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American Indian Genocide or American Indian Holocaust are terms used by specialists in American Indian history, as well as American Indian activists,[1] to bring attention to what they contend is the deliberate mass destruction of American Indian populations following the European arrival in the Americas, 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.[1] Many acts which American Indian activists view as genocide are sometimes brushed aside as wartime deaths by non-Indians.[1]

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,[2] with scholarly estimates of 2 million[3] to 18 million[4] for North America alone. An estimated 80% to 90% of this population died after the arrival of Europeans,[5] overwhelmingly from factors which deniers of genocide argue were beyond most human control — e.g., smallpox epidemics[6] — Europeans, especially the Spanish conquistadors, also killed thousands deliberately.[7]

Acts of genocide[edit]

The UN famously distinguishes between "genocide" and "acts of genocide",[more detail please] while never answering the question: "How many 'acts of genocide' make up a 'genocide'?" Perhaps the reader shall decide.

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

Columbus's voyages[edit]

Christopher Columbus came to the New World for King (well, 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.[8]

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]

The Trail of Tears, or "Nu na da ul tsun yi" in Cherokee, occurred in 1830 due to the United States Indian removal act. The Indian Removal Act was a law passed by Congress on May 28, 1830

The federal government forced the Natives to leave their homelands and walk thousands of miles to a specially designated “Indian territory” across the Mississippi River. They were rounded up by gun point and forced to move, property was seized and many died on route. This difficult and deadly journey is known as the Trail of Tears. State governments joined in this effort to drive Native Americans out of the South. Several states passed laws limiting Native American sovereignty and rights and encroaching on their territory. Southern states were determined to take ownership of Indian lands and would go to great lengths to secure this territory.

At the beginning of the 1830's, nearly 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres of land in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida, land their ancestors had occupied and cultivated for generations. By the end of the decade, very few natives remained anywhere in the southeastern United States.

1837, 46,000 Native Americans from the southeastern states had been removed from their homelands, thereby opening 25 million acres (100,000 km2) for predominantly white settlement.

The removal included members of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations.

White Americans, particularly those who lived on the western frontier, often feared and resented the Native Americans they encountered: To them, American Indians seemed to be an unfamiliar, alien people who occupied land that white settlers wanted (and believed they deserved). Some officials in the early years of the American republic, such as President George Washington, believed that the best way to solve this “Indian problem” was simply to “civilize” the Native Americans. The goal of this civilization campaign was to make Native Americans as much like white Americans as possible by encouraging them convert to Christianity, learn to speak and read English, and adopt European-style economic practices such as the individual ownership of land and other property (including, in some instances in the South, African slaves). In the southeastern United States, many Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek and Cherokee people embraced these customs and became known as the “Five Civilized TribesWikipedia.”

Indian removal took place in the Northern states as well. In Illinois and Wisconsin, for example, the bloody Black Hawk War in 1832 opened to white settlement millions of acres of land that had belonged to the Sauk, Fox and other native nations.

Land, located in parts of Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, was valuable, and it grew to be more coveted as white settlers flooded the region. Many of these whites yearned to make their fortunes by growing cotton, and they did not care how “civilized” their native neighbors were: They wanted that land and they would do almost anything to get it. They stole livestock; burned and looted houses and towns;, and squatted on land that did not belong to them.

As president, Andrew Jackson had long been an advocate of what he called “Indian removal.” As an Army general, he had spent years leading brutal campaigns against the Creeks in Georgia and Alabama and the Seminoles in Florida campaigns that resulted in the transfer of hundreds of thousands of acres of land from Indian nations to white farmers. As president, he continued this crusade. In 1830, he signed the Indian Removal Act, which gave the federal government the power to exchange Native held land in the cotton kingdom east of the Mississippi for land to the west, in the “Indian colonization zone” that the United States had acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase. (This “Indian territory” was located in present day Oklahoma.) The Louisiana Purchase Treaty 1803 is considered the greatest real estate deal in history. $11,250,000 outright and assumed claims of its citizens against France in the amount of $3,750,000. The total of 15,000,000. This forced the Indian act of 1830 movement. The United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France at a price of $15 million, approximately a value of four cents an acre.

The law required the government to negotiate removal treaties fairly, voluntarily and peacefully: It did not permit the president or anyone else to coerce Native nations into giving up their land. However, President Jackson and his government frequently ignored the letter of the law and forced Native Americans to vacate lands they had lived on for generations. In the winter of 1831, under threat of invasion by the U.S. Army, the Choctaw became the first nation to be expelled from its land altogether. They made the journey to Indian territory on foot (some “bound in chains and marched double file,” one historian writes) and without any food, supplies or other help from the government. Thousands of people died along the way. It was, one Choctaw leader told an Alabama newspaper, a “trail of tears and death.”

The Indian-removal process continued. In 1836, the federal government drove the Creeks from their land for the last time: 3,500 of the 15,000 Creeks who set out for Oklahoma did not survive the trip.

Scott and his troops forced the Cherokee into stockades at bayonet point while whites looted their homes and belongings. Then, they marched the Indians more than 1,200 miles to Indian territory. Whooping cough, typhus, dysentery, cholera and starvation were epidemic along the way, and historians estimate that more than 5,000 Cherokee died as a result of the journey.

By 1840, tens of thousands of Native Americans had been driven off of their land in the southeastern states and forced to move across the Mississippi to Indian territory. The federal government promised that their new land would remain unmolested forever, but as the line of white settlement pushed westward, “Indian country” shrank and shrank. In 1907, Oklahoma became a state and Indian territory was gone for good.

In the winter of 1838 the Cherokee began the thousand-mile march with scant clothing and most on foot without shoes or moccasins. The march began in Red Clay, Tennessee, the location of the last Eastern capital of the Cherokee Nation. Because of the diseases, the Native Americans (colloquially known as Indians) were not allowed to go into any towns or villages along the way; many times this meant traveling much farther to go around them. After crossing Tennessee and Kentucky, they arrived at the Ohio River across from Golconda in southern Illinois about the 3rd of December 1838. Here the starving Indians were charged a dollar a head (equal to $22.15 today) to cross the river on "Berry's Ferry" which typically charged twelve cents, equal to $2.66 today. They were not allowed passage until the ferry had serviced all others wishing to cross and were forced to take shelter under "Mantle Rock," a shelter bluff on the Kentucky side, until "Berry had nothing better to do". Many died huddled together at Mantle Rock waiting to cross. Several Cherokee were murdered by locals. The killers filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Government through the courthouse in Vienna, suing the government for $35 a head (equal to $775.14 today) to bury the murdered Cherokee.

As they crossed southern Illinois, on December 26, Martin Davis, Commissary Agent for Moses Daniel's detachment, wrote: "There is the coldest weather in Illinois I ever experienced anywhere. The streams are all frozen over something like 8 or 12 inches (20 or 30 cm) thick. We are compelled to cut through the ice to get water for ourselves and animals. It snows here every two or three days at the farther east. We are now camped in Mississippi River swamp 4 miles (6.4 km) from the river, and there is no possible chance of crossing the river for the numerous quantity of ice that comes floating down the river every day. We have only traveled 65 miles (105 km) on the last month, including the time spent at this place, which has been about three weeks. It is unknown when we shall cross the river..."

The Treaty of Cusseta was signed on March 24, 1832, which divided up Creek lands into individual allotments. Creeks could either sell their allotments and received funds to remove to the west, or stay in Alabama and submit to state laws. Land speculators and squatters began to defraud Creeks out of their allotments, and violence broke out, leading to the so-called "Creek War of 1836". Secretary of War Lewis Cass dispatched General Winfield Scott to end the violence by forcibly removing the Creeks to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. With the Indian Removal Act of 1830 it continued into 1835 and after as in 1836 over 15,000 Creeks were driven from their land for the last time. 3,500 of those 15,000 creeks did not survive the trip to Oklahoma where they eventually settled.

President Martin Van Buren sent General Winfield Scott and 7,000 soldiers to expedite the removal process. In 1838, the Cherokee people were forcibly removed from their lands in the Southeastern United States to the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) in the Western United States. In the same year of 1838 only about 2,000 Cherokee had left their homes in Georgia. It took Winfield Scott and his army of 7000 to forcible kick people out of their homes and home land, which was an order at the time by President Martin Van Buren, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 4,000 Cherokees. In the Cherokee language, the event is called Nu na da ul tsun yi “the Place Where They Cried”. The Cherokee Trail of Tears resulted from the enforcement of the Treaty of New Echota, an agreement signed under the provisions of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which exchanged Native American land in the East for lands west of the Mississippi River, but which was never accepted by the elected tribal leadership or a majority of the Cherokee people.

When the Cherokee negotiated the Treaty of New Echota, they lost all their land east of the Mississippi and received $5 million from the federal government. Many Cherokee felt betrayed for accepting the money, with over 16,000 of their people signing a petition to prevent the pass of the treaty. By the end of the decade in 1840 tens of thousands of Cherokee and Native Americans were driven off their land east of the Mississippi River. Oklahoma was the new home for the Cherokee which was promised by the federal government to last for an eternity, but that never happened. When Oklahoma became an official state of the United States in the first decade of the 20th century, Indian land there became lost forever and the Cherokee were then again forced to move farther westward. The Cherokee along with a number of other tribes such as the Choctaws and Seminoles lost their land through the Indian Removal act of 1830. One Choctaw leader portrayed the Trail of Tears as "A Trail of Tears and Deaths", the devastation of this event wiped the Native American population of the southeastern United States out of their home land.

Nearly 17,000 Choctaws made the move to what would be called Indian Territory and then later Oklahoma. Approximately 5,000–6,000 Choctaws remained in Mississippi in 1831 after the initial removal efforts. The Choctaws who chose to remain in newly formed Mississippi were subject to legal conflict, harassment, and intimidation. The Choctaws "have had our habitations torn down and burned, our fences destroyed, cattle turned into our fields and we ourselves have been scourged, manacled, fettered and otherwise personally abused, until by such treatment some of our best men have died." The Choctaws in Mississippi were later reformed as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and the removed Choctaws became the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. The Choctaws were the first to sign a removal treaty presented by the federal government. President Andrew Jackson wanted strong negotiations with the Choctaws in Mississippi, and the Choctaws seemed much more cooperative than Andrew Jackson had imagined. When commissioners and Choctaws came to negotiation agreements it was said the United States would bear the expense of moving their homes and that they had to be removed within two and a half years of the signed treaty.

Jackson had no desire to use the power of the national government to protect the Cherokees from Georgia, since he was already entangled with states’ rights issues in what became known as the nullification crisis. With the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the U.S. Congress had given Jackson authority to negotiate removal treaties, exchanging Indian land in the East for land west of the Mississippi River. Jackson used the dispute with Georgia to put pressure on the Cherokees to sign a removal treaty.

Nevertheless, the treaty, passed by Congress by a single vote, and signed into law by President Andrew Jackson, was imposed by his successor President Martin Van Buren who allowed Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama an armed force of 7,000 made up of militia, regular army, and volunteers under General Winfield Scott to round up about 13,000 Cherokees into concentration camps at the U.S. Indian Agency near Cleveland, Tennessee before being sent to the West. Most of the deaths occurred from disease, starvation and cold in these camps. Their homes were burned and their property destroyed and plundered. Farms belonging to the Cherokees for generations were won by white settlers in a lottery. After the initial roundup, the U.S. military still oversaw the emigration until they met the forced destination.

Private John G. Burnett later wrote, "Future generations will read and condemn the act and I do hope posterity will remember that private soldiers like myself, and like the four Cherokees who were forced by General Scott to shoot an Indian Chief and his children, had to execute the orders of our superiors. We had no choice in the matter.

Cherokees are the largest American Indian group in the United States.

Some of the listed states that were homes to Native Americans before they were forceably removed.

Georgia. Red Clay, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, New york, Brooklyn, Alabama - Creek War of 1836, Oklahoma, Miami, Florida, Hawaii, California, Manhattan,

All of American soil once belonged to Native Americans including some of the islands and Caribbeans.

Sand Creek Massacre[edit]

"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 approximately 150 Indians from various "western" tribes. 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 parading through Denver.[9]

Wounded Knee Massacre[edit]

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 chiefs-most notoriously Sitting Bull, who was shot to death in the process of his arrest.

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, so revenge for his spectacular, lethal defeat in battle with the Sioux and their allies may have contributed to it.

Gnadenhutten Massacre[edit]

Colonial militia slaughtered 96 Lenape Native Americans whose only crime was being the wrong skin color on March 8, 1782.[10] 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]

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.

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


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.'"[11] Others agreeing with this hypothesis include Russell Thornton, Arthur Grenke, Ralph Reed, and the University of Minnesota's Center for Holocaust and Genocide studies.[12] 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,[13] the poet Joy Harjo,[14] 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.

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.


When discussing the indigenous population of the United States, conservatives[citation needed] tend to deny most of the deliberate atrocities wrought by the Europeans. They focus instead on the role of smallpox and other diseases, and argue that no more American Indians died than would occur in the course of warfare and other types of conflict.[citation needed]

Such denial often goes hand-in-hand with a whitewashing of the realities of late 19th century reservation life as well as the present-day situation of the American Indians, who still live under the control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs with only limited self-government in many areas.[citation needed]

More moderate criticisms of the term would not go into denialism, but would simply question the application of the term "genocide" (deliberate and systematic destruction of an ethnic group) to the long and disorderly course of history in the Americas after 1492.[citation needed] Such criticisms might also suggest that any comparison with the Holocaust is at least in part a false analogy, since most of the deaths were not only unintentional and unavoidable, but unknown to Europeans prior to the 20th century.[citation needed]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. Ubelaker, Douglas R. (1976) "The sources and methodology for Mooney's estimates of North American Indian populations"
  4. 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.
  5. "La catastrophe démographique" (The Demographical Catastrophe"), L'Histoire n°322, July–August 2007, p. 17.
  6. Loewen, 2007
  8. Paulkovich, Michael (2012). No Meek Messiah (1st ed.). Spillix Publishing. pp. 114. ISBN 0988216116. 
  11. American holocaust: the conquest of the New World By David E. Stannard pg 256
  13. Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1998, City Lights Publishers
  14. She Had Some Horses: ISBN 1560251190