Sunday, July 25, 2021

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From the Editorial Board

Our paper carries an interesting editorial this week.

Governor Kristi Noem speaks about the discovery of the graves of Native children and the beginning of rematriation of their bodies.

Her piece is interesting in that it’s kind, and she tries to acknowledge the lived reality of those who suffered and died in the Indigenous boarding schools, and those who suffered and survived, carrying intergenerational trauma into the people to this day.

In doing this, Governor Noem uses the tools of Critical Race Theory to make sense of a new understanding of history.

Odd, isn’t it? The governor and the Republican party have created a conflict where there isn’t one with their rallying cries about Critical Race Theory. The purpose is to covertly (and not so covertly) justify racism and fan the flames of xenophobic fears about voting rights, Congressional representation and gerrymandering, global trade, industrialization and urbanization.

But when the tragedy and horror of genocide are impossible to deny, Governor Noem chooses to respond from place a basic humanity, feeling empathy for the grief of families and rightfully drawing a historical parallel between the Native American genocide and the Holocaust. (Hitler studied the extermination of the Indians to prepare for the European Holocaust.)

Back in June our editor wrote about Governor Noem and Critical Race Theory. She said:

Postmodern critical theory is nothing more than the idea that history is a living, breathing thing and we, as lifelong students of history, can interact with it in different ways at different times as we grow in our understanding of ourselves as a nation.

Critical theory suggests that historical prime sources can be interpreted differently based on the lived experience of the inquirer. Further, it suggests that our understanding of history becomes more complete when we expand our understanding to include the experiences of the voiceless and invisible, such as people of color or women.

In her July 7 installment of “Letters from an American,” historian Heather Cox Richardson said that the study of history is fundamentally about self-determination within a democracy. She specifically addressed Critical Race Theory:

Historians study how societies change. In order to do that, we examine sources created at the time—newspapers, teapots, speeches, tweets, photographs, landscapes, and so on-—and judge what we think happened by comparing these primary sources to things other historians have said, on the basis of evidence they have found. We argue a lot. But if we cannot see an ever-widening story, we cannot give an accurate account of how societies change.

An inaccurate picture of what creates change means that people cannot make good decisions about the future. They are at the mercy of those who are creating the stories. Knowledge is indeed power.

So the destruction of accurate history is about more than schools. It’s about self-determination. It’s about having the freedom to make good decisions about your life. 

It’s about the very things that democracy is supposed to stand for.

In this week’s column Governor Noem provides a perfect example of how the study of history — using the tools of Critical Race Theory — supports self-determination; and even better, can bring healing.

“In meeting with the Tribes, I heard stories of heartbreak, appreciated the need for closure on this part of their history, and respected how important it was to have these children appropriately identified and returned to their homelands…we are with them until all their children are returned.”

It’s important to recognize the years of labor and advocacy that went into uncovering the murder of the children in the Indigenous boarding schools in the United States and Canada. The truth didn’t arise all on its own. It was diligently sought by students of history.

Nevertheless, it’s a testament to how far America has come in our racial reckoning that one of our most inflammatory and purposefully divisive politicians can see the horror and sadness of the deaths of thousands of Indian children a hundred years ago for the forced assimilation it is.

This board urges readers to look beyond the smoke screen of Critical Race Theory for the political ploy it is; and to develop a generosity of heart for the suffering marginalized people in the history of America and in our nation today.

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