It is not surprising that a historical reenactment of a Native man’s public hanging would spark outrage, what is surprising is that those organizing the event wouldn’t see it coming and ask for a dialogue with Native peoples before moving ahead.
This incident comes from Pennsylvania, but it raises larger questions of who gets to say what is offensive and what is not.
In this case, where white people might see a benign history lesson, Native people can see and experience trauma. The reenactment sent a message that Native people are “less than” and gave permission to yell racial slurs.
This incident echoes the debate we have had here in Minnesota about whether or not to remove offensive art in the Capitol. In both cases, the challenge is the same: How do those people in the majority put down their defenses, open their hearts, and listen to and honor the pain suffered by those with little power or voice?
This recent story comes for Indian Country Today: Public Hanging Reenactment of Native Man Sparks Outrage: Historical Society of Hanna’s Town actors performed public execution of Mamachtaga to enthusiastic crowd.
According to the story:
The Westmoreland County Historical Society does annual reenactments of historical court cases as part of its Frontier Court Reenactment Days celebration. For the first time, the event reenacted a public hanging, specifically Mamachtaga, a Delaware man convicted of murder in 1785. (In this case, Delaware refers to the tribe, not the state.)
To set the scene, the actor portraying Mamachtaga had red face paint. Reenactors in the crowd yelled comments such as, “Dirty no good Indian deserves to be hung,” and “Murderers, that’s all that they are.”
After Mamachtaga’s legs finally go limp, the hangman asked the crowd, “What should we do with him now?” “Let’s burn him. Let’s cut off his head and put it on a pike!” members of the crowd responded.
The story recounted how people who organized the event were caught off guard by the criticism. One volunteer, Scott Henry, said the issue of race did not enter into the reenactment. Here is the telling quote:
“There was nothing malicious intended. We simply tried to accurately portray a case that was tried at Hanna’s Town,” said [volunteer Scott] Henry.
The comment seems to indicate that the speaker believes what matters is his intent, and that history is a trump card that overrides all other considerations. He does not seem to be considering how this might affect people in the Native American community.
Similarly, with the debate over the Minnesota Capitol art, those defending the art might see it simply as historical. They don’t bother to step out of their own shoes to see how this might feel to others who are inaccurately depicted and demeaned.
A serious dialogue between Native and non-Native peoples should have preceded the historical reenactment. It might not have ended to everyone’s satisfaction, but it would have been a start. Perhaps they would have proceeded with the reenactment, but given Native people a platform to tell history from their perspective and provide a counter narrative.
In Minnesota, the dialogue over Capitol art did not result in any art being removed from the Capitol, but at least two offensive pieces are being moved to less prominent locations.
It’s a start.
Click on the link for the full story.
Standing Rock as National Model
We wrote a blog yesterday DAPL, Standing Rock are Becoming National Metaphor and Model. We noted how Standing Rock was having a broader impact on other pipeline actions. For instance, a pipeline protest in Florida had adopted the Standing Rock term “water protectors” and created a Water Is Life Camp.
Today, the Guardian came out with the story: Native Americans fight Texas pipeline using ‘same model as Standing Rock.’ It starts out:
Indigenous activists have set up camps in the Texas desert to fight a pipeline project there, the latest sign that the Standing Rock “water protector” movement is inspiring Native American-led environmental protests across the US.
The movement keeps growing.