Genocide Still Haunts
By Leah Trabich
Cold Spring Harbor High School
New York, USA
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.
Credits: Sharon Johnston, The Genocide of Native Americans: A Sociological View, 1996.
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