Indian Killers: Crime, Punishment, and Empire
by Nick Estes
The Red Nation
Jan 11, 2017
Last June the Westmoreland County Historical Society reenacted the 1785 hanging of Mamachtaga, a Lenape man. In a viral video (now removed), jeering white onlookers shouted at the “Native” actor playing the condemned: “It’s so hot today, we could just bake him!” “I got some salt and pepper!” “Let’s burn him! Let’s cut off his head and put it on a pike!”
Though horrific, the reenactment tells truths about the convergence of law, history, and mainstream perceptions about Indigenous peoples. Indian killing is not only sport but the cornerstone of “law and order” in the founding of a settler nation. This essay shows how Indian killing is imbued within the institutions of U.S. law, the police, gender norms, popular culture, and history.
The following paragraph is relevant to those discussions (not here at JPR) where someone inevitably comments “that was hundreds of years ago, get over it!” as if DAPL wasn’t proof enough of such comments’ stupidity.
While lynching operates both outside and alongside the law, more often than not Indian killing operates within the parameters of law. Consider former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo’s 2003 “torture memos” in support of torture in the War on Terror. As Chickasaw scholar Jodi Byrd notes, Yoo cited the 1873 Modoc Indian Prisoners Supreme Court opinion that justified the murder of Indians by U.S. soldiers. “All the laws and customs of civilized warfare,” the Court opined, “may not be applicable to an armed conflict to Indian tribes on our Western frontier.” “Indians” were legally killable because they possessed no rights as “enemy combatants,” as it is with those now labeled “terrorist.”bemildred, Downwinder, like thisI would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights
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