There’s been a lot of talk lately about “making America great again.” Recently, a history professor named Benjamin Madley who works at the University of California had some very pointed words to say about the subject of American greatness, especially regarding our prior treatment of native peoples. He laid out many of his opinions on the TruthDig podcast “Scheer Intelligence.”
From a young age, Madley had plenty of exposure to the effects of American colonization. His father, a psychologist, worked with the Karuk nation (a California-based tribe of American Indians) for many years. This gave Benjamin a first-hand view of the persistent conflicts between indigenous people and the “colonists.”
The history, (or the “genocide” as Madley labels it in his recently published book “An American Genocide: The United States and the California Catastrophe”) of the Karuks isn’t a particularly well-known aspect of California history. The book specifically details the period between 1846 and 1873. During this time, Madley explains, there were many broken pacts and treaties between white settlers and the Karuk people.
A few of the notable disputes inclulde conflicts over the Kalamath dam, as well as the extensive timbering in the Karuk’s valley. Throughout the interview, Madley also refers to several 19th-Century politicians inflammatory remarks about the native people, including governor Peter Burnett’s promise to wage a “war of extermination” on the Karuk people.
Madley also spoke of many disturbing and sickening acts of violence, including the deliberate burning of villages and the skewering of small children and infants by US soldiers. Madley says that we should always remember these instances before we decide to think of our history as a nation as “great.”
Many people dispute the label of “genocide” that Madley has applied to the history of the Karuk people. It’s certainly an inflammatory term that can take on many definitions (especially within the halls of academia). Madley defends his use of the word, explaining that he’s going by the definition of genocide layed out by the United Nations in 1948.
Clearly, it’s a very divisive issue, and one that’s extremely important for more than 100,000 people who identify as Californian Indians. The traumatic history they’ve gone through has lead them to higher-than-average rates of depression, suicide, health issues, and domestic violence. While some of his rhetoric might be deliberately inflammatory, Madley makes many hard-to-shake points about America, and specifically California’s, treatment of native populations such as the Karuk people.