FW: When Poor and Native = "Feeble Minded" (reformat)

Les Schaffer schaffer at SPAMoptonline.net
Tue Jun 19 16:40:37 MDT 2001

[ reformatted ]

Re: When Poor and Native = "Feeble Minded"

Jack Lessenberry: A 'feebleminded' man waits for an apology

January 9, 2000

Thanks for posting this clip. The University of Vermont Eugenics
project administered by Henry Perkins, as you probably know, wreaked
havoc with my mother's and grandmother's generation in upstate
Vermont, New York, and New Hampshire. The random institutionalization
of "marginal people" (which all too often translates to Native
American, mixed-blood, African American, and poor white), the forced
sterilizations in institutions and jails, and the coerced
sterilizations by government "clinics" delivering "free health care"
to marginal communities. . . all these procedures and programs
contributed in large part to the isolation, assimilation,
disappearance, and lack of genealogical records for Abenaki, Mahican,
and other Native peoples within range of "the Perkins Project." It
caused several generations to change their names, move, hide, and
refuse to be publicly identified as "Indian." Perkins was not the only
Indian hunter - the Ku Klux Klan and other vigilantes also targeted
prominent Indian families.  My grandfather lost one of his brothers to
racial violence.

The irony is, our survival is still in question, only now the
attackers are states, the federal government, and federally recognized
Indians who question our existence, and our Indian identity. We held
on to an astonishing amount of our history and traditions, even in the
face of these threats, often by remaining close to our original
homelands, and our original lifestyles, basket making, hunting,
fishing, traveling.  When Indian families throughout this region now
work to document their blood lines, we have oral histories and the
testimony of family and neighbors, many of whom are now dead, but few
written records.  Many of our relatives were very careful to register
as "white" or "French Canadian" or even "colored" at every
opportunity, or not to register births, deaths, and marriages at
all. Many moved every time the census taker came along. If we were
lucky, our ancestors moved to one of the safe zones, like the
St. Francis mission village of Odanak - but then they lost not only
residence in our homeland, but the right to be identified as

Our long histories in this region, as indigenous inhabitants, basket
makers, guides, soldiers, itinerant laborers, neighbors to white
settlers, and explicitly as Indians, are extensively documented in
local histories, in French and Indian war correspondence, in mission
and church records, in Revolutionary War and Civil War records,
throughout 19th century newspapers and court documents. . . but there
is a curious gap in information during the eugenics years. A few
families who remained in Indian enclaves, fully identified to their
neighbors, took the brunt of prejudice during the 1920's - 1970's,
before national movements raised awareness in general. Some were
documented by historians who marveled at the persistent presence of
indigenous peoples in the region, long after the "Indian Wars" were
over.  But many, many others quietly carried on their lives, "hiding
in plain sight."

Kathleen Gallagher just came out with a book on the Vermont Eugenics
project, titled "Breeding Better Vermonters." But even her
documentation of this project is missing family names - Perkins chose
to identify the sterilized generically as "gypsies" and "pirates," to
spare them the shame of being identified as "Indians." Please see the
following article from the Boston Globe for more information on this
story, which is still unfolding even as we speak.

Thanks for listening.
Wlibomkanni - travel well,
Marge Bruchac


Note: I've included a transcript of the text, since the
Boston Globe has
removed the article from its web site as "out of date."


Eugenics victims are heard at last
Outrage voiced over state sterilization

By Ellen Barry, Globe Correspondent, 08/15/99

State-sanctioned sterilization, which has sparked new outrage in the
wake of advance publicity for a book on Vermont's eugenics program,
was never a secret in the middle decades of the century, when states
from California to Maine allowed the sterilization of people whose
genetic material was considered inferior.

But while historians have established that at least 60,000 Americans
were sterilized - some who had been coerced, and others who had not
given their consent - the voices of people who fell victim to these
programs have not been heard.

In the last week, however, three people have contacted the Vermont
historian Nancy Gallagher, the author of ''Breeding Better Vermonters:
The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State,'' saying that they
were sterilized and that they never expected to read about what
happened to them in the newspaper.

The new witnesses could add to historians' understanding of the scope
of sterilization efforts this century in the United States, in Vermont
and beyond.

Moreover, the publicity surrounding Gallagher's book has shed new
light on the largely forgotten story of Vermont's sterilization
program. Some in the state are calling for an official inquiry;
others, especially those from Abenaki Indian families singled out by
the eugenicists, are asking questions about their family histories.

'Vermont is abuzz'' over the long-dormant issue of sterilization
policy, said Fred Wiseman, a professor of humanities at Johnson State
College and the director of the Abenaki Tribal Museum. ''People in the
governor's office are thinking about it. I've gotten all kinds of
calls about it. Just about everybody in the [Abenaki] Nation that has
ever had this happen is thinking about it.''

The idea of a government response may not be farfetched. In other
countries that have had sterilization programs, victims have demanded
reparations. Canada and Sweden, which had their own race-purifying
programs at work through the 1970s, have both recently paid millions
of dollars in compensation to people who were sterilized by government

But there have never been cash settlements in the United States, where
even the process of gathering information on what happened - mostly
behind the closed doors of state institutions - has been tortuous.

Now, as the majority of those sterilized move into their late 70s and
80s, it may be too late. They do not have much longer to live, and, as
researchers on the topic point out, they leave no descendants to
demand historical vindication.

''I can tell you this - the clock is ticking,'' said Dr. Philip
R. Reilly, who is director of the Shriver Center for Mental
Retardation and author of ''The Surgical Solution,'' a 1991 history of
involuntary sterilization. ''It won't be long before you won't be able
to find anyone alive who was sterilized.'' But the response to
Gallagher's Vermont research has raised the possibility of a
breakthrough, and shows that information about eugenic history still
has the power to shock. After her series of telephone conversations,
Gallagher is increasingly certain that sterilization is a topic worth
addressing - if not by her, then by the victims themselves.

''I think they ought to redress that type of thing. I mean, what kind
of country are we if we can't do that?,'' said Gallagher, who began
her research for a master's thesis.  ''Sometimes I think I've opened
Pandora's Box. And other times I think, there are stories out there
... That's a pain that we need to look at.''

Vermont's sterilization law came within the context of an
international push for eugenics - the idea that traits such as poor
health and bad character could be bred out of the race by preventing
''inferior'' genetic material from being passed on.

Starting with the passage of a series of laws, beginning in Indiana in
1907 and continuing until mid-1970s, some states provided for the
sterilization of upwards of 60,000 epileptics, alcoholics, those
considered discipline problems, and retarded people. Some subjects
consented, and others were coerced or had no knowledge of what was
being done to them.

In 1931, Vermont became the 24th state to pass a sterilization law,
according to Gallagher, and the number of sterilizations performed
there was a fraction of those performed nationwide. The only official
data on sterilization - a report by the eugenics survey mastermind,
Henry Perkins, in the late 1940s - put the number of procedures at
around 200. John Moody, an independent ethnohistorian from Sharon,
Vt., says the real number is much higher, perhaps in the thousands.

In the United States, unlike Sweden and Canada, the policy was upheld
by the Supreme Court, Reilly said. The court sided with Virginia state
law in the 1927 case of Buck v. Bell, which permitted the Virginia
State Colony for Epileptics and the Feebleminded to sterilize
18-year-old inmate Carrie Buck.

In his written opinion on the case, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
wrote, ''It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to
execute degenerate offspring for crime, or letting them starve for
their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit
from continuing their kind.'' Since then, there has been only one
attempt in this country to secure compensation for forced

In 1980, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in Lynchburg, V
a., on behalf of 7,200 state mental patients who were sterilized
without their knowledge until the practice was ended in 1973. The suit
sought damages and notification of people who had been sterilized, as
well as a ruling that the sterilizations were unconstitutional. The
ACLU and the state settled the case.

But the settlements in Canada and Sweden suggest that the public mood
may have changed. Moody, who has worked extensively with the Abenaki,
has pressed the state to open up records from the eugenics survey and
from two ''training schools'' that frequently sterilized young
inmates. He would like to see the state begin to contact families and
inform them what occurred. Referring to Vermont Governor Howard Dean,
he said, ''I'd love to see the Dean administration take a proactive
stance.'' Failing that, Moody said, he could imagine filing a
class-action lawsuit. Informing those who have been sterilized is an
initiative that has never been undertaken on a national scale, said
Reilly, and probably never will be.

''Now many of them are very old people, and there is the ethical issue
of letting sleeping dogs lie,'' Reilly said. And among the more angry
of the Abenaki, sterilization simply seems like another aspect of a
multi-faceted campaign to destroy them.

Homer St. Francis, a longtime chief of the Abenaki, reels off the
names of childless family members who he assumes were sterilized. He
sees sterilization as part of a larger government conspiracy to
eliminate his family - a campaign that he said includes generations of
abduction and outright murder. When historians in Vermont first
discovered crates of Henry Perkins's eugenic surveys, St. Francis said
he found names of people he knew on the list of research subjects,
people who had been singled out as ''degenerate'' by Perkins's
researchers.  It confirmed everything he had already believed about
the state and the Abenaki.

''It made me sick,'' he said. ''How would you feel if people were
trying to kill you?''  And while there was some talk about seeking a
legal remedy, it faded among the tribe's long list of grievances. ''We
don't have any money for attorneys, so we just grit our teeth and bear
it,'' he said.

This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

Comment: All Tribes of the Pikanii Nation will be conducting Tribunals
related to atrocities committed against Pikanii People including
forced/coerced/deceptive sterilizations of Pikanii boys and girls and
murders, rapes, sexual/physical abuses, forced deleterious diets,
denial of medical care, incompetent education, profiling of Indian
children as "feebleminded" and cover-ups in Indian
Residential/Boarding Schools etc. The Tribunals will be conducted
according to principles of Aboriginal Law and have more standing and
legal authority under international law than the allies ever had at

>From "Hitler and His Secret Partners: Contributions, Loot and Rewards,
1933-1945" by James Pool, Pocket Books, N.Y. 1997:

"Always contemptuous of the Russians, Hitler said: ' For them the word
'liberty' means the right to wash only on feast-days. If we arrive
bringing soft soap, we'll obtain no sympathy...There's only one duty:
To Germanize this country by the immigration of Germans, and to look
upon the natives as Redskins.' [Hitler, "Secret Conversations p. 57]
Having been a devoted reader of Karl May's books on the American West
as a youth, Hitler frequently referred to the Russians as
'Redskins'. He saw a parallel between his effort to conquer and
colonize land in Russia with the conquest of the American West by the
white man and the subjugation of the Indians or 'Redskins.' 'I don't
see why', he said, 'a German who easts a piece of bread should torment
himself with the idea that the soil that produces this bread has been
won by the sword. When we eat wheat from Canada, we don't think about
the despoiled Indians.' [Ibid. p. 57] " (Pool, pp 254-55)

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