While the nation mourns and investigates Sunday’s grisly terrorist attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., a handful of people have piped up to complain that coverage of the event is not placing enough emphasis on the unrelated suffering of American Indians.
Articles published by NPR and The Oregonian both include members of various Indian tribes complaining that, when the media labels Orlando the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, it’s obscuring the suffering of Indians who perished in battles with the U.S. military in the 1800s.
“When we tried to put the killing of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub on Sunday morning in context, we said and wrote that it was the ‘deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history,'” NPR says in its article. “Almost immediately, our readers and listeners said we were whitewashing history.” NPR readers accused it of ignoring the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre, where U.S. army members killed at least 150 Lakota men, women, and children after an effort to disarm surrendered Lakota resulted in violence. Twenty-five U.S. cavalrymen were killed as well.
Similarly, Autumn Depoe-Hughes complained to The Oregonian that write-ups of the Orlando shooting have ignored the Sand Creek Massacre, an 1864 incident where Colorado militia killed at least 70 members of a Cheyenne Indian village. Depoe-Hughes claims descent from the survivors of the massacre.
“It looked to me like a rewriting of history,” Depoe-Hughes said. “I saw my family’s history disappearing before my eyes.” Depoe-Hughes said that in her outrage she has emailed over a dozen media outlets complaining about the “worst mass shooting” label and demanding a change.
American Indians aren’t the only ones claiming history is being whitewashed. According to NPR, people also complained that the Mountain Meadows Massacre (where Mormon militia butchered a pioneer wagon train, killing about 120 people) and the Tulsa race riot (which killed dozens of black residents in Oklahoma) were being ignored as well in the race to anoint Orlando the deadliest shooting in U.S. history.
Several media outlets have started to capitulate to these concerns, while still trying to emphasize the scope of Orlando. The Oregonian altered its text to call Orlando the worst mass shooting in “modern U.S. history.” The Associated Press has started using similar terminology in deference to “historical concerns.”
NPR has offered a defense of its label, arguing that modern lone-wolf shootings are distinguishable from the military actions or group riots of the past.
“This is something we discussed in the newsroom. It felt like the shootings — in Orlando, in Sandy Hook, at the Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas — were different enough that we could say ‘deadliest mass shooting in the U.S.’ and still be respectful of all that previous history,” NPR correspondent Eyder Peralta wrote Monday.
Nevertheless, Peralta says that for the sake of “precision, history and what we may not know,” NPR will refer to Orlando as the “deadliest mass public shooting in modern U.S. history.”
Of course, if Wounded Knee counts as a mass shooting, then it’s still not the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. If U.S. military engagements count as “mass shootings,” then presumably the largest mass shooting in U.S. history is the three-day shooting at Gettysburg that killed close to 8,000 people and wounded tens of thousands more.
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