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“Indians Couldn’t Stop Immigration” (Part II): A ‘National Indian Party’ Saves the German People

screenshot Indianerpartei Conclusion from Native American history according to German neo-Nazis: “We should have founded a National Indian Party.”

Since my first post on this topic in May, I have done a bit of research on Indian imagery in racist arguments regarding the current debate on immigration and the refugee crisis. I knew that neo-Nazis followed in the tradition of their grandfathers to co-victimize with Native Americans by placing the near-extermination of the buffalo and the massacres against Native Americans on the same level as the American bombing campaigns against German cities during World War II. I was not aware, though, that the old nationalist/Nazi notion of German Indigeneity was alive and well, too, that both conservatives and neo-Nazis use it for nationalist and racist statements, and that these statements are so widespread.

There are quite a few video clips with a message similar to the one on the Cherokee girl and the Green party leader Claudia Roth I described in Part I. I do not know who is behind the Cherokee/Roth video, nor their party affiliations, but the gist of the video matches many statements from the neo-Nazi party NPD (“National Democrats”). The Saxon NPD used a version of the slogan “The Indians couldn’t stop immigration, and now they live on reservations” on their program for the Saxon state elections some ten years ago.

Also, a Saxon historian in the NPD argued that “The ideologies of multiculturalism promote by all available means a massive land grab by people who are alien to our culture and race, which will turn us Germans into the Indians of the twenty-first century.” This notion reinforces the paranoid concept of Volkstod, the demise of peoplehood, which is supposedly brought on by miscegenation and the mixing of cultures. As discussed in Part I, in a völkisch reading, cultures are supposedly inherent elements of group identity determined by both blood ties and by the natural environment, and can thus neither be shared or learned, and don’t mix without conflict. So, the massive influx of immigrants, in this perspective, destroys German culture and, eventually, the German people.

At this point, I can’t help it, I must bring in one of my “favorite” Hitler quotes to exemplify this paranoia about the incompatibility of cultures. In his second book (only published as an annotated edition by the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in the 1960s), he stated:

“One cannot convey culture, which is a general expression of a particular people’s life, to any other people with completely different mental predispositions. This would, at best, be possible in a so-called international civilization, which, however, relates to culture like jazz music to a Beethoven symphony” (Hitlers Zweites Buch 166).

In this reading, then, jazz, as a representative of American (international) and, thus, alien civilization, threatened the integrity of German culture and German peoplehood already in the 1920s. Back to Indians and neo-Nazis, though.

In 2011, the Bremen chapter of the NPD published a short campaign ad for the parliament of the Bremen city state, the Bürgerschaft. In this, as in our Cherokee/Roth example, an animated film explains the history of American settlement, starting with the landing of the Mayflower. The video should convey its meaning to you even if you don’t speak German; the text lines are scarce and the images speak mostly for themselves.

It is the same story of naive Indians who help the first hungry and huddled immigrants but are pushed aside eventually because the numbers of aliens become overwhelming and because the immigrants turn out to be rowdyish invaders. In the end, the Indians are crammed onto some small patches of land, i.e., the reservations, that have “do not feed” signs posted at their borders. Now that it is too late, the Indians in this clip conclude: “We should have founded a national Indian party” (Wir hätten eine nationale Indianerpartei gründen sollen).

The scene now shifts to Africa and Asia, from where literal waves (better: blobs) of immigrants move to Germany: old German men in their lederhosen and bowler hats are pushed aside. At this point, the scared remaining Germans have a vision: an Indian family magically appears next to a NPD campaign poster on an advertising pillar reading “End this multicultural madness, Bremen stays in German hands!” (Multikulti-Wahn beenden, Bremen bleibt in deutschen Händen) The Indians say “yes, so you don’t end up like we did.” (Ja, damit es euch nicht so wie uns geht)

The clip is significant not only because of the hilarious notion of the NPD as the “National Indian Party” that caused great joy among liberals, but also it once more openly promotes racism and xenophobia as the only measure to protect both German culture and peoplehood.

In looking at these arguments, I wonder about the similarity of images and the absolute conflict of meanings if we compare them with immigration debates in the US. Consider this cartoon contextualizing Donald Trump’s recent remarks about Mexicans:

Found at: Memories of the People

I had heard similar jokes and seen similar posters and cartoons (“Who’s the illegal immigrant here, Pilgrim?!”) from American liberals and Native American activists who use them against American anti-immigrant conservatives. I always marvel at how easily reference to Native Americans can be used for both sides of the argument if you only change the setting and once you take into account the German tradition of imagining themselves as the Indians of Europe and, therefore, as soul mates of Native Americans.

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How Living in a Bubble Affects Students’ Perceptions of Native Americans

On 20 November, I was invited to present in an Indigenous Human Rights course for first year students in Applied Indigenous and Ethnic studies at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff. The students’ response to my discussion of Native American imagery in Germany, as well as the Nazis’ utilization of these images for ideology-driven propaganda, helped me further to put some of my experiences on this lecture and research tour into perspective. In a sense, this posts continues some ideas from the previous one on American Exceptionalism.

Some students wondered in how far German hobbyists were aware that their activities, their expressions of affinity for Native cultures, actually helped perpetuate stereotypes. I must say I was surprised about the question because my presentation had emphasized the complexity of German perceptions of Native America, rather than simply proclaiming that Germans did not tell the ‘true story’ of Native American cultures. My work is less concerned with whether or not representation is stereotypical but how images are used for identity formation and “othering.” Yet, the many lectures in diverse settings (conferences, classrooms, general public) on this tour, as well as my observations during the ASA convention in early November, gave me better insight into the – often very different – perspectives of Native, Euro-American, and European students on Native America.

This point was brought home during a hike in the shadow of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. talking about working conditions and classroom experience, two colleagues from the Applied Indigenous studies program pointed out to me  that many non-Native students grow up in social “bubbles” – their social environment as well as their school education shield them from the often brutal social realities many Native students face, both in urban and reservation settings. They rarely meet Native children or see their living conditions, and history and social studies education tends to avoid addressing the “dark” side of American history and race relations so they tend noit to learn about these issues in school.

While it is true that there are Native professors and famous writers and artists, many Native children still grow up in poverty, experience alcohol and drug abuse in their communities, are asked by their non-Native fellow students whether they grew up in a tipi once they enter the university, or have to explain why so many Native people do not feel ‘honored’ by the Washington Redskins.

Non-Native American students do not learn much about the Native perspective on frontier history before college and, if they don’t grow up near a reservation, it is unlikely that they are confronted with social realities and hardships of contemporary Native America. College instructors (and Native students) thus often have to explain the basics and deconstruct stereotypes that have prevailed in American perceptions of Native America for centuries.

Conversations like these helped me get a better perspective on the issue: I have known about these stereotypes since childhood, have seen them deconstructed since I went to school in Germany, and have studied their effects in college. Yet, as a German observer of (Native) American culture, I am still an outsider looking in: I sometimes experience these stereotypes in my German classrooms and my research, but I don’t have to fight a constant uphill battle confronting them on my way to school or in my neighborhood. I don’t face discrimination on the job market, nor am I getting racially profiled by law enforcement because of them.

In addition, as a European scholar, I know about these problems because I am interested in studying them and because European traditions in high school and college education tend to discuss these problematic social and ethnic issues of American culture and society. Many American students, however, grow up in these comfortable and protected bubbles (mostly by no fault of their own) that rarely force them to confront social problems and critically analyze the complex social realities of their own country. And here, we are back to James Loewen’s critical assessment of Social Studies and American history courses at high school level. Not only does the overt patriotism in many textbooks paint American history as a rose-colored (better: red, white, and blue) sequence of success stories, it seems that the era of political correctness contributed to the situation by avoiding problematic issues altogether (such as massacres in the 19th century, or ongoing poverty on the reservations today), focusing instead on positively portrayed examples of racial harmony.

To give you one example: An editor for my book project Fellow Tribesmen asked me to contextualize my reference to J.F. Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales in my manuscript more detail. I wondered if this wasn’t a waste of ink, since we could assume that the Last of the Mohicans was common knowledge? My editor replied that these novels are no longer taught in many schools because of their stereotypical depiction of Native people. I’m still perplexed about this decision – for once, these novels comprise classic American literature that set the stage for an entire, genuinely American genre. Why not teach them and put them in perspective? To keep talking about race relations, wouldn’t this be a perfect opportunity to teach the role and effect of stereotyping and othering, even at high school level? Wouldn’t it be great to show how Euro-Americans learned to differentiate Native peoples into ‘noble’ and ‘brutal savages’ in the early 19th century, and how these depictions led to notions of Manifest Destiny? Couldn’t these examples serve as springboards to discuss othering and cultural stereotypes in contemporary American society, and wouldn’t they help explain current social problems?

I have often wondered about angry outbursts from Native colleagues and students regarding this situation, or about surprised student’s reactions that many Europeans know about frontier history, Indian removal policy, assimilation pressure, and cultural appropriation, that many Europeans root for the ‘Indians,’ instead for the cowboys, in Western movies. Given the perpetuating realities of these separate bubbles of poverty, social struggle, and ignorance, I have developed a better understanding in the last few weeks why many Native students and faculty appear so frustrated with the situation and why they perceive it as a never-ending, exhausting uphill battle. This is a major realization I take home from this trip.