My paper, ““Confronting American Genocide: United States History and the Pequot War” is part of the “Native Americans” panel on Saturday at 2:15 p.m. Below is an excerpt from my piece.
"Emblazoned upon the white backdrop and blue shield prominently displayed in the center of Massachusetts’ state flag stands the golden figure of a Native American. Massachusetts general law Chapter 2, section 1, identifies the form simply as an “Indian”. Inference suggests, however, the character is a representative of the Algonquian language family. Specific references typically identify him as a member of the tribe, subsequently immortalized in the state’s moniker, “Massachusetts”. Both labels regarding the Native American’s identity make geo-historical sense. Algonquian societies, including the Pequot, populated greater New England and were among the first people to encounter English colonists in North America. What’s more, the decision to include an “Indian” on the Commonwealth’s banner seems celebratory, a tribute to the indigenous people of the New World. There are, however, two other elements on the state standard which invite alternate interpretations of native-colonial relationships. The first feature, an unraveled ribbon flowing around the blue shield framing the centerpiece, is inscribed in Latin, “Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem.” (By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty). The quote directly references the second image; a bent, sword-wielding arm hovering above the Algonquian’s head akin to Damocles’ fateful blade. Taken together, this iconography conjures up a variety of historically contextualized imaginaries. Among them are incidents of war, paternalism, and scalping. In this light, the celebratory “Indian” mentioned earlier, can be just as justifiably understood as a memorial over a conquered, decimated foe.
Central to this paper’s inquiry is the relationship between the concept “genocide” and its existence in American historical memory. Furthermore, the interplay between narrative and education are subsequently formalized in institutionalized conceptualizations of the American identity.Commenting on the influence of historical memory construction, Harvard educational psychologist Howard Gardner, details that ”over time and cultures, the most robust and most effective form of communication is the creation of a powerful narrative. Any one person or agent or institution that has the capacity to decide which story is operative, to sideline or minimize rival stories and to prepare for the next generation’s stories, is in a very powerful position.”The implications surrounding “genocide” and its relation to national identities are especially sensitive and nuanced. A principle contested theme of interpretation is the marking of the war as an example of genocide. Since Raphael Lemkin’s creation of the term in 1943, “genocide” labels have been applied to events which predate the mid-twentieth century. The Pequot War is fertile ground for arguments over such branding.
This paper supports the claim that the Pequot War was a case of genocide. Paramount to this rationale is a definitive understanding of genocide’s formalized terminology and its relevant application to an event three centuries before its codification in the 1948 United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Furthermore, the functions of education and memory are considered crucial elements in the relationship among national narratives, identity, and acts of genocides. The ultimate goal of this paper is to make a case for high school history curriculum standards to identify and teach the Pequot War as a genocidal act. Furthermore, memory and education are considered essential elements for prevention of future genocide. Altering existing high school content, and teaching genocide in the U.S. national narrative, works to greater understanding and deterrence of genocide."