Genocide denial, racist myths, and the fight against canceling Columbus: A look at One America News’ anti-Indigenous coverage

Over the past nine months, OAN has disseminated racist, revisionist content about Indigenous people in Canada and the United States. AT&T is responsible.

Note: The subjects discussed in this article may be triggering for some readers. If you need immediate care or long-term support, the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition has compiled a culturally sensitive resource kit.

Since February, right-wing cable outlet One America News Network has revived some of its favorite white nationalist conspiracy theories, bigoted lies, and racial epithets in a series of incendiary segments targeting Indigenous people of North America. Hosts, reporters, and guests have thrown fit after fit about small recognitions made in 2020 and 2021 to acknowledge the whitewashed history of colonization, power imbalances, and racist depictions of Indigenous people in North America. 

In June, the network turned to full-fledged genocide denialism after ground-penetrating radar uncovered over 1,300 unmarked graves of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children killed under Canada’s residential school policy. Canada's 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission called the residential school system a "cultural genocide" of Indigenous people, and the federal government formally apologized for it in 2008. OAN downplayed this history and dismissed the discovery of the graves as an “excuse” for “an anti-Christian crusade.”

In October, OAN used Indigenous Peoples Day to praise Christopher Columbus and Europeans for “civilizing” the “savages.” And throughout the nine-month period, OAN figures regurgitated right-wing talking points about “social justice warriors” forcing sports teams to change their names from racist slurs and “erasing” Columbus from our calendars. 

Meanwhile, a Reuters investigation revealed that telecom giant AT&T had played a key role in creating and funding the far-right network, with 90% of OAN's revenue reportedly coming from its AT&T contract.

Less than a month later, in November, AT&T Vice President Tom Brooks (a member of the Kanien'kehà:ka nation) renewed his company's commitment to “support Indigenous peoples” for Native American Heritage Month. That marked AT&T’s latest commitment to support Indigenous people via nonprofit fundraising, policy research and advocacy, and its Inter-Tribal Council of AT&T employees.

But the company can't have it both ways: AT&T cannot support Indigenous rights in one breath while funding OAN in the next.

As we recognize National Native American Heritage Month, here’s a look at how OAN has attacked Indigenous people so far this year -- all enabled by AT&T’s continued support for the network

  • OAN denied the history of genocidal policies used to assimilate Indigenous children

    In the 1800s, governments in the U.S. and Canada partnered with churches to force Indigenous children into boarding schools under a genocidal assimilation policy with the explicit goal to “kill the Indian, save the man.” An estimated minimum of 6,000 Indigenous children died from injuries, illness, abuse, and neglect sustained in Canada’s system alone. Countless more children disappeared alongside their languages, cultures, and traditional teachings. By the time Canada shuttered the last of these schools in 1996, the residential school system left behind an ongoing, traumatic legacy extending far beyond the immediate survivors of the cultural genocide.

    This traumatic legacy made headlines earlier this year after the discovery of over 1,300 bodies on the sites of former residential schools in Canada. In the U.S., the story prompted Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (a member of the Pueblo of Laguna) to order the first comprehensive federal review of American residential schools with an explicit “emphasis on cemeteries or potential burial sites.” While imperfect, this order is a significant first step in America’s own slow reckoning with its genocidal assimilation policies -- one that OAN seems intent to undermine by spreading disinformation to its viewers.

    Led by Tipping Point host Kara McKinney, OAN treated the discovery of more than a thousand Indigenous children’s graves as a lie meant to target churches, drawing a tenuous connection between the discoveries and a string of church vandalism and arson across Canada.

    • On July 12, McKinney called the reporting on mass graves of Indigenous people at former residential schools an “odious lie” used to “excuse” the “desecration of holy grounds.”
    • On July 23, McKinney asserted that the media had “exaggerated” its coverage of residential schools, stating, “Just like the history of slavery in America gets overexaggerated in some cases in order to be weaponized to reorder society to this day -- they make everything about race -- the same thing is happening with these schools in Canada.” 
    • Days later, OAN irresponsibly blamed Canadian church fires on “activists seeking revenge for Indigenous students,” comparing them to “American churches [that] were burned down or vandalized” by “George Floyd protesters” in 2020. (Though some suspects have since been arrested and charged for the Canadian fires, authorities there have yet to discuss their possible motivations.) 
    • In a Tipping Point segment promoting her deceptive YouTube video “The Canadian Mass Grave Hoax,” alt-right troll Lauren Southern downplayed the discoveries at former residential schools, saying, “If you scratch past the surface, none of it is true.” She later claimed that “it is a far stretch to say a pit of murdered children with thousands of bodies across Canada and a gravesite that the markers have been lost -- a massive stretch, and one that ... led to mass hatred and hate crimes and terrorism, quite frankly, across Canada.”
  • OAN mocked Indigenous Peoples Day

    OAN was outraged after President Joe Biden issued a proclamation officially recognizing October 8 as Indigenous Peoples Day. The move neither removed nor replaced Columbus Day, which is still a federally recognized holiday. Instead, it simply shifted focus onto the Indigenous community by creating what the Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative calls a “more powerful, more accurate, and more inspiring narrative about the contemporary Native experience” than the whitewashed history of colonization long perpetuated by Columbus Day. 

    That didn’t stop OAN from calling the move a leftist attempt to divide America. OAN hosts and guests accused Biden of “trying to erase Italian Americans,” whitewashed and defended genocide, and used derogatory terms to refer to Native Americans.

    • Host Stephanie Hamill discussed the “divisive” decision with Andre DiMino, executive board member of the Italian American One Voice Coalition, who portrayed the recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day as Democrats “trying to revise history and attack western culture by starting at the foundation, which was the uniting of the continents by Columbus.” DiMino whined that Indigenous people were taking Italian Americans’ holiday even though they already have “August 9, the day after Thanksgiving, and the whole month of November.”
    • Host Natalie Harp cited Indigenous Peoples Day as proof that “the people running our country, they do hate America at this point.” Her guest, conservative columnist Lee Smith, claimed the new holiday was part of “a campaign of demoralization” by Democrats to tell other Americans “that we will replace you with whoever we can drop into the country at any particular time” -- a direct reference to the white nationalist “great replacement” conspiracy theory.
    • After accusing Indigenous groups of cannibalism during her October 11 program, McKinney contradicted Columbus’ own accounts of enslaving and brutalizing Indigenous people, asserting that he “actually treated native peoples with great respect for his time" and “actively punished his own crew members when they abused and hurt the native peoples.”
    • After repeatedly referring to Native Americans as “savages,” host Dan Ball asked, “What if Christopher Columbus had not found and tried to colonize this land? What if European settlers ... did not come to America and civilize the Native Americans? … If this land was left to tribes that were warring for the last 500 years, what would this land look like?” These types of rhetorical questions are predicated on racist myths about Indigenous people that continue to perpetuate systemic health, economic, political, and social inequalities.
  • OAN attacked Indigenous activism and spread racist misconceptions about Native Americans

    OAN regularly derided historic figures and activism and ensuing media coverage, paying particular attention to the Washington Football Team’s decision in July 2020 to stop using its previous racist moniker after decades of Indigenous activism against harmful and racist naming practices in sports. Hosts and guests referred to the team by the defunct name well into 2021.

    • OAN segments consistently criticized and undermined the historic nomination of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, claiming the media focused too much on “the fact she’s the first Native American named to a Cabinet position” instead of her supposedly “radical environmentalist agenda” to fight "so-called climate change.”
    • In an August 5 segment that repeatedly referred to the Washington Football Team by its racist former name, two OAN news hosts mocked Indigenous concerns and suggested that the Pittsburgh Pirates would be the next sports team to cede to “the left” and change its moniker “because a group of pirates are very upset about that.”
    • On the July 23 edition of The Real Story, American Principles Project President Terry Schilling told Indigenous people to “stop taking everything so personally” as “it’s a total honor to name your team after the Indians, or [the Washington Football Team’s former name], or the Cherokees, or the Chiefs or whatever” because they were “very tough adversaries” who “we had to fight … in America for 400 years.”
    • Over a graphic stating “No Whites Allowed,” Ball suggested applying to a reparations fund meant for Black and Indigenous Californians “because I have Native American on my dad’s side, with probably more than Pocahontas,” referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), “but if I describe myself as an Indigenous person then I could apply to this.” His guest, former Trump adviser Harmeet Dhillon, said that this reparations policy is an example of “the ultimate racial privilege, really.” (Under current Federal enrollment guidelines, tribes do not consider a vague Indigenous ancestor or DNA test as valid proof of Native ancestry. Furthermore, using tenuous claims of Indigenous identity to avoid accountability for racist policies and beliefs is racist.)
    • On September 29, Tipping Point guest Christopher Check, president of Catholic Answers, downplayed Franciscan monk Junipero Serra’s brutal treatment toward Native American people, calling the colonizer a “saintly man that wanted nothing more than the best thing for natives of California, that eternal salvation." As Bad Indians author Deborah Miranda (Ohlone Costanoan Esselen nation) told KQED, “Serra did not just bring us Christianity. He imposed it, giving us no choice in the matter. He did incalculable damage to a whole culture.”
    • Sumantra Maitra, a senior contributor to The Federalist, used the October 11 edition of McKinney’s show to call the landback movement “a prelude to violence” and said that “the logical endpoint to that rhetoric is taking that land back, and taking that land back would've mean a reconquest,” explicitly comparing it to the Balkan genocides of the 1990s. Maitra’s comments grossly mischaracterize the landback movement, which is the latest social media-focused iteration of a broad political movement calling for settler governments to return land stewardship to Indigenous peoples.