Ray Halbritter: Author's family apologized for anti-Indian stance

The following is the opinion of Ray Halbritter. All content © Native Sun News.

Ray Halbritter. Photo from ICTMN

Baum family has earned redemption
By Ray Halbritter

As a people with centuries of roots in this region, the Oneida Indian Nation has an abiding interest in promoting and preserving this sacred place we all call home. As such, we are constantly looking to support opportunities to strengthen this region’s tourism economy.

That is why we developed our new casino facility in Chittenango - it will allow Central New York to maximize its connection to one of the most iconic American stories of all time: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

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.

Second, there is a fundamental problem with the assertion that all of a historical figure or entity’s accomplishments must automatically be negated because of other behavior that is separate from those accomplishments. If that were the case, Americans should not celebrate the Declaration of Independence because Thomas Jefferson was a proud slave owner.

Take the American military as another example. At one point in our country’s history, the military was responsible for killing untold numbers of Native Americans, today, by contrast, Native Americans admirably serve at the highest per capita rate of any demographic. Nobody would argue that such service is akin to complicity in past crimes against Native Americans.

This, of course, does not mean the historical record should be whitewashed. But it does mean that when it comes to history, we can venerate indisputably great works of art, science, medicine and industry without also promoting all the maestros views of society.

The new Chittenango development clearly proves this. We are commemorating “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” a rare piece of original Americana. And we are doing so in order to continue strengthening the economy of this region for our families, and for the coming generations.

In the process, we are honoring a spirit of redemption and reconciliation –– one that can be a model for the whole country.

Ray Halbritter is the representative of the Oneida Nation of New York and the CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises.

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