely unchanged as most are still treated as second-class citizens. As of today, there are roughly 300 Native reservations across the U.S. These reservations are amongst the poorest areas in the country. In some cases, up to 63 percent of inhabitants live under the poverty line. In addition to huge financial problems, most reservations have major health care faults. These issues have become so prevalent that currently the life expectancy on reservations is five years shorter than that of the average American. Due to this inadequate health care system, infant death rates are 60 percent higher on reservations than in the rest of the country.
It is horrifying that we can turn a blind eye on what we have done, and continue to do, to Native Americans. Though we have behaved terribly, there are ways to help. Relief efforts such as the National Relief Charities organization, which works with other charitable organizations to work towards better living conditions on reservations, are constantly looking for support. Though donations today can’t entirely make up for the atrocities committed by previous generations, they can help to bridge the current rift between Native Americans and the rest of the population. Until paid for our actions and their repercussions, any action that the United States takes against crimes against humanity will be a hollow, hypocritical gesture.
Chandler Jacobson is a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School. He lives in Williston.