By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Please forgive me, but I had not seen the film before. I stumbled across it when I was recently flying across country. Honor the Treaties is one of the most compelling documentaries I have seen in some time. It concerns the conditions of the Indians on the Pine Ridge Reservation (South Dakota) through the work of a photographer, Aaron Huey. But the film is about more than that.
This is a film about poverty (90% of those on the reservations live below the poverty line) and it is a film about prisoners of war who, as Huey narrates, are left in their prison while the prison guards have gone. It is, therefore, a film about the destruction of a people through, among other things, their being restricted from accessing the land which is theirs.
It was this notion of prisoners of war left while the guards have departedthat was so compelling and immediately clicked. It made me think not only about Native Americans/Indians, but other displaced peoples such as the Palestinians and the Sahrawis. In each case it is not enough for the settler population to steal the land, but they must go further and destroy the people. Destroying the people involves creating a situation of despair in which the oppressed may no longer recognize the oppressor but, instead, turn on one another. Within Black America we have certainly experienced this.
In watching the film, one had to confront the matter of genocide. In looking at the various scenes in the film one gets the sense that the population is just holding on and could, quite literally, disappear. Because this slow-moving-genocide is not a subject addressed in most national television, or even social media, I have no reason to believe that anyone would know, let alone care about the extinction of a people.
Genocides have reemerged as a major form of political struggle. They can be quick-moving, e.g., the Rwanda genocide in 1994; that carried out by the Indonesians against the East Timorese; or that carried out against the Kosovars in the late 1990s. In other situations, as demonstrated in this film, it can be slow moving in which the oppressor denies any level of responsibility for the atrocity as it unfolds, in some cases blaming the oppressed themselves.
You may have seen Honor the Treatiessince it is not a recent film. But if, like me, you were unfamiliar with it, this film—which is less than 15 minutes in length—will get into your soul. You will be left thinking about a host of issues, including land theft and genocide. I would also guess that you will be left thinking about the implications of silence in the face of genocide.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former president of TransAfrica Forum. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.