In 1867 my great-great grandmother Susie Jack survived a series of massacres that occurred among her Achumawi people in her homeland in a valley located in northeastern California, in what is now Modoc County. Susie made her way toward the Maidu people near what is now the town of Susanville. She eventually married and her daughter Edna Evans was my great-grandmother. Edna married Robert Lowry and had my grandfather Stanley. Stanley eventually served as a frontline officer in the U.S. Army in World War II. To think, in the space of three generations in my family, we had Susie who went from being hunted by U.S. Army cavalry and militias to Stanley, who commanded American men in battle against Nazi Germany.
I share this part of Susie's story so that we may have a name for a survivor of the heinous acts documented in the recent book An American Genocide by Benjamin Madley. This is a hard book for anyone to read; it took me several days. I had to read a chapter, then put the book away for a while. The knowledge regarding the physical genocide that occurred is not new to me or to most Native people. We've carried this knowledge and this burden for generations. The raw emotions are still there, and the hurt is still there. This is because we have no memorials and no public acknowledgment of what happened. Genocide is unfortunately all too common in this world; the uniqueness of America and California's genocide against Native people is that it happened right where we are standing and living. It did not happen on another continent, and it did not occur that long ago.
The book is a good step toward creating more awareness that can lead to a greater discussion about how our society learns from this history, how we heal from it and how we prevent it from happening again. I know there are local Native people in Humboldt and Del Norte who can facilitate this type of learning and healing, and it is important to utilize their talents. I know there are non-Native people who can help with this, too.
There are many factors that must be in place for the policy of genocide to reach its end goal, the extermination of a specific group of people. Right now in North Dakota, there is the largest gathering in modern history of Native Americans and Native Nations, who are protecting the water from the Dakota Access Pipeline project. This pipeline project was rerouted away from white-dominated areas in the state because they rightfully feared an oil spill could contaminate their drinking water. It was then deemed acceptable to run the project through Native lands. To me, the concept that it's acceptable to potentially poison the drinking water of one group of people and not another is not just racist, it's genocide in action. To lose the water is to lose life itself.
We must analyze why the national media does not focus on this event every single day. Their refusal to do so represents silent complicity toward what is happening. We must focus on why North Dakota and other states choose to send a militarized police force with snipers, armored personnel carriers and heavily-armed camouflaged officers against a group of peaceful, unarmed, prayerful people. This is an organized effort by agencies designed "to protect and to serve." Yet they choose to brutalize and terrorize. Go on social media and view the photographs yourself.
We must recognize the sick irony of viewing a racist caricature of a Native man present on the uniforms of the baseball team from Cleveland during the World Series while at the same time, real-life Native men and women are hit with mace, numbered and thrown into mesh enclosures because they were peacefully gathered on Native ancestral lands in order to protect Native burial lands, religious gathering sites and drinking water. We must understand that dehumanizing imagery and symbolism begins in unlikely places in a society until it becomes mainstream and trendy to view or wear, and we must question who is making the decision to create and perpetuate such racist symbols.
We must put pressure on government officials to represent us and not big oil companies. Our Native people have fought and died for this country in the U.S. military for generations; we've earned the right to defend our traditional ways of life. Once again, Native people are standing up to share a world view based not on greed, but on respect, empathy and prayer.
American Genocide is happening right now. I haven't even touched on the police killings of Native people, the disproportionate incarceration rates, the unfair academic expulsion rates or the extreme poverty rates on Native reservations. This is genocide, with the death rate just unfolding on a slower timeline. But do not despair.
There has been an awakening among Native people. The Indigenous network that is being created due to the stand at Standing Rock is powerful and only growing. It will not go away, no matter what happens with that pipeline project. American Genocide will not succeed against Native people. It never has, because we are too strong. I am sure my great-great grandmother Susie agrees.
Chag Lowry is of Yurok, Maidu and Achumawi Native ancestry. He's currently working on a graphic novel featuring the stories of Yurok soldiers in World War I. For more information on Lowry's work with local Native veterans, go to