Newcomb: Dehumanization in Indian law and policy
"The history of federal Indian law and policy is a history of the dehumanization of Indian peoples and people. Dehumanization involves treating or regarding other human beings, often an entire people or peoples, as not being fully human, or as a being not quite human. With regard to American Indian nations and peoples, dehumanization has involved a refusal to regard or treat Indian peoples as fully human. Terms such as “savages,” “heathens,” “pagans,” “infidels,” “barbarous,” and “uncivilized” have been construed to mean “you’re not quite human (sub-human) because you’re not White/European, and not Christian.”

In “The Dehumanization of Man” (1983), Ashley Montagu quoted Erich Kahler as saying that “dehumanization” has “scarcely been studied methodically.” It is time to take such a study seriously. In her book “The Shock Doctrine” (2007), Naomi Klein said the message of “hostile interrogations” is “You are no one, you are who we want you to be.” She calls this the very “essence of dehumanization.” That said, what has been the main message of U.S. federal Indian law and policy? “As an Indian you’re nothing; you are who, and what, we want you to be.”

The nineteenth century slogan, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” encapsulates this dehumanizing attitude and form of thought and behavior.

The dehumanization of our Indian peoples has been manifested in many ways. The countless massacres, the forced removals, the boarding schools that tore Indian children away from their extended families, communities and nations, the sterilizations of Indian women in IHS hospitals in the 1970s, the attack on our languages, on our spiritual and ceremonial traditions, on our sacred places. These are just a few examples of the ways in which we have been continuously dehumanized by the United States."

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: Dehumanization in U.S. Indian Law and Policy (Indian Country Today 3/13)

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