A major push is underway to create in Moscow a Museum of the North American Holocaust. A counterpoint to the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, the Russian Museum would highlight the grim history of the genocide that eliminated, pushed aside, and repressed First Nations on territories that gave rise to the existence of the United States and Canada.
The plan for the Museum is timely given the spotlight put on the genocidal history of North America as featured in the new Hollywood blockbuster, Revenant. On winning the Best Actor Award at the Golden Globe gala, American movie star Leonardo DiCaprio exclaimed. “I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the Indigenous communities around the world. It is time that we recognized your history and that we protect your Indigenous lands… It is time we heard your voice.”
DiCaprio’s acceptance speech could be seen as a significant Hollywood response to the famous commentary delivered by Marlon Brando in 1973. In his refusal to accept the Oscar for Best Actor for his widely acclaimed performance in the title role in The Godfather, Brando chastised the Hollywood film industry. He accused it of recycling false and racist depictions of US-First Nations relations on the westward-moving frontiers of America’s transcontinental expansion.
Brando elaborated his position in The New York Times. In so doing he left behind a testimonial that could well make an excellent exhibit for the North American Holocaust Museum in Moscow. Describing the duplicitousness of US policy towards Indigenous peoples, Brando explained how federal officials repeatedly misled their Aboriginal counterparts. First Nations leaders were told by representatives of the White House, “Only if you lay down your arms, my friends, can we then talk of peace and come to an agreement which will be good for you.
Brando continued, “When they laid down their arms, we murdered them. We lied to them. We cheated them out of their lands. We starved them into signing fraudulent agreements that we called treaties. We never never kept our word in these treaties. We turned Native Americans into beggars on a continent that gave life for as long as life can remember. And by any interpretation of history, however twisted, we did not do right. We were not lawful nor were we just in what we did… It is given to us by virtue of our power to attack the rights of others, to take their property, to take their lives when they are trying to defend their land and liberty, and to make their virtues a crime and our own vices virtues.”
“When they laid down their arms, we murdered them. We lied to them. We cheated them out of their lands. We starved them into signing fraudulent agreements that we called treaties. We never never kept our word in these treaties. We turned Native Americans into beggars on a continent that gave life for as long as life can remember. And by any interpretation of history, however twisted, we did not do right. We were not lawful nor were we just in what we did…”
Brando could see in this US treatment of First Nations the makings of a lethal pattern that has prevailed in the international community until this day. Of the USA Brando observed, “all that we have succeeded in accomplishing with our power is simply annihilating the hopes of the newborn countries in this world, as well as friends and enemies alike, that we’re not humane, and that we do not live up to our agreements.”
The genocidal foundations of the United States were entrenched in its founding document. The American Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, referred to the “merciless Indian savages.” Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration’s other authors racially profiled as terrorists all First Nations blocking US western expansion. The Declaration of Independence’s ominous characterization of all Indigenous peoples as “savages” foreshadowed the US Indian wars. From this unrelenting assault on the imploding Indian Country emerged the expansionary aggression of the US military-industrial complex.
Louis Riel, Centre, Hanged for Treason by the Canadian Government in 1885 for Leading the Defence of Metis Lands.
Ralph Applebaum Associates designed both the US Holocaust Museum and a sister Museum in Winnipeg Manitoba. The Canadian province of Manitoba was founded by Louis Riel. In 1885 the Canadian government hanged Riel for treason after he led a freedom movement of mixed-ancestry Metis who tried to protect their communities from being uprooted by the builders of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Canada’s genocidal genesis is currently reflected in the disproportionate number of Native people suffering very high rates of incarceration, suicide, unemployment and poverty. The Idle No More Movement has brought this pattern of dispossession and disempowerment of the First Nations to worldwide attention. Idle No More’s mission will certainly be highlighted and advanced if the Russian initiative comes to fruition.
The Russian language petition for the Moscow Museum of the North American Holocaust has so far received almost five thousand signatures. The initiative is directed at enlisting the support of elected officials in the Russian Federation’s Public Chamber, of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, and of Moscow’s Mayor Sergey Sobyanin. Valery Korovin, a member of the Public Chamber, was quoted in Russia Today indicating “the petition is timely and official support for it is very likely.”