Political Matters – June 2021


By Mordecai Specktor

Santorum is cancelled
In late May, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was fired by CNN from his senior political commentator job after making some benighted remarks about Native people.

Santorum spoke at an April event for the Young Americans Foundation, a conservative youth group, and said that there was “nothing” in the U.S. before Europeans colonizers arrived, according to The Guardian (London).

“We came here and created a blank slate,” he said. “We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yes we have Native Americans, but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”

Native groups took umbrage at Santorum’s ignorant comments.

“Rick Santorum is an unhinged and embarrassing racist who disgraces CNN and any other media company that provides him a platform,” responded Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians (ncai.org), according to a story on the Huffington Post (huffpost.com). “Televising someone with his views on Native American genocide is fundamentally no different than putting an outright Nazi on television to justify the Holocaust. Any mainstream media organization should fire him or face a boycott from more than 500 tribal nations and our allies from across the country and worldwide.”

In her statement, Sharp pointed out that “European colonizers” encountered “thousands of complex, sophisticated and sovereign” tribal nations in this land, “each with millennia of distinct cultural, spiritual and technological development. Over millennia they bred, cultivated and showed the world how to utilize such plants as cotton, rubber, chocolate, corn, potatoes, tomatoes and tobacco. Imagine the history of the United States without the economic contributions of cotton and tobacco alone. It’s inconceivable.”

Huffington Post also quoted Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director of IllumiNative, a nonprofit focused on combating the erasure of Native Americans, who also called on CNN to fire Santorum: “American history that does not include Native peoples is a lie, and Rick Santorum is fueling white supremacy by erasing the history of Native peoples. CNN must do more to include Indigenous and diverse voices in its programming and fire Rick Santorum.”

The Kamloops Indian Residential School
My Swedish brother-in-law, Bent Syse, is a retired archeologist. In 2001, he became semi-famous in Sweden and across Scandinavia for his discovery of a mass grave near Uppsala. Before any road or building project can proceed in Sweden, an archeology assessment is required.

In his former capacity as director of archeology at Upplandsmuseet, Bent was contacted by the police after human bones were found in a ditch below the 16th century castle in Uppsala. The authorities wanted to rule out a recent homicide, or that the bodies were victims of a 14th century plague or an 18th century cholera epidemic. The bones showed evidence of cut marks and sword injury; and it was determined that bodies in the mass grave were killed in the Battle of Good Friday, April 6, 1512. Danish forces under King Christian II had occupied Uppsala, and a battle ensued between Swedes and Danes. Perhaps, 4,000 combatants were killed in battle.

I thought of the Swedish mass grave discovered by my brother-in-law when I read the horrifying recent story of a mass burial at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The New York Times reported that “215 children were buried on the grounds of the British Columbia school, one of the many in Canada set up to forcibly assimilate them.”

The newspaper quoted Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation, who said that ground-penetrating radar had discovered the remains near the site of the school, which operated from 1890 until the late 1970s.

“It’s a harsh reality and it’s our truth, it’s our history,” Chief Casimir said. “And it’s something that we’ve always had to fight to prove. To me, it’s always been a horrible, horrible history.”

Chief Casimir described the mass burial as “many, many years old – decades,” and it included bodies of children as young as three.

In the way of background, the New York Times story noted: “Starting in the 19th century, Canada was home to a system of residential schools, mostly operated by churches, that Indigenous children were forced to attend. The system went into decline during the 1970s, with the last school closing in 1996.”

A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission (nctr.ca) set up as part of a Canadian government apology and settlement over the schools, “concluded that at least 4,100 students died while attending the schools, many from mistreatment or neglect, others from disease or accident. It found that in many cases, families never learned the fate of their offspring, who are now known as the missing children.”