Chris Hedges Explains How Entire Regions Within the US Are Treated Like Exploited Colonies
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The following is a recent interview conducted with Chris Hedges surrounding his latest book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt :
Emanuele: In Chapter One of your new book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, you describe the horrendous conditions endured by the Native American population living in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. This population earns, on average, anywhere from $2,600-$3,500 a year, with 49% of the total population living in official poverty status. However in a broad sense, and to inject a historical context, you describe the systematic destruction of Native culture and society; namely, through the practices of physical termination and cultural genocide. Can you talk about why you began this journey in South Dakota and the importance of recognizing previous national injustices?
Hedges: Well, it's important because that's where the project of limitless expansion and exploitation, especially the plundering of natural resources, began. There you had the timber merchants and the railroad magnates, mine speculators, and land speculators seizing territory on the western plains and exterminated the native populations who resisted. Many of which did not even resist. Then, herding the remnants into what were originally prisoner of war camps, which then finally became tribal residencies and eventually reservations--breaking the natives capacity for self-sufficiency, while creating a culture of dependency. Remember, all of this is for profit. This became the template for which the American Empire expanded: the Philippines, Cuba and all throughout Latin America. And today, places like Iraq and Afghanistan. So that's why we wanted to examine where this ideology first took root; where it was first formed; and what happened to these peoples, because in an age of corporate capitalism, where there are no impediments left, what happened to them, is going to happen to us. In the end, we're all going to be herded on some form of a reservation.
This book is about these "sacrifice zones." Whether its in Pine Ridge, or southern West Virginia in the coal mines, or whether that be urban decay such as Camden, New Jersey, which is per capita the poorest city in the country, and on target this year to be the most dangerous, per capita in the country. As we've reconfigured American society, there's no longer any mechanisms to restrain these forces. And I think the other reason Pine Ridge is important, is because the native communities were structured very differently. People who hoarded and kept everything for themselves were disposed; everything was communal; there was an understanding that all forms of life, including the natural world, were sacred. This is unacceptable in a capitalist society where human and natural life are commodities that you exploit for money until exhaustion or collapse. We see the devastation visited on the western plains now being visited in places like the Arctic, where 40% of the summer sea-ice now melts, and the response is that it's a business opportunity, where people go and slam down half a billion dollar drill bits. It's insanity of course, because in the end, these forces will not only kill us off, but they'll kill themselves off as well. That is the awful logic behind it. I think Pine Ridge provides a window into how this ideology took root, and how it works.
Emanuele: Now, you mention that throughout the 20th Century the US government systematically destroyed native cultures and continued to take their lands. Later in Chapter One, you mention the Indiana Reorganization Act of 1934, and the US government's relocation program in the 1950s. Conversely, you highlight the Wounded Knee uprising of 1973, and subsequent crackdown waged by the FBI ,and various other governmental organizations, on Native American activists from the 60s and 70s. You mention that the majority of those who fought in the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee were products of the US government's relocation and reeducation programs of the 20th Century. Can you talk about the importance of Wounded Knee 1973?