Opinion Editorial Archive April, 2022: Medal of Indigenous Genocide

opinion editorial
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

We know that there isn't a real Medal of Indigenous Genocide because the Earth's crust is not yet depleted of all its metals. We also know that the most ironic news story from last month failed to become the second-most ironic news story only because Vladimir Putin was not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Instead, the Brazilian government produced last month's most ironic news story when it awarded Jair Bolsonaro the real Medal of Indigenous Merit. Bolsonaro has been accused almost universally of decimating indigenous rights in Brazil. One Brazilian indigenous peoples' organization stated that the only medal he truly deserves is the Medal of Indigenous Genocide. Bolsonaro is not alone. Throughout history there have been countless individuals worthy of the Medal of Indigenous Genocide. Last month a few more became eligible.

Seventy years ago the Danish government decided to conduct a social experiment. They kidnapped around two dozen indigenous Inuit children in Greenland and attempted to re-settle them in Denmark. Their theory was that immersion in Danish culture would make them elite among their Inuit peers who were not afforded the same opportunity. Most were soon repatriated to a Greenlandic orphanage where they "died of sorrow" according to the six survivors. Those survivors received a formal apology last month from the Danish prime minister after having been compensated US $530 for each year of their life lost.

A decade earlier, the Third Reich spent the first half of the 1940's trying to kill Ukrainian (and other European) Jews. In the case of Boris Romantschenko last month, Putin achieved in a few weeks what Hitler couldn't achieve in six years — he killed Romantschenko. If there was any doubt before, it is clear from last month that Putin also deserves the Medal of Indigenous Genocide. Also last month, as though we didn't know it already, the Burmese military was deemed deserving of the Medal of Indigenous Genocide by the United States.

I took this month's photo many years ago in western Cambodia in the area that was the last stronghold of a brutal regime — the Khmer Rouge. Their leaders all deserved the Medal of Indigenous Genocide, although few ever received it. I was visiting a gemstone mine in the area where I'd seen only adults working at first. Instead of going to school, this girl spent all day sitting in puddles of dirty water sifting for small stones. I chose her as the accompanying photo for this op-ed because of the way she wore her necklace — as though it were a medal.

This kind of inequality can be seen to varying degrees throughout the world. In some ways it is a legacy of how large, sedentary societies were first formed. In the case of Mesoamerica those societies began to emerge around four thousand years ago. Most studies find these societies to have been highly socially stratified and, in some cases, autocratic. But there are exceptions. One of the earliest indigenous Zapotec communities was formed at Monte Albán around 2,500 years ago in the southeastern part of Mexico. It is known to be one of the most successful communities in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica both in size and longevity. What was not known, until a paper was published last month in Frontiers in Political Science, was that Monte Albán was founded on principles of equality and democracy upon which it thrived. In fact the Zapotec people remain one of the most successful indigenous societies in the whole region to this day.

We see once again a failure to learn from centuries-old indigenous knowledge. Russia had thrived for thirty years once it stopped being an autocracy and began instead embracing greater equality and democracy. As it has regressed to autocratic rule, the deliberate erosion of democracy and greater inequality, so too has Russia regressed to a genocidal regime. A number of prominent people called last month for an immediate Nuremberg-style trial of Putin. He may one day be awarded the Medal of Indigenous Genocide.

Ancient Peoples of Mesoamerica (short documentary film on YouTube).

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