California’s grim genocidal past implicates the University of California

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Author, Tony Platt. Photo by T.William Wallin/The Lumberjack

The United States of America is founded on the original sin of Native American genocide and the myth that the Indigenous Peoples that lived on these lands for thousands of years had no right to it. White settler colonialism is not just a stain on the country’s history, it is its very raison d’etre. To this day, all non-Native Americans live on stolen land. The prosperous, liberal state of California is not exempt from this original sin, nor has it made reparations for the devastation of Indigenous Peoples and their lands. In a recently reissued bookTony Platt, the acclaimed author of 10 books and professor emeritus who taught at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and California State University, Sacramento, uncovers another more recent abhorrence committed against Native Californians by one of the state’s most revered institutions, the University of California, Berkeley. 

On this week’s “Scheer Intelligence,” Platt joins Robert Scheer to discuss his book “Grave Matters: The Controversy over Excavating California's Buried Indigenous Past,” which examines the history of the Yurok people whose ancestors’ remains were excavated by UC Berkeley for use in its research without any consent, or, as Scheer indicates, respect. “Grave Matters,” which was first released in 2011 and has recently been re-issued by Heyday Books, reveals many uncomfortable truths at the core of America’s past and present, while prompting crucial questions about the country’s future. The “Grave Matters” author explains that in addition to their genocide, displacement, and continual disenfrenchisement, Americans have continued to desecrate the very bones of the Indigenous Peoples whose remains archaelogists stole in the “name of scholarship.” 

With regard to the future, Platt expresses some hope that the country is at the start of the inevitably long process of coming to grips with its grim past. Scheer points to recognition from former California Governor Jerry Brown and current Governor Gavin Newsom regarding the crimes the state has committed against Native Americans, and the two discuss the recent New York Times exposé of UC Hastings’ founder Serranus Hastings and his “mastermind[ing of] the slaughter of Yuki men, women and children” (which ultimately prompted the law school to decide to change its name) as signs the times are changing. 

Whether or not the process will lead to justice and reparations remains to be seen. However, as Scheer highlights throughout the episode, works like “Grave Matters” and those by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Benjamin Madley, former guests of the show who have exposed other travesties committed against the Indigenous Peoples, are undoubtedly indispensable to this process. Listen to the full conversation between Platt and Scheer as they discuss the details of this Californian story and the broader American story of Native American mass murder and desecration. 



Joshua Scheer