Textbooks and movies are still hiding the genocide of Native American Indian cultures, which began five centuries ago. There were many friendly and close relationships between early immigrant settlers and native peoples, but these were not the main current in their relations. U.S. history is destroyed by acts of genocide against native people, made worse by the deadly impact of new diseases spread by contact between new settlers and native Americans. Many aggressive attempts were made to reform the Indian peoples according to European cultural models, whether under threat of death or, later, through separation to government boarding schools.
Government policies guided the destruction and control of native American cultures, concluding in the problematic status of Indian people today. Despite this historical situation, there has been only the most begrudging admission of any public responsibility for the damage done to native American cultures. Little public support has gone to efforts to preserve, retrieve and build upon native cultural traditions. Where affirmative steps are called for, none has been taken.
Chief among the U.S. government’s initiatives toward native peoples has been the reservation — remarkably like the former South African “homelands.” The current laissez-faire federal policy pretends that Native American cultures are now free to enjoy an even chance in our society, to compete for resources with dominant cultural forms and traditions. The official alternative to the reservation has been pressure to assimilate into the mainstream culture.
Through much of the time that Native American peoples have endured this cultural combat, the idea of “the Indian” has been a powerful symbol within our national culture. We usually see Indian people portrayed as brutal and warmongering, worthy of punishment at the hands of white settlers and the U.S. government. Nevertheless, Indian influences on contemporary United States culture are extensive. In Hollywood films and western novels and “cowboy art,” Indians have symbolized connectedness and sensitivity to nature (and the loss of the wilderness), highly developed skills, and individual courage. The “new age” philosophies which emerged from the 1960’s depend heavily on traditional Indian knowledge; within their frameworks, Native Americans symbolize balance, inner wisdom, ordeal and transcendent experience, and natural dignity. Recently, Native American activists have done much to revitalize their cultural traditions. Assimilationism has lost some of the attraction it had in the past. But history cannot be undone.
American Indians around the United States have been protesting against
Did you know that most of the Native Americans live in reservations, managed by a part of the US government called the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And on these reservations, the Native Americans can’t grow their own food; there is not enough land. They can’t grow maize corn and they can’t have buffaloes for meat. So the Bureau of Indian Affairs gives them modern processed food, which is entirely foreign to their way of life. And the result – diabetes.
Some of the Native Americans live in villages and cities in the western states, and the unemployment rate there is the highest in our country. And these cities comprise the poorest counties in our country. And these cities are where there is another disease that debilitates the Native Americans – it is called alcoholism.
Since we don’t see any of these Native Americans in our normal everyday lives, it is hard for us to realize that one time, some 200 years ago, they occupied all of the United States, and they had a rich culture, and we destroyed all that. Do you own a home, or condominium? You think you own the property that it sits on – but do you know that your property was stolen? Stolen from the Native Americans.
American Indians want a National Apology for what has done to them 200 years ago and is currently going on in a different way today.
American Natives still have to deal with the aftermath of cultural and ethnic genocide. Many of their ancestral languages and ways of life remain threatened. Political, cultural and economic autonomy is a work in progress.
Causes of the Native American Genocide
Diseases: cholera, smallpox, measles
Famine: caused by the destruction of wild buffalo populations
Massacres: wars from 1866 to 1891.
Delawares Middle States and Virginia
Cheyennes Middle States and Virginia
Navajos Arizona, New Mexico and Utah
Apaches Arizona, New Mexico, Oaklahoma
Native American life expectancy 46
Non-Native American life expectancy 70
1492 approx 3 000 000 to 10 000 000
Largest American Native populations
In the past, the main thrust of the Holocaust/Genocide Project’s magazine, An End To Intolerance, has been the genocides that occurred in history and outside of the United States. Still, what we mustn’t forget is that mass killing of Native Americans occurred in our own country. As a result, bigotry and racial discrimination still exist.
“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” . . . and made the first contact with the “Indians.” For Native Americans, the world after 1492 would never be the same. This date marked the beginning of the long road of persecution and genocide of Native Americans, our indigenous people. Genocide was an important cause of the decline for many tribes.
By conservative estimates, the population of the United states prior to European contact was greater than 12 million. Four centuries later, the count was reduced by 95% to 237 thousand.
In 1493, when Columbus returned to the Hispaniola, he quickly implemented policies of slavery and mass extermination of the Taino population of the Caribbean. Within three years, five million were dead. Las Casas, the primary historian of the Columbian era, writes of many accounts of the horrors that the Spanish colonists inflicted upon the indigenous population: hanging them en mass, hacking their children into pieces to be used as dog feed, and other horrid cruelties. The works of Las Casas are often omitted from popular American history books and courses because Columbus is considered a hero by many, even today.
Mass killing did not cease, however, after Columbus departed. Expansion of the European colonies led to similar genocides. “Indian Removal” policy was put into action to clear the land for white settlers. Methods for the removal included slaughter of villages by the military and also biological warfare. High death rates resulted from forced marches to relocate the Indians.
The Removal Act of 1830 set into motion a series of events which led to the “Trail of Tears” in 1838, a forced march of the Cherokees, resulting in the destruction of most of the Cherokee population. The concentration of American Indians in small geographic areas, and the scattering of them from their homelands, caused increased death, primarily because of associated military actions, disease, starvation, extremely harsh conditions during the moves, and the resulting destruction of ways of life.
During American expansion into the western frontier, one primary effort to destroy the Indian way of life was the attempts of the U.S. government to make farmers and cattle ranchers of the Indians. In addition, one of the most substantial methods was the premeditated destructions of flora and fauna which the American Indians used for food and a variety of other purposes. We now also know that the Indians were intentionally exposed to smallpox by Europeans. The discovery of gold in California, early in 1848, prompted American migration and expansion into the west. The greed of Americans for money and land was rejuvenated with the Homestead Act of 1862. In California and Texas there was blatant genocide of Indians by non-Indians during certain historic periods. In California, the decrease from about a quarter of a million to less than 20,000 is primarily due to the cruelties and wholesale massacres perpetrated by the miners and early settlers. Indian education began with forts erected by Jesuits, in which indigenous youths were incarcerated, indoctrinated with non-indigenous Christian values, and forced into manual labor. These children were forcibly removed from their parents by soldiers and many times never saw their families until later in their adulthood. This was after their value systems and knowledge had been supplanted with colonial thinking. One of the foundations of the U.S. imperialist strategy was to replace traditional leadership of the various indigenous nations with indoctrinated “graduates” of white “schools,” in order to expedite compliance with U.S. goals and expansion.
Probably one of the most ruinous acts to the Indians was the disappearance of the buffalo. For the Indians who lived on the Plains, life depended on the buffalo. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were an estimated forty million buffalo, but between 1830 and 1888 there was a rapid, systematic extermination culminating in the sudden slaughter of the only two remaining Plain herds. By around 1895, the formerly vast buffalo populations were practically extinct. The slaughter occurred because of the economic value of buffalo hides to Americans and because the animals were in the way of the rapidly westward expanding population. The end result was widescale starvation and the social and cultural disintegration of many Plains tribes.
Genocide entered international law for the first time in 1948; the international community took notice when Europeans (Jews, Poles, and other victims of Nazi Germany) faced cultural extinction. The “Holocaust” of World War II came to be the model of genocide. We, as the human race, must realize, however, that other genocides have occurred. Genocide against many particular groups is still widely happening today. The discrimination of the Native American population is only one example of this ruthless destruction.
b. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
In this paper, I will argue that the act of genocide as here defined, has been committed by the United States of America, upon the tribes and cultures of Native Americans, through mass indoctrination of its youths. Primary support will be drawn from Jorge Noriega’s work, “American Indian Education in the United States.” The paper will then culminate with my personal views on the subject, with ideas of if and how the United States might make reparations to its victims.
In lieu of the well known and brutal “Indian Wars,” there is a means of cultural destruction of Native Americans, which began no later than 1611. This method was one of indoctrination. Methods included the forced removal of children from their cultural milieu and enrollment of these children in “educational programs,” which were intended to instill more European beliefs. As the United States was not formally a Nation, until 1776, it would not be fair to use evidence, before this year in building a case against it. The most damaging, to the United States, are parcels of evidence that are drawn from events after 1948, the year of the Convention on Genocide.
Beginning in 1778, the United States Board of War, a product of the Continental Congress appropriated grants for the purpose of, “the maintenance of Indian students at Dartmouth College and the College of New Jersey…” The young people who had returned from the schools are described by Seneca leader, Cornplanter as, “…ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, unable to bear either Cold or Hunger, [they] knew neither how to build a Cabin, take a Deer, or kill an Enemy, [they] spoke our Language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters, Warriors, nor Counselors; they were totally good for nothing” (Noriega, 376).
Grants given to other schools was just the beginning. In 1820, the United States made plans for a large scale system of boarding and day schools Noriega, 377). These schools were given the mission to, “instruct its students in ‘letters, labor and mechanical arts, and morals and Christianity;’ ‘training many Indian leaders'” Noriega, 378). In the case of boarding schools, Native American children would be forcibly stripped from their homes as early as five years old. They would then live sequestered from their families and cultures until the age of seventeen or eighteen (Noriega, 381).
In 1886, it was decided, by the United States federal government that Native American tribal groups would no longer be treated as ‘indigenous national governments.’ The decision was made, not by the conjoint efforts of the Native American tribes and Congress; but, by the “powers that be” the United States Legal System. This self-ordained power allowed Congress to pass a variety of other laws, directed towards, assimilating, Native Americans, so that they would become a part of “mainstream white America” (Robbins, 90)
By this time the United States Government, had been funding over a dozen distinct agencies, to provide mandatory ‘education’ to all native children aged six through sixteen. Enrollment was enforced through leverage given by the 1887 General Allotment Act, which made Natives dependent on the Government for Annuities and Rations (Noriega, 382). The practice of indigenous religions by these students was prohibited (Noriega, 380). Students were compelled to undergo daily instruction in Christianity. In addition, only the use of English was accepted within these schools. “The food was not sufficiiently nourishing…health supervision was generally neglected…A sincere effort was made to develop the type of school that would destroy tribal ways” (Noriega, 382). While being held captive at these schools, the students were forced to learn an idealism completely foreign to them. They would study histories, which had no significance to there lives. “The books talk to him [the student] of a world which in no way reminds him of his own,” (Noriega, ??). This is exactly how the students must have felt; as if they were in another world.
To compound the torture, the ‘students’ at these institutions were forced to work as maintainers and farmers in order provide for the continued existence of the very establishments, which were destroying them. The methods of forced labor were considered, by the educators to be a “means of ‘developing’ the native ‘character,’ and as a way of financing further expansion of the system itself” (Noriega, 379). The “rigid military style” enforced by the schools contributed to the assimilation of the Native Americans’ culture. The students began to not only “think white” but also to, “work white” (Noriega, 384).
To this point, I have provided enough evidence to make a hypocrite of the United States. However, it is my intent to prove that the United States has performed a criminal act under International law. I will do so by describing genocidal acts committed well after the time of the convention on genocide.
The government was not satisfied with only educating the Native American youths, they wished to implant their victims as “a virus, a medium through which to hurry along a calculated process of sociocultural decay” (Noriega, 379). They turned their victims into witless traitors spreading their insipid ideas, and fracturing the cultural infrastructure.
The apotheosis of this implantation project is clearly delineated in “The Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act” of 1975. In this act, the United States Government declared that “educated” Native Americans’ should be used to staff the “various programs aimed at them by federal policy makers” (Noriega, 356). These are the same programs which, “the government has always viewed as the ideal vehicle[s] by which to condition Native Americans to accept the values, and thus the domination of Euroamerica” (Noriega, 387). Through the implementation of this act, “nothing really changed…the curriculum taught in Indian schools remained exactly the same, reaching exactly the same conclusions, indoctrinating children with exactly the same values as when the schools were staffed entirely by white people” (Noriega, 387). In this way, the government attempted to mask the face of evil with one of familiar physical origin. It is a classic story of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
These violent acts have not ended, even with the convention on genocide. Indeed, the United States is guilty of committing a law, which it has promised to not only abide by, but also, to help enforce. Does this represent the “Mainstream American Culture” we so want to instill into the minds of Native Americans? We should begin taking a look at our own culture and worrying about its problems, before we start thinking about spreading it like a dreaded disease.
The fact that Native Americans have arrived at this point with any of its culture left intact, is an astonishing feet in itself. It shows a character, which is ostensibly lacking, or at least not shown, within the “European” and “American” cultures. Perhaps the United States should be more the pupil than the pedagogue.
· Destexhe, Alain (1995). RWANDA AND GENOCIDE IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. New York University Press: New York.
· Noriega, Jorge (1992). “American Indian Education in the United States: Indoctrination for Subordination to Colonialism. In Jaimes, Annette, ed. The State of Native America: Genocide, Race, and Resistance (pp.371-401).
· O’ Brian, Sharon. “Native American Policy,” Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
· Robbins, Rebecca L (1992). “Self-Determination and Subordination The Past, Present, and Future of American Indian Governance.” In Jaimes, Annette, ed. The State of Native America: Genocide, Race, and Resistance (pp.371-401).
· “United Nations: Human Rights,” Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. ©1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Cite this The American Indian Genocide
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