from ZACHARY ALDRIDGE
To the Editor:
In the May 23-24 editions of your newspapers, Jim Kevlin wrote that “paddlers in the 59th
annual General Clinton Regatta can compete with a clear conscience” because the native inhabitants of a single village, Onaquaga, had deserted it.
As he goes on to explain, they had fled a different genocidal campaign the year before Clinton’s, led by Lt. Col. William Butler. The bylines read “Clinton Didn’t Destroy Indian Village/Famed Regatta Namesake Cleared.”
Toward the end of the piece, however, Kevlin writes that when the Clinton-Sullivan Expedition was over, “the Iroquois were destroyed, thousands of men, women and children killed, and the remaining 5,000 fled to British Canada.”
The Clinton-Sullivan Campaign wiped out at least 40 villages, but apparently we can
overlook that because Onaquaga was razed before Clinton got there.
By trumpeting that peoples’ consciences can be cleared, Kevlin suggests that the ethnic cleansing of the Iroquois – and by extension, the canoe regatta itself – already does weigh on peoples’ consciences.
I should hope it does, because the campaign was an early instance of the ethnic cleansing that laid waste to the indigenous peoples of this country, one of the many indelible stains on American history that has never been fully addressed and that casts doubt on notions of American “greatness” and “democracy.”
Native communities still suffer today and articles like these are complicit in that reality.
What is troubling about this kind of journalism is not merely that it is a disservice to readers and an offense to our ability to read, but that it peddles a narrative of white supremacy. The title of the article is misleading and the content proves it.
Kevlin knows as well as I do how awful the Clinton-Sullivan Campaign was – he even says so in the piece – but he would rather absolve the colonists of wrongdoing than, say, suggest the canoe regatta be renamed because it celebrates the legacy of the Iroquois’ destruction and the violent settlement of White Americans on the land.
Kevlin also gives the last word to local historian Buzz Hesse who is quoted as saying, “Washington could see the future. He knew (the bloody conflict between natives and settlers) had to be resolved.”
Washington’s May 1779 correspondence with General Sullivan, however, looks nothing like “conflict resolution”: “The expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible …
“You will not by any means listen to [any] overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is effected.” (National Archives, Founders Online).
No one today has blood on their hands from the Clinton-Sullivan Campaign, but it’s the least we can do to not pretend it wasn’t as bad as it was.
And beyond that, I would appreciate seeing the Village of Cooperstown publicly honor those killed on the stolen land we inherited as part and parcel of addressing the power imbalance between White Americans and Native Americans.
How about your newspapers organize a write-in contest to rename the regatta?