One million bones displayed to draw attention to genocide


Imagine taking a summer trip to Washington D.C. It’s warm and sunny, so you decide to make a day of it and explore the National Mall monuments. But when you get there, it isn’t as pictured in the brochure. Instead of grass and statues, you see bones all over the ground, one million ghostly bones.

That kind of startle is one of the things TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Senior Fellow Naomi Natale of New Mexico is hoping to accomplish in the nation’s capital June 8-10 this year. Through her project, “One Million Bones,” she hopes to raise awareness about genocide and other atrocities happening around the world.

“It wasn’t until my first year of college that I first heard about the Rwandan genocide, and that was nine years after it’d happened,” Natale said. “What really jarred me was how I had never heard about it before. We were never taught about it in school, never talked about it when I was growing up. Then to recognize that there were conflicts like that happening right now and still it wasn’t being talked about made me think, ‘How can we put this out there?’”

Natale said the bones will serve as a mass grave on the National Mall.

“I kept thinking that, suppose those murdered in Rwanda could be piled in the streets of Washington D.C.,” she said. “Would we have called it a genocide? Would we have been brave enough to take action at that time?”

The bones Natale and her volunteers will set up are made of clay and other biodegradable materials, crafted in 25 different countries around the world. Shipping complications will prevent the internationally made bones from being present in the three-day display, but Natale said the project is working on a way to effectively represent them.

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Genocide, defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, is, “Killing members of the (ethnic, racial or religious) group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

“Because of the Geneva Convention, countries who have signed on are required to intervene when (an atrocity is called) genocide,” Natale said. “Because of that, we’ve been really scared to call something that. We didn’t call what happened in Rwanda ‘genocide’ when it should have been.”

In 1994, the Hutus people slaughtered over 800,000 Tutsis people during a period of approximately 100 days in Rwanda. The Hutu government, as well as extremists in various media positions, advertised and advocated for ordinary citizens to participate in the killings. The Tutsis were murdered no matter what age or gender. The mass slaughter was eventually recognized as a genocide among the general public, but never officially.

A large part of the overall project tis oriented toward education as well as raising money for and executing the installation on the National Mall. Natale, her staff of four working on One Million Bones, and installation volunteers have traveled to various schools and communities to promote the project and create a dialogue about genocide.

In November 2012, an event was held at University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, where 300 participants made approximately 1,000 ceramic bones for the project.

Natale is visiting UAA April 11 to lecture and host similar bone-making events. According to Michael McCormick, Student Activities assistant director, there will be four opportunities in the Rasmuson Hall’s Multicultural Center for students and members of the community to create bones.

“The Student Union Gallery is very interested in trying to do more programming with the arts. They do two (lectures) a year, but they want to do more, and they want to get students involved in interactive things,” he said. “The event hits several things, it talks about progressive art with a progressive speaker, and we get students involved in social causes and social activism.”

McCormick also explains that this event ties back to a previous Martin Luther King Jr. Student Appreciation Luncheon keynote speaker and to other events the university organization has sponsored.

“It’s kind of a theme that Student Activities has looked at and been concerned about … this is a different way to get at it, with art as a way to help in the world,” he said.

Natale estimates that approximately 600,000 bones have been collected for the project so far, but these numbers don’t include the many made outside the country. For the first 500,000 bones made, $1 will be donated by the Bezos Family Foundation to the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere for their work in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In June, and when those international numbers have been tallied, she is confident the project will have achieved its goal, if not surpass it.

Naomi Natale will present her lecture, “The Intersection of Art and Activism,” 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 11 in Rasmuson Hall Room 101. The event is free and is co-sponsored by the Student Activities Gallery, the Emerging Leaders Program and the UAA Multicultural Center with assistance from the UAA Art Department.

The bone-making sessions will take place in the Multicultural Center at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 11, and at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Friday, April 12. Time date place These workshops have limited space, so interested parties are asked to contact Leo Medal at the Multicultural Center at 907-786-4082, or McCormick at 907-786-1213. These sessions are also free of charge.

For more information about the One Million Bones project, visit

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