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In the Americas genocide is so celebratory.

Of course it is denied, excused, explained. But at the same time it is celebrated. The brave killers who opened up the wilderness. The assassins, as they were so recently and aptly named by Indian people who had spray-painted on Victor Brecheret’s large sculpture of Bandeirantes just outside Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo during October 2013.

When I heard this news my heart, my mind, my spirit lifted. In 2010 I participated in the 29th São Paulo Biennale and everyday had to pass what is to me, to us, this horrible monstrosity. I had often thought how nice it would be if a very long freight train were to accidentally de-rail and crash into this monument to murder. It is one of really very many such monuments; as though the citizens need constant reminders of their history, their guilt.

By this essay I offer my most sincere gratitude to the people who defaced Brecheret’s hard and ugly edifice.

In New York City there is a statue of Theodore Roosevelt triumphantly astride a horse. Behind him are an Afro-American man and an American Indian man, walking humbly, not following where he might lead them so much as they signify being his property. This monument greets the public in front of the Museum of Natural History.

In the nineteen-sixties American Indian people, friends of mine, threw buckets of red paint on it more than once; a symbolic gesture that changed no attitudes among white people but gave courage to us.

A few years later, in the nineteen seventies, I moved to New York City to work at the United Nations for the International Indian Treaty Council. A high priority was organizing a conference on Indians of the Americas at the U.N.’s Geneva headquarters. It was necessary to speak with Indian leaders in Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. It proved impossible to contact anyone in Brazil. Indian people in Brazil were not free to attend international conferences or to form national organizations. Government agencies, anthropologists and Christian Church missionaries spoke for them, acted for them.

Even in the new century Indian people in Brazil have not been recognized as fully human under the constitution. This situation, which ought to be seen as intolerable, is at best excused as being good for the Indians, protecting them from the legal system. The excusers never seem to notice that this has not been working out at all; Indian people are persecuted, driven off their lands, killed on a regular basis. Much more important, and never looked at, (except perhaps with a certain perverse pride of the type one encounters among Texans also) is the obvious sub-text, which is the real text: it is being said that Brazil cannot protect indigenous people from Brazil, itself.

Brazil cannot protect indigenous people from Brazil. In that case, what? If indigenous people were to take up sophisticated weapons and fight back in methodical ways, surely Brazil would retaliate with vengeance. In other words, Brazil would protect itself from Indians.

If the Americas were the home of normal, rational ex-European settlers as they pretend, some council of American nations could take up the dire situation.  Even with the astounding improvement in some South American countries, such an organization would not take action on behalf of the rights of indigenous people. In the twenty-first century we still live in primitive triumphalist, un-rational countries that are the spoils of genocide.

I imagine smug Brazilian guys sitting with their beer: one says to us, “You cannot call it genocide because genocide as a crime is a deliberate act. What happens in Brazil is just rough clumsiness. No one has ever set out to commit genocide against Indian people.” Except I think that really he would speak in the past tense. I think he would say that what has happened has happened. Very sad but now we must all move on.

For very many years I have been telling people that we are not in the past, our problems with the American countries in which we find ourselves are not in the past. The genocide of indigenous people of the Americas is not in the past.

The United Nations drew up a convention against genocide after the Second World War. This convention is explicit and detailed. Once U.N. conventions are drawn up they are then sent out to the member-nations for ratification. In those days, the U.S. had not ratified the U.N. Convention against Genocide.

In nineteen-seventy-seven we had a document of solid facts and evidence of the U.S. ongoing genocide against Indian people, ready to present to the U.N. We did not exaggerate nor mis-state the case.

I bet Brazil has not ratified the U.N. Convention Against Genocide either. And I bet, whether or not it has, if Indian people brought a case to the U.N. many Brazilian people would feel insulted. Many would feel betrayed.

In the Americas there are two giant countries, which have most made national narratives about their “early days”, the U.S. and Brazil. The myths they make of Bandeirantes, pioneers, cowboys, are the operating engines that run their cultures. For this reason any challenge to any part of the myth is responded to with childish anger. Nevertheless, the stories of the pioneers and Bandeirantes are destructively wrong.

The Bandeirantes enslaved, raped, killed Indian people, stole the land and made monsters of their own offspring. If they did it with a cheerful bonhomie, so much the worse. So much the more horrible. It they, in their time, felt innocent - so much the more horrible. But their admirers today are not innocent. Stupidity is never innocent.

The Bandeirantes are not the founders of São Paulo or Brazil. They are the founders of a bad situation that Brazilian Black people have to function around. And later poor Europeans, such as Ukrainians and Poles, have to function around. And most certainly Indian people must try to function around, to live poorly in a country that celebrates their genocide.

The mayor of São Paulo should give awards -  and more spray-paint - to the artist who intervened in Victor Brecheret’s silly monument.

Jimmie Durham, Sila, Calabria, October 11, 2013.