I love it when a new book starts out with promise. Last night I started Kathleen Fine-Dare’s Grave Injustice: The American Indian Repatriation Movement and NAGPRA (University of Nebraska Press, 2002). When I encountered this in the Preface, I had the feeling Fine-Dare had been reading over my shoulder recently:
Sins of Omission, Changes of Heart
In the Andes of Ecuador thousands of people speak an indigenous language called Quichua or rumi shimi, the “tongue of human beings,” that has a past-tense verb ending, -shkakarka, which tells the listener that the act under discussion happened in the past but the speaker only just now realized it. The fact that this particular past-tense ending does not occur in English does not mean, however, that we are incapable of grasping its sense. Each of us is capable of understanding something that occurred before we learned of it, or having known of it, we only [now] grasp its meaning. We can revisit history and admit our inability (or our refusal) to see what might have happened that we missed, so as to better understand its effects and meaning in the present. And as it was something in the present that shook up our memory, it is only fitting that we shake up the past for different meanings.
I am a college professor and have had students become very uncomfortable and even angry when they learn about post-contact American Indian history. Their feelings are engendered less because the events provoke such strong emotions (often guilt) in and of themselves than the fact they feel they were either lied to outright or by omission regarding history they had a right to know as Americans. The reasons the “sins of omission” were made are deeply connected to the realities they cover up. Having been lied to, we can do little but lie in return, however innocently, unless we start learning what actually happened and attempt to turn our defensive guilt into -shkakarka realizations linked to education, lawmaking, reparations, and just plain old rethinking. (Kathleen Fine-Dare, Grave Injustice, xvi-xvii)