Long before Adolph Hitler committed the atrocity and the Jewish during the holocaust, the European settlers, British garrisons and later the United States Army had drastically reduced the numbers of Native American by committing the same actions. Was genocide committed against the Native Americans? Many may argue the decline of the Native American population was caused by new diseases being introduced by the Europeans to which the native tribes had no immunity.
Others argue forcing the Native Americans from their homes was a necessity for the development of this new land.
However, the thousands of Native Americans killed during the Indian Removal Act can be compared to the thousands of Jewish people killed during the holocaust. In order to determine if the Native Americans were victims of genocide, we must first understand what the definition of genocide is.
According to the Genocide Convention, any of the following actions, when committed with the intent to eliminate a particular national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, constitutes genocide: (1) killing members of the group, (2) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, (3) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to kill, (4) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and (5) forcibly transferring children out of a group.
(Encarta 2009) In addition, there are four categories of genocide.
Ideological genocide is used in effort to create a society which members hold the same beliefs or are alike much like the Jewish Holocaust. Next is Retributive genocide used to eliminate the risk of a potential threat. The 1994 Rwanda riot demonstrates this type of genocide. The Hutu group wanted to maintain control of the Rwanda government by destroying the Tutsi rebels. Developmental genocide is one used against people in the area for economic gain. In the late 1960s Paraguay government forced the relocation and execution of the native Indian population to expand cattle ranching and logging enterprises.
The fourth category is Despotic genocide intended to spreads terror among potential or real enemies. Ugandan President Idi Amin ordered the deaths to groups who opposed his tyrannical rule during the 1970s. (Encarta, 2009). While the Jewish Holocaust falls under the Ideology category and the Native American loss was developmental, there are many parallels between these two events. The first comparison is the large loss of life both of these groups suffered. Nearly six million Jews out of a total population of 10 million were lost according to a senior SS official Adolf Eichmann. (Holocaust, 2009).
The Native Americans were estimated to be about 18 million with a loss of 12 million. (Lewy, 2004) With percentages of a 60% loss in the holocaust and a 75% loss of the Native Americans, loss of life for both groups are close in resemblance as well as astounding. As shown on the chart below, these comparisons alone exemplify acts of genocide. The similarities continue with the ghettos and concentration camps that were created to separate the Jews from the rest of Germany and the enforcement of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The Jewish suffered many hardships in the ghettos and the concentration camps.
Thousands were forced to march many miles under poor conditions. There were many camps and many marches with the largest, most notable one being Auschwitz. The Native Americans were considered to be hindering progress and in the way of the colonist’s expansion therefore, with the Indian Removal Act; President Andrew Jackson had the authority to remove the Indians to unsettled land in the west on reservations. As many as 15,000 Cherokee were forced from their homes in Mississippi. During this journey to present day Oklahoma, known as the Trail of Tears, over 4000 Cherokee people lost their lives.
The four remaining Indian nations consisting of the Seminoles, the Choctaw, the Creeks and the Chickasaws, soon followed suit. They faced many hardships from exhaustion and starvation to illness. The removal of Indians did not stop as the tribes were pushed westward. As the discovery of gold in California and the greed for land grew the removal continued. There are several incidents of what one could deem as government supported violence. One example is the violence against the Yuki tribe at Round Valley between 1859 through 1863 also known as the “Mendocino War”.
According to Benjamin Madley vigilantes were hired by the Governor of California to kill the Indians beyond the reservation. A total of 9,000 dollars was paid to these men and over 400 Indians were killed. (Madley, 2007). Another example of violence was the massacre of the Pomo Indian village. As reported in 1849 troops arrived north of San Francisco and came across two to three hundred villagers unexpectedly. As the Indians were being surrounded and raising a commotion while trying to escape, the troops quickly had the village under heavy crossfire which did not end until the entire tribe was eradicated. WFI, 2001). Every man, woman and child of the Pomo Tribe were in a sense murdered for being in their homes on their land. Who could ever forget the tragedy at Sand Creek? Chiefs Spotted Crow, Bear Tongue, Black Kettle, White Antelope and others were under the belief that they were being protected by the U. S. Army. The Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes were at the winter camp which was along the north bank of Big Sandy Creek. There were approximately 500 people total residing in 100 to 120 lodges consisting of Cheyenne and of Arapaho.
The village was mainly comprised of the elderly, women, and children. The men were away hunting for food at the time of the surprise attack. The assault began in the early morning hours of November 29, 1864 on the camps that extended for several miles along the valley of the Big Sandy. By the end of the day, an estimated count of 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho lay dead. (Campbell, 2006). Many have attributed the large loss of life was not one of genocide, but caused by diseases the Native Americans were not immune to. There is at least one instance in 1763 that could constitute biological warfare.
Guenther Lewy states the following: “ Sir Jeffrey Amherst, commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, wrote as follows to Colonel Henry Bouquet at Fort Pitt:”You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians [with smallpox] by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method, that can serve to extirpate this execrable race. ” (Lewy, 2004). This tactic was repeated on June 20, 1837 at Fort Clark. The Mandan tribe, given trade blankets that were from an infirmary quarantined for smallpox, was gradually exterminated as the disease spread. Lewy, 2004). Could it then be said the smallpox pandemic was also a factor in the extinction the Native Americans? Medical experiments were also conducted on thousands of Jewish men and women. The women were subjected to mass sterilization as a means to eradicate the “undesirable” race. Men were part of the freezing experiments to find a treatment for hypothermia and exposed to diseases such as tuberculosis and yellow fever to test vaccination compounds. (Holocaust, 2009). In an attempt to civilize the Native Americans, Captain Richard Pratt established the U. S.
Training and Industrial School. One thing to bear in mind is a few years earlier Captain Pratt was in charge of Indian prisoners. In a sense, these schools were brought about to strip away the Native American culture, religion and heritage. Children were taken from their families and were forbidden to speak their language. The children were also given new Christian names and their long hair was cut short. Siblings were not allowed to stay together further separating the families. One can only imagine the difficulty of sending a child away for the sake of civilization.
The main educational skills were cooking and cleaning for girls and carpentry and milking cows for boys. Since everything was taught in English, some native languages ceased to be spoken and over time were forgotten completely. The schools were often very far from the reservations and the children were not allowed to go home. Parents were discouraged to visit causing further strain and separation for the tribes. Once the education was through, returning to the reservation was difficult and often looked upon as strangers and treated as outcasts in their tribes.
Being torn away from their families to be educated only made it more difficult for these children to be accepted in society. As tragic and callous as this may sound, the Jewish people have prospered and are accepted in society despite of the fact the Jewish children of the Holocaust era suffered a much worse fate. They were not given the opportunity to go to school and many never returned to their families. According to an excerpt from the Holocaust Encyclopedia: “The German authorities were indifferent to this mass death because they considered most of the younger ghetto children to be unproductive and hence “useless eaters. Because children were generally too young to be deployed at forced labor, German authorities generally selected them, along with the elderly, ill, and disabled, for the first deportations to killing centers, or as the first victims led to mass graves to be shot. ” The comparisons between the events that took place during the Indian Removal Act and the Jewish holocaust bear striking resemblances. Total termination to the race was the only agenda for Germany. Attacking the younger generation would ensure the Jewish race would also become extinct to make way for the supreme race.
Hitler’s idea of the supreme race compares to the idea to civilize the Native Americans. The European settlers, who considered themselves a superior race above the Native Americans, took it upon themselves to turn the Indians into a “civilized race”. The Auschwitz concentration camp and ghettos were comparable to the Trail of Tears and reservations. In America the removal of the Indians from their homeland by force could be classified as the same agenda but was looked upon as necessary for the sake of progress. The victims of the Jewish holocaust found closure and were able to move forward due to the fact the holocaust lasted only 12 years.
The plight of the Native Americans still continues today on the reservations that were established in the early 1900’s. Some of the living conditions such as poverty and illness mirror those of a Third world country. According to Lilian Friedberg the Native Americans still have the highest suicide rate among all the ethnic groups and still subjected to the most extreme poverty within the present North American population. Harvard educated scholar Winona LaDuke notes, “Alcoholism, unemployment, suicide, accidental death and homicide rates are still well above the national average. These combined with intergenerational post traumatic stress and economical ills still plague the Indian communities in the aftermath of the American Holocaust. (Friedberg, 2000). The intentional spread of smallpox combined with this forced relocation was a blatant attempt to eliminate an entire race. However, it has yet to be classified as such. Out of the five Geneva Convention definitions that determined the Jewish holocaust as genocide the Native Americans have three qualifying factors. (1)The large amounts of lives lost. (2) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to kill. 3) Forcibly transferring children out of a group. How can one classify these atrocities against the Native Americans as anything other than genocide? ? References Campbell, J. (2006) Sand Creek massacre background booklet #. Retrieved April 24, 2009 from Sand Creek National Historic Site Website http://www. sandcreeksite. com/ Exploitation vs. Extermination. (2001). Retrieved April 10, 2009 from World Free Internet Website: http://www. worldfreeinternet. net/AmericanHolocaust/exploit. htm Genocide. (2009). In Encarta Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 15, 2009 from Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia: http://encarta. sn. com/text_761554053__0/Genocide. html The Holocaust. (2009). In Holocaust Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 14, 2008. http://www. ushmm. org/wlc/article. php? lang=en&ModuleId=10007403 Lewy, G. , Were American Indians victims of genocide? Retrieved from History News Network website: http://hnn. us/articles/7302. html Madley, B. L. , (2007). Killing for Land in Early California: Indian Blood at Round Valley, 1856-1863. The Americas, 64(2), 279-280. Retrieved March 20, 2009, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1381939941).
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