Was America's treatment of Native Americans "genocide"?

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What Is Genocide? California University Grapples With Clash Between Native-American Student, History Professor Over This Question

By Angelo Young @angeloyoung_ a.young@ibtimes.com on September 07 2015 5:02 PM EDT

Sacramento State University said Monday a student who firmly disputed a history professor’s interpretation of genocide was not expelled from the course for her conduct as initially reported. History professor Maury Wiseman ended class early Friday after Native-American student Chiitaanibah Johnson allegedly hijacked the class by presenting her argument for why genocide is an apt description of what happened to native people at the hands of European colonizers and their descendants.

“The university would like to make it clear that our student, Chiitaanibah Johnson, was not expelled or disenrolled from this history course. Under university policy, a professor cannot unilaterally disenroll a student from a class,” said a statement released Monday by President Robert S. Nelsen, who said he is investigating what happened before taking any action.

Johnson told Indian Country Today Media Network in a report published Sunday Wiseman told the class he doesn’t believe the subjugation and treatment of the native population rose to the level of genocide.

“He was talking about Native America and he said the word genocide,” said Johnson. “He paused and said: ‘I don't like to use that word because I think it is too strong for what happened,’ and ‘Genocide implies that it was on purpose and most native people were wiped out by European diseases.' "

The debate over how to interpret the treatment of Native Americans flared on the national stage when the Republican National Committee passed a resolution in August 2014 demanding an investigation into advanced high school history classes for what the RNC called a biased interpretation of America’s past. They criticized the way the curriculum focused on the negative effects on Native-American populations from the western expansion of white settlers. So far, no public school curriculum teaches students Native Americans were victims of genocide.  

Genocide is typically ascribed to events like Russia’s Great Purge of the 1930s (1.2 million killed), the Jewish Holocaust of the 1940s (6 million killed), Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge “purification” campaign in the 1970s (2 million killed) or the Rwandan slaughter in the 1990s (1 million killed). These genocides are characterized by vast amounts of organized mass killing within short periods of time.

A debate lingers in the U.S. over how to characterize the decimation of the native population. By some estimates, the North American native population dropped from 12 million in 1500, eight years after Christopher Columbus accidentally bumped into the Americas on his way to Asia, to fewer than 300,000 by 1900. Most of those deaths happened early and were biological -- Native Americans didn’t have immunity to diseases the European colonizers carried with them.

But proponents of the genocide line point out the definition of genocide includes certain aspects of what was inflicted on Native Americans, including cultural repression in Native-American boarding schools and the forced removal of entire populations from their native lands.

The United Nations defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

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Of course it was genocide!

Native Americans just don't have the money,lobbyist influence, and media control like one specific group in America where they can play the "victim card" all day long and in return get whatever they want even if it has been decades since the event took place.

And let's not forget there is one specific group of people in this planet who has brought death and destruction in every continent in this planet, and now claim themselves as victims because their precious lands aren't so lily white anymore and they have to share the wealth that they stole from others in the first place so they try at every given chance to change the facts about the crimes they committed.

Is there really a debate about intent? I think it's irrelevant if most Native Americans succumbed to diseases. That doesn't justify the intent to eliminate those who remained.

Was it organized, with officials with clipboards pushing people into lines? It was loosely organized in the way killing buffalo or wolves was--everyone was doing it, the Zeitgeist of the times, sanctioned by the government to steal land as well as by business to clear the west: death marches, starvations, massacres and numerous so-called battles that were merely baited attacks in order to kill Native Americans. Hitler is said to have admired the way America dealt with Native Americans.

At some point we're going to grow up, realize how rich we are because of the free land and labor we stole from Native Americans and Africans, and figure out an effective way to make their lives better.


Bloody right it was genocide, a protracted war of terror and ethnic cleansing, murder on a vast scale. Some of the accounts from that time are appalling and turned a few stomachs even then with beheadings, limb removal and scalpings. Rape was of course a common tool of terror used on the indian tribes.

All nations have bloody histories, including my own, but no other nation can lay claim to having waged such a successful genocidal campaign (and then played the hypocrite about it for decades after).

Now an interesting question might be what would be considered suitable reparation to Native Americans - the death of each white first born perhaps, 70% of all assets of current residents of the USA, ideas anyone ?

The reparations, unfortunately, will be held up by many of those who most benefited. Of course they say it was all in the hazy past so what are you going to do? Edward Baptist's book, "The Half That Has Never Been Told," should be required reading for anyone arguing against reparations.

If your father murdered your neighbor and you were given your neighbor's land, and you became used to a better lifestyle because of it, should you get to keep it? Obviously, that's an easy one. 

But I don't think it's as easy, multiple generations on, as evicting people from whole towns and moving tribes in. Life has materially changed for all since then. No one wants to pay for the sins of their fathers. And that's a big question. Of course, we're obscenely rich so it's not like trying to extract reparations from Albania.

From a legal point of view, however, the U.S. has essentially made it illegal for Native Americans and African Americans from taking their claims to court. The records exist. For some tribes, the Feds kept exhaustively detailed records. It's not hazy at all.

In the case of slavery the records are there, too - even records of the human breeding programs some slave owners established. The money trail is there, too. Lost wages, pensions, as well damage awards for false imprisonment and bodily harm would not be difficult to ascertain.

I have no problem if the U.S. made a special case and lifted statute of limitations rules for Native Americans, African Americans, and Hawaiians and let's have a day in court for everyone. If you have a good case you might win and if you have a weak case you'll probably lose, but let the chips fall where they may. If the heirs of the Stanford fortune have to give back half of their wealth, TFB. Sadly, the heirs have too much political power to prevent it.

Whitey like it when da money comin' in, whitey don't like it when da' money goin' out. That's the hold up.

Family Guy nails it.

The natives of the 'new world' held slaves and made war on each other just as Europeans did onto them. However their technology was inferior (didn't have the wheel or use iron tools), they were superstitious and they paid the price. They took sides with various warring Europeans and paid the price. Later many took sides with Britain against a young US and paid the price. They couldn't handle urban virus/bacteria and they paid the price. They were considered savages because of their beliefs.

Now later, when it was already way too late for the natives to ever rule this land again(1850's to the 1920's) they were literally in the way of farming, expansion and progress. At this point there were many people who wanted them gone. Was it characteristic of the 20th century genocides in Europe and Asia where total annihilation was the goal? It had similarities... relentless persecution, deceit, massacres, and dehumanization. Was the goal total annihilation? I do not believe it was, because many recognized very early on that what was happening was wrong. There is evidence for this..

1787 - The Northwest Ordinance - The ordinance stated that Indians were to be treated with the "utmost good faith" and specified that "their lands and property shall never be taken away from them without their consent."

and then after all the broken promises....

1877 - President Rutherford B. Hayes in a message to Congress said, "Many, if not most of our Indian wars have had their origin in broken promises and acts of injustice on our part." In 1881 Helen Hunt Jackson further helped awaken white Americans to their shameful treatment of the Indians through her book A Century of Dishonor.

In effect it was genocide, but the "why" was different than the modern genocide of pure cultural hate.

Yes it was genocide. And rape. Where do you think the term "Hijo de la Chingada" came from? lol

There were genocidal elements in the treatment of indigenous people in the Americas. They were completely wiped out in Newfoundland for example...though that wasn't a fully planned out and executed effort. Most of it was due to disease which was unknowingly transmitted. Giving away small pox blankets...that was genocide-like. Butchering all natives that got in their way...that was genocide like. The horror and harassment and displacement and rape...approaches genocide. But it wasn't a full out genocide. A full out genocide is a concious effort, systematically planned and systematically executed to wipe out a race from North to South...East to West (at least when I studied the philosophy of human rights that was the average definition). A lot of what some call as genocide doesn't quite make the cut. That doesn't mean that any great loss of life because of race isn't unthinkable, unforgivable and tragic...but for the most part...the treatment of indigenous people in the Americas...was not genocide...at best...genocide-like. This is a case of semantics. In any case...the current governments of the Americas have not done enough to atone for what they did to the indigenous people of the New World. Canada in particular was and still is one of the worst offenders.

Agreed, but lets talk facts, most of the damage was at the hands of Europeans before the America's even had governments. Should not the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English pay reparations as well? American Imperialism pales in comparison. Spain was especially ruthless and extracted gold and blood in trade for forced Christianity on the natives and decimated entire empires in the new world. Even bringing natives back to Europe and displaying them for their royalty.

I have noticed that many Western Europeans in their post world war liberalism have a unique way of dismissing facts and trashing the US and at the same time playing down their responsibility for incredible cruelty....from the subjugation of South Africans, to the French / Nazi collaborations and world wars in general, to the opium wars in China, to the decimation of entire new world empires.

Perhaps it is so bad, you all just wanna forget.

Indeed, to both you and Davis.

It wasn't quite a genocide in the full Dachau and gas chambers sense of the word, and much of it was unintentional--spreading of disease by Columbus' expedition, and by the conquistadors.  (The smallpox blankets were considerably later, after we knew more about contagion.) 

A new term is needed.  The correct response to this is not to stretch the word genocide, lest you start the process of downgrading it to meaninglessness.

I don't see how the actions of the army and settlers don't rise to the level of gas chambers.

American farmers had already shown they were capable of the kind of sheer brutality that perhaps only 20th despots could equal--looking upon Africans as livestock to be branded, bred, whipped & trained, put down, etc. So it's hard to believe that it didn't cross the minds of white Americans in the 1800s to simply liquidate Native Americans.

There were white people against the extermination of Native Americans. There were also white people against slavery. Doesn't mean slavery didn't happen.

So, is it meaningless to say it's genocide to provoke Native Americans, as a strategy, to attack in order to counter attack and massacre them all? How is the intent of sending a group of people you hate to a gas chamber vs starving them any different?

I have a feeling it's hard for us to admit just how deep slavery or Indian removal goes because of how much we benefit from it.


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