Essay on North America Indians

Published: 2021/12/16
Number of words: 2713

It was a Polish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin who coined the term genocide in the winter of 1942. Since then, many other scholars and institutions have continued to foray into defining genocide. Despite the various definitions of genocide, there is a concurrence that genocide is one of the most profound atrocities against humankind. It encompasses all efforts that are spent in destroying in whole or in part a certain race, ethnicity, or nation. There are many cases of genocide that took place in various parts of the world. Some of the salient cases in the history of genocide are the Cambodian genocide and the Rwandan genocide. The Khmer Rouge regime orchestrated the Cambodian genocide under the leadership of Pol Pot, who was a dictator. Between 1975 and 1979, the Cambodian genocide led to the death of approximately 1.7 million people, which accounted for 21% of the population (Hinton, 98).

On the other hand, the Rwandese genocide happened in 1994 in the space of 100 days, where more than 800,000 Rwandese were killed (Metzl, 630). The Rwandese genocide was spearheaded by the ethnic Hutu extremists who targeted and killed the minority Tutsi community. Another case of genocide can be traced to when European colonizers arrived in America in 1492. The actions of the Euroamerican colonists reduced the population of Native Americans by 90%. Native America includes American Indians, aboriginal Americas, and other indigenous Americans. This paper will discuss the definition of genocide as specified by the United Nations in 1947. Also, the paper will list and discuss specific examples of the genocidal actions noted in the United Nations statement concerning the actions and policies of Euroamerican colonists directed towards American Indian people from 1600-2020. Evidently, there are links between Euroamerican colonists and genocide.

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The term genocide is formed from “the Greek prefix genos, which means race or tribe, and a Latin suffix cide which means killing” (Mayroz 71). This definition meant that a cabal plans and coordinates a series of actions that undermine the foundations that are essential for the survival of a particular group either based on their race, religion, political affiliations, and other lines of division. Raphael Lemkin coined the word in response to the Nazi regime that oversaw the massive killing of the Jewish during the Holocaust and in response to other cases in history where some actions were targeted in eliminating and destructing a particular group of people. Later, Lemkin led a highly charged campaign to have genocide considered an international crime. This is the point in history where the United Nations can be traced to act on the whole hefty issue of genocide. On 11 Dec. 1946, the General Assembly of the United Nations, in its resolution 96 (I), declared that genocide is an international crime. The General assembly cited that genocide had inflicted great loss to humanity, and to deliver humanity from the pangs of the odious scourge called for the concerted efforts of the international community. In its definition of the term genocide, the United Nations organization referred to genocide as a conglomerate of persecution and destruction actions, including attacks on religion, national feelings, culture, language, the economic basis of life, and social and political institutions. According to Article II of the statement that the United Nations adopted, the actions that can be considered genocidal include the forced transfer of children, destruction of objects or books of religion purposes, measures that intend to prevent births within a certain group, cause mental harm or inflict bodily harm to persons in a certain group, forced exile and prohibition of the use of national language. Notably, the definition of the United Nations did not mention or allude to murder; instead, it emphasizes the array of actions that play a role in the annihilation of various groupings in society. This statement means that for a crime to qualify as genocide, it does not have to have caused the death of people. Article one of the report states that whether genocide is committed in times of peace or in terms of war, it is considered an international crime that is preventable and punishable under international law. Under international law, actions such as attempting to commit genocide, conspiring to commit genocide, and inciting the public to commit genocide are punishable.

As stipulated in Article IV, all persons who are found guilty of the actions mentioned above were to be met with punitive measures regardless of whether they are private individuals, public individuals, or constitutionally responsible individuals. Any person charged with genocide or any other actions was to face trial by a competent tribunal of the country in which the action was executed. According to the statement of the United Nations of 1947, genocide and other actions spelled out in article III shall not be considered as political crimes for any purposes of extradition. After understanding some of the provisions and content of the United Nations statement, it is important to relate the genocidal actions stated in the statement with the actions and policies of Euromerican colonists and the United States government that were geared towards the American Indian people from 1600 to 2020. In a nutshell, the US government and the Euroamerican colonists have a role to play in the genocide of Native Americans like the America Indians.

America’s independence was declared and recognized by Great Britain in 1783. After the independence, American settlers began their westward expansion by exterminating the Native Americans and occupying their lands. This is known as settler colonialism (Meister, 165). In other words, settler colonialism is where the colonizers want to dispossess and annihilate the native and indigenous people of an area with the sole intention of taking possession of their resources and land. In the end, the original population of an area will be extinct, and the invasive society of new settlers will replace them. The onset of the 17th century saw a contest of three countries for dominion in North America. These countries were France, England, and Britain. After the power wrestle among the countries, England proved to be the tardiest on the scene, and so it took control of what formed present-day America (Deagan, 141). The Europeans peddled myths that would display American Indian people as uncouth and unfit to occupy the land. Some of the myths peddled were that the American Indian people were primitive than the Euroamerican colonists. The American Indian people said to have nothing that depicted them as human but only their shape. Another myth that advanced to blackmail the American Indians by the Euroamerican colonists was that America was a virgin land underutilized because the few Indians there could not utilize the land productively. Therefore, because the few Indians could not use the land productively, the colonists deemed it fit to take ownership of the land and turn it into proper and productive use. The third myth that was advanced was that it was inevitable and desirable for the Indians to vanish. The myth suggested that the Indians would have vanished either way, and the colonists just increased the speed of their extinction. However, that argument can easily be quashed. One can pose a question to the colonists and ask them why they had to subject the American Indians to genocidal actions if at all they were certain of their imminent extinction. To say the least, it was a height of inhumanity and disregard for the law.

The American government has its fair share of criticism for its actions against the American Indians. One instance that America can be faulted is the 1830 Indian Relocation Act which compelled the Indians who lived in the east of the Mississippi river to move to the West. The Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on 28 May 1830. Notably, the Act authorized the President to grant lands on the West of the Mississippi River to all the Indian tribes who accepted letting go of their homelands (King). The consequences of the Act were not pleasing. It led to unprecedented intrusion of land-hungry settlers, which contributed to the forceful eviction of many eastern Indians to the Western lands of the Mississippi River. It would be ruled that the Act was unconstitutional by the supreme court. Another act that was inimical to the interest of the American Indians was The Indian Relocation Act of 1956. The law encouraged the Indians to surrender their homelands and reservations and move to the general population in the urban areas. Between 1830 and 1850, more than 100,000 Native Americans were forced to evacuate their homeland. Many of the people succumbed to hunger, cold, and diseases. The dangerous and deadly journey is what is popularly known as the ‘Trail of Tears.’ Another act that served to the detriment of Native Americans was the Dawes Act of 1887. This Act allowed the government to subdivide tribal and community landholdings to individuals and heads of families. The effects of the Dawes act were the loss of much tribal land and erosion of the Indian cultures. The Indians who were lucky to be allocated land often landed on deserts, where the land was not fertile and hence not arable. The Indians could not support their livelihoods which fits the description of the term genocide. Arguably, the United States played a great role in the economic and cultural genocide of the American Indians. If the government had not passed the Acts, probably the Indians would not have been annihilated from their indigenous places. Another journey that can be related to the ‘Trail of Tears’ was the ‘Navajo long walk to Bosque Redondo.’ The Navajo are among the most populous Native Americans who mainly lived in Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. Historians trace the origin of the Navajo to be Western Canada, where they belonged to an American Indian group known as the Athabascans. Between 1863 and 1866, the Navajo were forcefully moved from their initial land by the US government (King). They were forced to take a long walk to the Bosque Redondo reservation. The main reason for the deportation was cultural cleansing and the acquisition of the land that they occupied. The long walk was characterized by starvation which led to the death of more than 200 Navajo people. Life at Bosque Redondo was miserable, and more Navajo people continued to contract diseases, and others died. The tribulations that the US government subjected the Navajo people are a typical example of genocide.

Another instance where the American government blames the atrocities met against the Native Indians is that it approved more than 1500 wars, raids, and attacks on the Native people. The wars and attacks were unleashed in the guise of amassing land, widening borders, and extending civilization. These wars incited decades of racial genocide, climaxing in the 19th century when some of the deadliest mass violence occurred (King). The wars led to wanton destruction of property, displacement of people, and cruel deaths of people. The effects of the wars befit the definition of genocide. Primarily because the wars killed people and destroyed the basic foundations for the survival of the survivors of the wars. If the American government did not authorize the wars, most of the lives and livelihoods lost would not have been lost.

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Another instance is that the American government failed to honor its promises and treaties with the Sioux people. The treaty stated that the American government would provide food and other supplies to the displaced people in exchange for their land. However, that was never to be as the Sioux people were left to starve and suffer. The people could not stomach it anymore, which led to the uprising of the Dakota war in 1862. The US forces captured many people who were involved in the war, and 38 were condemned to death. President Abraham Lincoln approved the hanging of the 38 people, which was one of the nation’s judicial executions. There was also another instance in the 1880s when the government attempted to thwart the Ghost Dance. The Ghost Dance was a spiritual movement spearheaded by members of indigenous tribes who tried resisting assimilation and revitalizing the Native culture (King, 2017). The government could not allow the Ghost Dance to continue as it would derail its efforts to displace the natives, especially the American Indians. The government officials ordered the arrest and detention of any Ghost Dance participant. The participants could not hold their peace when one of their leaders was killed. The leader’s death sparked protests in South Dakota, and the federal troops killed more than 300 people in the famous Wounded Knee Massacre. The treaties signed between the government and the Native people culminated in the termination policy of the 1950s and 1960s. The federal policy focused on ensuring that the American Indians had been fully assimilated into mainstream American society. All individuals were supposed to take full responsibilities of a full citizen. In a span of 10 years, more than 109 tribes had been terminated and more than 2.5 million acres of trust land removed from protected status. The termination policy was an afront to the people’s culture since they wanted to preserve their Native identity (Kingston, 70). Afront to the culture of a person is tantamount to genocide, and so it can be said that the federal Indian termination policy ushered in cultural genocide as well as economic genocide.

These are some of the historical cases that can be attributed to the dwindling numbers of Native American people in North America. More than 15 million people were living in North America when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492. However, the array of wars targeting the Natives reduced Natives to below 238000 by the close of the 19th century. In present-day America, the American Indians form about 1.2% of the total American population. This number represents just about four million people. This number is small compared to the number of the Natives that existed in the earlier centuries and decades. We would expect the population to have grown exponentially, but that is not the case because of the cruelty meted on the Native Americans. Undoubtedly there is a clear link between the Euroamerican colonists and genocide. The definition of genocide that has been used in this paper is adapted from the United Nations statement of 1947. According to the statement, genocide can be physical, biological, or cultural. Physical genocide has been evidenced by examples where the Native Indians were killed. For instance, 38 were condemned to death by hanging, and more than 200 Navajo people died during the long walk to Bosque Redondo. Cultural genocide has been evidenced in the many instances where the United States government spent concerted efforts to assimilate the American Indians into the American way of living. The federal Indian Termination policy saw in a span of 10 years more than 109 tribes being terminated. With the elimination of the tribes, people’s livelihoods were altered, and they had to copy what others were doing. It was not the wish of the American Indians to lose their culture, religion, and traditions. Still, they had to surrender to the US government that was acting in favor of the Euroamerican colonists. Seemingly, if there was no rise of Euroamerican colonists in America, the Natives, like the American Indians, would not have been subjected to the problems they faced. The government would have accommodated them in their uniqueness and diversity.

Work Cited

Deagan, Kathleen. “Colonial transformation: Euro-American cultural genesis in the early Spanish-American colonies.” Journal of Anthropological Research 52.2 (1996): 135-160.

Hinton, Alexander Laban. “Why did you kill?: The Cambodian genocide and the dark side of face and honor.” The Journal of Asian Studies 57.1 (1998): 93-122.

United Nations. “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” Welcome to the United Nations, Accessed 29 Sept. 2021.

King, Thomas. The inconvenient Indian illustrated: A curious account of native people in North America. Doubleday Canada, 2017.

Kingston, Lindsey. “The destruction of identity: Cultural genocide and indigenous peoples.” Journal of Human Rights 14.1 (2015): 63-83.

Mayroz, Eyal. “Genocide.” International Criminal Law in Context, 2017, pp. 71-90.

Meister, Cary W. “Demographic consequences of Euro-American contact on selected American Indian populations and their relationship to the demographic transition.” Ethnohistory (1976): 161-172.

Metzl, Jamie Frederic. “Rwandan genocide and the international law of radio jamming.” American Journal of International Law 91.4 (1997): 628-651.

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