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PRESS CONTACT: Clyde Bellecourt
Peacemaker Center
612-251-5836 (Cell)
American Indian Council on Education
612-879-1751 or Mike Forcia, 612-423-5637 (Cell)

P.O. Box 13521
Minneapolis MN 55414
612/ 721-3914 . fax 612/ 721-7826
Web Address:

November 10, 2003


Monday, November 10, 2003, 10:30 a.m.
Minnesota Department of Education/CFL Building
1500 West Highway 36
Roseville, Minnesota

American Indian educators, historians, activists, students, parents, tribal leaders and friends will hold a massive rally and press conference to respond to ignorant remarks and statements made by Governor Pawlenty's recently appointed Commissioner of Education, Ms. Cheri Pierson Yecke on the midday show of MPR Minnesota Public Radio on November 4, 2003.

The enclosed remarks must not go unchallenged by the people of Minnesota. Numerous historical facts and documents will be presented at this press conference to prove Ms. Yecke's comments as blatant lies and uneducated remarks. Ms. Yecke must be educated about the truth of American history and its policies of spiritual, political, cultural and physical genocide of the Indigenous people of the United States and Canada and, indeed, the entire Western Hemisphere. Many denominations of organized religions have already made public apologies for their collusion in these genocidal policies, including the Pope on his visit to Canada a few years ago.

The American Indian Council on Education (AICE) will be calling on all our friends from all communities to join us at this rally and press conference. We will demand that Governor Pawlenty censor his Education Commissioner and request a verbal and written apology to the American Indian people of Minnesota and that she resign from her position. We will be requesting that the new Social Studies Standards, currently being considered, be suspended until American Indian people and other communities of color are included in this process.

Our children and the children of the State of Minnesota deserve to know the truth about the original people of this country and their beautiful cultures and traditions that are still vibrant today!

cc: Minneapolis School Board
Governor Pawlenty
Saint Paul School Board
Minnesota Tribal Leaders
Coalition of Black Churches
Urban Indian Organizations
Minnesota Human Rights Commission
National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media
Minneapolis Civil Rights Department
Minnesota Indian Affairs Council Minneapolis
Urban Coalition
Minnesota Indian Education Association
African American Leadership Summit


Minnesota Education Commissioner Denies Genocide Committed Against Native Americans

On Tuesday November 4th, Minnesota Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke argued on the Minneapolis Public Radio Midday show that lessons about Columbus should not be connected to Genocide. Ms. Yecke would not acknowledge the fact that those who followed Columbus instituted policies of wholesale genocide; instead she said she believed that one person on Columbus's ship had smallpox and spread it to millions of natives which was a tragedy. She said Hitler and Stalin committed genocide, but would not acknowledge the genocide of the indigenous people of North America.

After her initial comments on why the genocide discussion must not be connected to any teaching about Columbus, a caller asked her to revisit the issue. A man named Jeff called 40 minutes into the show and asked that she clarify her rationale for not wanting children to learn about genocide in relation to the arrival of Columbus. Following is the word for word text of Jeff's question and Ms. Yecke's response. (An archive of the conversation is also available at the MPR website, and can be accessed by audio with a computer.)

Jeff: "If it is the case, actually, that, say, Columbus participated in the widespread murder of a lot of Native Americans, should that be taught or shouldn't it?"

Ms. Yecke: I think that the fact is yes, there were people who died. And it was a tragedy. Was it a deliberate act? No.

In fact, the settlers, missionaries and government officials that followed in Columbus's destructive path most certainly did carry out policies that were deliberately undertaken to destroy an entire group of people, which is the definition of Genocide. Ms. Yecke needs to understand the facts. Every aspect of the UN definition of genocide exactly corresponds to what happened here to Native Americans. Estimates of the pre-Columbian native population north of the Rio Grande range between fourteen and forty million. By the end of the nineteenth century there would be less than 250,000 Indians left alive. Anyone who is the least bit educated to the reality of American history knows that Columbus himself did not oversee these policies, like Hitler or Stalin did. It was the policies that followed in his wake, that were overseen by the European and U.S. governments, that were genocidal.

The massacres and attacks on Indians by U.S. armies and posses, like Wounded Knee, were deliberate. Entire families of men, women and children were slaughtered. When the British Commander Jeffrey Amherst delivered smallpox-infected blankets to Indians he was deliberately carrying out a mission of biological terrorism. The scorched earth policies, the death marches, like the Trail of Tears, were deliberate. Forcing Indian communities on barren reservations without any means to survive was deliberate. The destruction of the buffalo on the plains was deliberate. The horrendous and heartbreaking list of genocidal policies goes on and on. The policies instituted, officially and non-officially by the U.S. militia, government, settlers and missionaries were designed to deliberately destroy an entire group of people and their cultural heritage. This is genocide. All these events are today well-documented and commonly accepted as historical fact. Anyone in any official capacity within the State's educational institutions, like an Educational commissioner should know these facts and not deny them.

How ironic that the U.S. government has never even, at the very least, made an official apology to Native Americans as has Germany and Japan to their victims? Instead we still celebrate Columbus Day and stumble forward in collective denial of our own dark past of genocide. Like a dysfunctional family, we cling stubbornly to the materialistic and ecologically unbalanced system with which we so violently replaced native culture and religion.

Perhaps the cultural amnesia of people like Ms. Yecke is the real reason the U.S. has had such difficulty responding to genocide in this century abroad. If the government could acknowledge and apologize for its past wrongs to indigenous people, it could move forward with a much-needed agenda of justice for Native Americans. Then, these ill-informed officials may begin to command some small degree of moral authority in condemning other nations. Lets come to grips with the fact that even after hundreds of years of pushing indigenous people around, killing them deliberately, shipping their children in trains to white-run boarding schools, trying to "Christianize" the Indian, etc., the reality is that many Native Americans simply have not assimilated into the mainstream. They have retained their spiritual beliefs and culture, and they are today rightfully demanding that treaties be constitutionally upheld.

Non-native Americans like Ms. Yecke have conveniently forgotten their own genocidal history as they hypocritically condemn people in the Middle East, Africans, Europeans, and others for 20th century genocide. They need to step back and come to terms with the fact that this country was built on blood stained soil. Americans have a lot to learn from their indefatigability - North American Indians survived a holocaust and still persevere in the land where they have lived since time immemorial. In coming to terms with the truth about our past policies of genocide, Americans like Ms. Yecke may even begin to question what was lost spiritually and intellectually when native beliefs and culture were dismissed in lieu of pursuing an individualistic industrial society.

Article Written by:

Kristina M. Gronquist
416 8th Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
612-378-3847 home/office
612-619-8656 cell

Self-employed Minneapolis based writer and activist