August 06, 2010

Gover on Indians and Jews

Voices on Antisemitism—A Podcast Series

Kevin Gover
Director, National Museum of the American Indian
There certainly are places and times where what happened to Indians very closely resembles Jews in Europe during World War II. Everything from systematic killing—the hunting of them and their murder—to the use of propaganda to fire up the public to engage in that conduct. And so the Holocaust is something that we study and that we need to understand in order to really understand the Native American experience as well.And:By training I'm a lawyer and practiced law for a number of years in Washington DC and New Mexico, entirely representing Indian tribes in the United States. And one of the things that struck me, in my law career, was how many of the lawyers from the '30s, '40s, and '50s who were representing Indian tribes, when it wasn't a popular thing to do, were Jewish. And, in fact, everyone would agree that the greatest lawyer in our field in history was Felix Cohen. He wrote the Handbook of Federal Indian Law.

And Cohen actually readily drew the analogy between the treatment of Native Americans and the treatment of Jews in Germany. He's famous for a quote where he said: "Like the Jews in Germany, the Indian marks the shift from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere, and our treatment of the Indian, more than our treatment of any other minority, marks the rise and fall in our democratic faith." And, I mean, those are incredibly powerful words that always stuck with me from the moment I saw them. So, Cohen certainly had a very broad political consciousness and associated the treatment of German Jews with the treatment of Indians in the United States.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Bosque Redondo = Model for Auschwitz, Educating Tony About Genocide, and Teaching the Two Holocausts.

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