Amerindian genocides

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A mass grave after the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Tomorrow is a mystery,
but yesterday is

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Wie es eigentlich gewesen
Till I came here, I had no idea of the fixed determination which there is in the heart of every American to extirpate the Indians and appropriate their territory.
— Henry Goulburn, one of the British negotiators for the Treaty of Ghent.[1]
When dealing with savage men, as with savage beasts, no question of national honor can arise.
—Francis A. Walker, US Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1871.[2]

American Indian Genocide (Amerindian genocides) or American Indian Holocaust are terms used by specialists in American Indian history, as well as American Indian activists,[3] to bring attention to what they contend is the deliberate mass destruction of American Indian populations following the European arrival in the Americas (as well as the countless treaties the white settlers repeatedly violated), a subject which they allege has hitherto received very limited mention in history, partially because some of the deaths happened before European chroniclers arrived to record them.[3] Many acts which American Indian activists view as genocide are sometimes brushed aside as wartime deaths by non-Indians.[3]

Estimates of the pre-Columbian population vary widely, though uncontroversial studies place the figure for North, Central and South America at a combined 50 million to 100 million,[4] with scholarly estimates of 2 million[5] to 18 million[6] for North America alone. An estimated 80% to 90% of this population perished after the arrival of Europeans,[7] overwhelmingly from factors which deniers of genocide argue were beyond most human control — e.g., smallpox epidemics[8] — Europeans, especially the Spanish conquistadors, also killed thousands deliberately.[9][10][11]

Acts of genocide[edit]

Among the individual acts of genocide perpetrated by the American settlers during their colonization of the Americas are:

California Genocide[edit]

The state of California was founded on a near-explicit genocide, one of the best examples of Amerindian genocide available. In a number of massacres perpetrated by both settlers and the US Army, an unknown number of Native Americans (most prominently Yuki and Pomo) were killed or enslaved. Estimated range between 16000 and 100,000 slain and 25000 enslaved. Most of these massacres involved between 60 and 150 people, often majority women and children, although some involved as many as 300 people, like the Old Shasta massacre in which colonial miners burned down a Wintu tribal meeting house, immolating those inside. The influx of colonial fortune-hunters during the California Gold Rush furthered spurred violence.

The governer of California, Gavin Newsom, stated in 2019 that what happened was "a genocide ... No other way to describe it."

Columbus's voyages[edit]

Christopher Columbus came to the New World for King (well, also Queen), honor and God. His ships brought many priests to accomplish God's work. Both his own writings and those of Bartolomé de las Casas mention the thousands of murders done in the name of God, against a people who chose not to convert. Upon discovering the New World, Christopher Columbus:

...coaxed Queen Isabella to support his exploits in the Americas so that the queen "might eminently contribute to diffuse the light and truth of the Gospel" upon the Indians. On Nov 6, 1492, Columbus addressed the king and queen, as recorded in his log. Our intrepid captain opined "I am convinced... that if devout religious persons knew their language, they might be converted to Christ, and so hope in our Lord that your Highnesses will decide upon this course with much diligence." His purpose, Columbus proclaimed, was to "Christianize" the Indians.[12]

A conservative estimate by anthropologist Jack Wetheford suggests that in less than 10 years time, the population of the island of Hispaniola plunged from 500,000 to less than 100,000. Sickness was not reported by De Las Casas or Columbus himself to be the largest factor.

Trail of Tears[edit]

Map of US Indian removal.

Amerindians had a...complex relationship with the United States. In one view they were occupying land that Americans wanted for themselves. In another view a number of tribes had been raiding and robbing settlements (and each other), and were a threat to the US. In a third view, the natives were the physical embodiment of man in touch with nature, living an idealistic lifestyle of fishing and hunting (and hygiene), and were a threat as a number of indentured servants kept going native. In yet another view, the natives were welcoming to the immigrant Pilgrims and were relatively eager to have trade relations for things like iron tools, dyes, various animals, religion, intermarriage, etc.

By the 19th century, the various native tribes of Georgia, Alabama and Florida were mostly integrated with the US. They intermarried with white people, spoke English, and had a plantation economy (including slavery). At the same time, they were states within a state, having quasi-independence and their own independent governments.

The "Indian Removal Act" of 1830 attempted to move roughly 50,000 Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and others from their home to Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). The U.S. government did not provide any means of transportation, forcing them to walk the 2,200 miles.[13] One can reasonably argue that the U.S. government did fully expect many of them to die on the way — especially children and the elderly. The U.S. government recorded 4,000 deaths on just one of many re-location marches among the Cherokee alone; estimates of the total death toll range from as low as 5,000 to as high as 25,000.[14] Ironically, missionaries traveled with the Indians of their own accord, to attempt to provide better provisions to the people. A few managed to stay behind, living in the remote areas of wilderness or among relatives in the various towns.

Sand Creek Massacre[edit]

Depiction of the Sand Creek Massacre by a Native witness.
Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians... Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.
—Col. John Chivington, Sand Creek massacre, 11-29-1864

On November 29, 1864, 700 militia from Colorado and the surrounding territories surrounded a peaceful encampment of so-called "Peace Chiefs," predominantly from the Cheyenne and Arapahoe, who had been invited to end the "Indian Wars." Without warning or cause, they opened fire and slaughtered some approximately 150 Native Americans from various "western" tribes.[15] Only 24 soldiers were killed, mostly from friendly fire. Colonel Chivington and his men cut fetuses out of the women, slaughtered infants by stepping on their heads with their boots, cut the genitals off men and women, and decorated their horses and wagons with scalps, genitalia, and other body parts, before displaying them in Denver.[16] Not one soldier was prosecuted, despite a commission which investigated the matter harshly condemning the massacre. Two companies commanders refused to join in, and kept their soldiers out of it.

Wounded Knee Massacre[edit]

Lakota Chief Spotted Elk, after Wounded Knee.

As the U.S. government were herding Sioux onto reservations, a Paiute shaman among them named Wovoka came up with the syncretic "Ghost Dance" religion, mixing numerous indigenous beliefs and Christianity. Wovoka taught that the dance, along with loving each other, living in peace, working hard and refraining from stealing, fighting amongst each other or with the whites and traditional self-mutilation practices would hasten the reunion of the living and the deceased. This reunion would coincide with the sweeping away of the evil in the world and renewing the earth with love, faith and prosperity. Many Sioux though interpreted this sweeping away of evil and renewing the earth as meaning the cleansing of the white Americans from their lands. This interpretation spread rapidly among the Sioux, causing alarm with the U.S. authorities, who sought to quell the movement by arresting the Sioux's chiefs-most notoriously Sitting Bull, who was shot to death when he fought back.[17]

Sitting Bull's death caused a number of his tribesmen to flee the reservation. Later when journeying to another reservation they were intercepted by a regiment of cavalry, which attempted to disarm them. One deaf-mute man did not understand the order, so he failed to put down his rifle. It went off as soldiers took it from him, resulting in their comrades opening fire, believing they were under attack. 150 Sioux were killed in all. This massacre was committed by the Seventh US Cavalry, a unit formerly under command of General George A. Custer, who perished in battle against the Sioux 14 years earlier along with all of his men.

Gnadenhutten Massacre[edit]

Colonial militia slaughtered 96 Lenape Native Americans whose only crime was being the wrong skin color on March 8, 1782.[18] Despite being singled out as a neutral Native American tribe by Colonel Broadhead, they were still rounded up and placed into two killing homes by American miltiamen, who scalped men, women and children. When confronted by their killers and told they would die, the Christian Lenape prayed to Jesus before being killed by their fellow Christians.

Assimilation policies[edit]

Our blinding prejudices… have been fostered as necessary to justify the reckless and unsparing hand with which we have smitten [Native Americans] in their habitations and expelled them from their country.
—William Gilmore Simms[19]
A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.
—Capt. Richard H. Pratt on educating Native Americans.[20]

The U.S. government for many years followed a policy of assimilation, attempting to wipe out the Indians as an ethnic group and integrate them into European-American culture. Practice of tribal religion was outlawed, and children were required to attend boarding schools, modeled on the "industrial schools" of Europe, in which they were forced to give up their old languages and customs.[21][22]

In many Latin American countries, Indians have been virtually wiped out as a separate group through a process of assimilation known as mestizaje.

Usage of the term "genocide"[edit]

David E. Stannard of the University of Hawaii is a proponent of this term, having written a book on the subject entitled American Holocaust: Conquest of the New World, in which he labels the actions of Europeans as a deliberate genocide comparable to the Holocaust. Holocaust expert David Cesarani said, "Stannard was angered by what he perceived as a double standard in the United States towards 'worthy' and 'unworthy' victims. While Americans readily acknowledge the Nazi crimes against the Jews, he wrote, they continued to 'turn their backs on the even more massive genocide that for four grisly centuries... was perpetrated against the "unworthy" natives of the Americas.'"[23] Others agreeing with this hypothesis include Russell Thornton, Arthur Grenke, Ralph Reed, and the University of Minnesota's Center for Holocaust and Genocide studies.[24] The Smithsonian presented a program on the "American Indian Genocide."

Politically, the charge has been taken up by activists in the American Indian Movement, including Russell Means, Leonard Peltier, Ward Churchill,[25] the poet Joy Harjo,[26] and Vine Deloria amongst others. The term "Holocaust" is specifically used to bring attention to the stark reality of the total decimation of the indigenous peoples after the "discovery" of the "New World" by Europeans.[27]

As with most loaded language, there is strong resistance to using the term "American Indian Holocaust" in textbooks. American Indian activists contend that their history is rarely even addressed as a "genocide," since American historiography tends not to emphasize episodes such as slavery, and the outright slaughter of the indigenous Americans. These activists contend that they have the same right to say they were victims of genocide as the Jewish people of Europe.


Moreover, the real decimation of Indian populations had nothing to do with massacres or military actions, but rather stemmed from infectious diseases that white settlers brought with them at the time they first arrived in the New World.
—Michael Medved, right-wing pundit, showing us denialism in the flesh.[28]

When discussing the indigenous population of the United States, conservatives such as Stefan Molyneux and other conservatives that subscribe to white guilt accusations tend to deny or downplay (such as resorting to "both sides")[29] most of the deliberate atrocities wrought by the Europeans. They focus instead on the role of smallpox and other diseases,[30] and argue that no more American Indians died than would occur in the course of warfare and other types of conflict.[31]

A particularly egregious method of denial occurs when denialists exaggerate atrocities committed by Native Americans against each other for the purpose of saying, "what we did wasn't so bad!"[32]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. The Treaty of Ghent PBS.
  2. The Indians of the Americas by John Collier (1947) W. W. Norton & Co. p. 124
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Russell Thornton (1987). American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-8061-2220-5. 
  4. Alan Taylor (2002). American colonies; Volume 1 of The Penguin history of the United States, History of the United States Series. Penguin. p. 40. ISBN 9780142002100.
  5. Ubelaker, Douglas R. (1976) "The sources and methodology for Mooney's estimates of North American Indian populations"
  6. Thornton, Russell (1990). American Indian holocaust and survival: a population history since 1492. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 26–32. ISBN 0-8061-2220-X.
  7. "La catastrophe démographique" (The Demographical Catastrophe"), L'Histoire n°322, July–August 2007, p. 17.
  8. Loewen, 2007
  9. Indians, Slaves, and Mass Murder: The Hidden History
  10. 9 reasons Christopher Columbus was a murderer, tyrant, and scoundrel Vox
  11. Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery HuffPost
  12. Paulkovich, Michael (2012). No Meek Messiah (1st ed.). Spillix Publishing. pp. 114. ISBN 0988216116. 
  13. Indian Removal Act Library of Congress Research Guides]
  14. Grant Forman, Indian Removal Act (1989) details some of the highest numbers in the range, as he looks at population comparisons between recorded populations from the southeastern United States, to the official rolls of the Oklahoma Reservations, noting the huge disparity in numbers.
  15. See the Wikipedia article on Sand Creek Massacre.
  17. Sitting Bull.
  18. See the Wikipedia article on Gnadenhutten Massacre.
  19. William Gilmore Simms quoted in Mitchell, Witnesses to a Vanishing America, p 255.
  20. “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man”: Capt. Richard H. Pratt on the Education of Native Americans History Matters.
  21. Unspoken: America's Native American Boarding Schools University of Utah.
  22. The Schools That Tried—But Failed—to Make Native Americans Obsolete The Atlantic
  23. American holocaust: the conquest of the New World By David E. Stannard pg 256
  25. Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1998, City Lights Publishers
  26. She Had Some Horses: ISBN 1560251190
  27. Native American Genocide or Holocaust? Indian Country Today.
  28. Reject the Lie of White "Genocide" Against Native Americans
  29. Stefan Molyneux on Twitter
  30. Stefan Molyneux on Twitter
  31. Stefan Molyneux on Twitter
  32. White Guilt Exposed The Coveners League