► “The Familiar Face of Genocide: Internalized Oppression among American Indians”

In Lisa Poupart’s article called, “The Familiar Face of Genocide:  Internalized Oppression among American Indians,” she stated that genocidal acts carried out against Indian people were founded upon unjust means of “Western constructions of abject Otherness” (87).  Poupart expressed that American Indians have been socially conditioned by hundreds of years of oppression to behave in a way that prohibits them from expressing real pain and suffering (88).  Poupart uses other claims from the works of Bravehart, Debruyn, and Hill to name a few to support her argument.

Poupart stated that type of forbidden suffering also supports Bravehart’s and Debruyn’s argument that Western dominant society have contributed to this abnormal conditioning, which has now become a long-held stereotype that American Indians are stoic savages who are incapable of having feelings such as grieving and suffering (89).

Poupart supports Shirley Hill’s observation, in which she calls a “raw unhealing wound” (Hill, 1074).  Brave heart’s and Debruyn’s assert that it should also be defined as “Historical Unresolved Grief Syndrome” again resulting from mass victimization and cultural genocide (88-89, 92).    Poupart argued that American Indian people’s long held suffering is not acknowledged or nor is it widely accepted by white dominant culture. The suffering and pain Poupart is discussing here is American Indian experiences of colonization, forced removal, forced relocation, and racism (88-89).

Drawn out in and exhibited in epidemic cases of alcohol and drug abuse among American Indians today.  Braveheart and Debruyn viewed alcoholism (among Indians) as a “self-destructive behavior resulting from internalized oppression and aggression” (89).

Poupart addresses the importance of remembering what the ancestors of American Indians went through.  Poupart stated that “recounting the subjugation of our ancestors” through the practices of oral tradition and cultural preservation is resistance against “Westernized constructions of abject Otherness” (87-88).  Internal oppression is manifested externally in the high domestic violence and homicide rates in Indian country today.

In a strong statement Poupart asserted the following:

“When we, as marginalized Others, internalize and portray our inferiority in these ways, we become a sort of “self-fulfilling prophecy,” as we provide the dominant culture with evidence to support our continued objectification, disempowerment, and exploitation. When marginalized Others internalize the dominant subject position, we become our own oppressors as we carry our abjection within. We view ourselves and our group(s) as essentially responsible for our political, economic, social, and cultural disempowerment. The dominant culture no longer needs to overtly force, threaten, or coerce our disempowerment, for now we enforce it within ourselves and within our communities of Others” (90).

Here, Poupart is stating that if American Indians continue to hurt one another, they continue to disempower themselves, and reinforce and sustain the white dominant society’s hope that American Indians should disappear.  Is she also suggesting that American Indian communities are the root of the problem?  Suggesting a belligerent nation?  Poupart implied that white dominant society doesn’t need to force or threaten American Indians because they are on their Indian reservations committing all kinds of crimes to themselves.  Making Indian reservations look like warzones of self-destruction.
Poupart prolongs this discussion from violence in American Indian communities to the traumas experienced by American Indians during the boarding school era and all wrapping it up to the need for a discussion or what she called a “consciousness-raising talk” of family and community violence (96).  Poupart concludes with no comforting suggestions or treatment, but the need to raise awareness and two nauseating poems about internal oppression.
Poupart gave broad overviews of well-known problems in American Indian communities and her article just adds more awareness about those problems.  Poupart’s article is not a research article, but an exploratory piece that addresses internal and external oppression caused by colonialism, rejection by white dominant society, and by the white patriarchal system that does not accept matrilineal cultures.
I have to agree with Poupart even though this article was published back in 2003 and we already know that those same issues that she addressed are still a big problem in American Indian communities today.  American Indians are raising awareness and it is very important to younger American Indian generations today and even I have heard of and have been part of social movement protests such as Idle No More, Change the Mascot, and other issues.  So, we’re becoming stronger in this area.
As American Indians gain knowledge about historical trauma, they are more likely to discuss it openly.  As more discussions are held, communities come together to figure out how to solve their problems, but it takes time and money.  American Indians do need to demand more from their tribal government leaders, and tribal leaders need to demand more from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the BIA needs to demand more from Congress, and so on.
Internal oppression seems to have integrated into newer forms of oppression as American Indian nations grow and more American Indians reside off Indian reservations and live in metropolitan areas.  The younger American Indian generations are too far colonialized that most traditional views of their American Indian culture and language are lost and/or less practiced today.  American culture has even integrated and acculturated American Indian culture into trashy fashions that further demean American Indian identities.  Dominant white society view of American Indians is again reinforced and advancing into more negative stereotypes further institutionalizing racism of a silent type (smoke screen), but we are fighting against those issues.  AS we continue to raise awareness, we have a shot of finding harmony in all this disarray.


Poupart, Lisa M. “The Familiar Face of Genocide: Internalized Oppression among American Indians.”Hypatia 18, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 86-100. DOI: 10.1353/hyp.2003.0036.

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