History behind the News
think of genocide, there are many different examples that may run though their
heads. For example, right now there is an intensely watched genocidal issue in
Sudan. Another important genocide
which occurred was during World War II when Adolph Hitler wanted to exterminate
everyone who was of the Jewish
faith. This example may be the most prominent in history, but it may not have
been the earliest. Many think that issues of genocide only occur in foreign
countries, but it may have in fact occurred here within the United
When Europeans first came to the Americas, they thought that they were
discovering new land. Instead they were greeted with a land which was already
inhabited by people with their own way of life. What happened after that is
described by some as an American Holocaust. A lot of death and destruction came
to Native American tribes when the European explorers and settlers landed.
Christopher Columbus landed in the
Americas on October 12, 1942. He brought with him
the hope of prosperity and an excitement of discovery of a new world. Little did
the voyagers know, there was already a “world” which existed in that land. That
sense of hope and discovery from one part of the world eventually led to the
death and destruction of another.
Americans believe that when Columbus first landed in the
Americas, it was the beginning of
what is now referred to as the American Holocaust. Columbus brought with him
greedy men which ultimately led to discrimination, diseases and the death of
thousands of Native American people.
himself brought men who were looking for gold. They took the inhabitants and
made them into slaves. In some accounts, the Natives were murdered, tortured and
deprived of the necessities. This occurred throughout other voyages as well, as
Columbus and his
men went from island to island.
It wasn’t necessarily the Spanish that did all of the damage, it was what
(or who) followed after that. When the English started to come to the
Americas from Europe, they didn’t particularly care who was already
living on the land and they certainly didn’t have any regards for the Native
Americans way of life. Europeans looked at their discovery as a new way of
starting over and they saw the land that they had complete rights to. The
English wanted the land and they would literally take it form them without a
second thought. Native Americans soon became a minority as settlers poured in
from Europe and began to expand. Not only did
they treat then poorly but many tried to kill them altogether.
When Europeans first settled in North
America, one of the biggest problems for Native Americans was the
diseases which they brought with them. Since they had never been exposed to
these diseases as the Europeans had they extremely susceptible to catching them.
The Natives immune system could not handle the change. An intense amount of
Native Americans died to diseases such as the plague, influenza and smallpox.
The toll it took one each tribe was immense. Most tribes lost anywhere from
fifty to ninety percent of their people due to illnesses alone.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 –
Trail of Tears
Throughout decades of English immigrants and the formation of the
States, Native Americans were continually
mistreated. They were looked at as “savages” and were made slaves. The English
had no tolerance of them and many wanted them dead. This was mostly because they
did not share religious beliefs and they did not share the same way of living.
Natives were killed by attack after attack. Their crops were destroyed by
settlers leaving them dying of starvation.
On May 28, 1830, Andrew Jackson
enacted the Indian Removal Act as a means to “trade” land which lied on the
eastern side of the Mississippi where the Native Americans
resided. In return, the Native Americans would be given land which was
designated for them west of the Mississippi. Within the treaty there were some
important terms of conditions in which the President guaranteed these different
Jackson promised the
protection of tribes from all outside forces while they were o the newly
designated land. The act also guaranteed “aid” for those who were moving and
needed help in doing so. In one paragraph it was stated that the land which was
traded was to always belong to the tribes, regardless if it was them or their
successors living on it. (There was however one exception to this rule. It
stated in the treaty that if the “Indians become extinct, or abandon the same”
then “…such lands shall revert to the United States”).
With all of
these promises and more from President Andrew Jackson, five different tribes
decided to move to the other side of the Mississippi. Their destination was Oklahoma which was known
as Indian Territory. This began the incredible
(albeit deadly) move of over 70,000 Native Americans within the span of ten
years. This trek is sadly known as the Trail of Tears.
The move from
east to west proved to be more destructive to the tribes than it was helpful.
What seemed to be a fair trade soon turned a terrible ordeal as many people died
from the move. Native Americans died from exhaustion and starvation from the
long journey. Over 3,000 Natives of the Cherokee tribe alone died on the Trail
of Tears. This was not to mention all of those who died once they arrived in
As America was expanding, Native
Americans were being pushed farther west and even up into Canada. With
Manifest Destiny and the United States constantly taking
shape, the English settlers were much greedier for land and grew less tolerant
of the Natives standing in their way. There were numerous amounts of massacres
and things were not getting better.
One example of a state and its extreme efforts to move the Native
Americans out of the land was Texas. When Texas entered the union they had different
policies regarding Native Americans than the United States
had already outlined. Texans did not think they needed to trade land nor did
they think that the Natives even had rights to the land to begin with. Because
of this, Texans would invade land owned by Native Americans because they
supposedly had no claims or rights to it.
In 1847, Texas granted “speculators” pieces of land.
This land was already inhabited by Natives. When the new settlers had surveyors
check out the land they found Native Americans who were none to happy about the
Texans wanted the Native Americans out so the new settlers could help to
expand the state. Texans continually went onto their lands and they continually
killed many people. In 1859, after a system of reservations failed, Native
Americans were finally forced out of Texas.
Another example on a Tribal level (rather than state) occurred in 1877
with the Nez Perce Tribe. Approximately 750 members of the Nez Perce tribe were
forced to move to designated reservations under orders of General Howard. The
Nez Perce fled to Montana where they thought that they would be
safe from Howard. Once they were settled, Colonel John Gibbon took orders from
Howard to carry on an attack on the tribe with the intention of wiping them out,
not just relocating them. Gibbon issued a surprise attack which left numerous
dead (a significant amount of those were warriors). The war ended in surrender
with Chief Joseph’s now famous words “I will fight no more forever.” Upon
surrendering the Nez Perce were forced to move to a reservation, which was what
they had tried to avoid all along.
These are just a couple of examples which occurred out of a numerous
amount. History books show many massacres and many wrongdoings toward the Native
Americans before and after these occurrences.
Raphael Lemkin and
is not whether they were treated inhumanly because that has already been
established by history itself. The question is whether or not the treatment they
received constitutes a form of genocide. In 1944, Raphael Lemkin introduced the
term “genocide” and provided a set of definitions or guidelines for the
defined genocide after the Holocaust of World War II. He described it to be the
destruction of a “culture, language, national feelings, [and] religion.”
According to prevent genocide.org, part of genocide is the “abolition of local
laws and local courts.” Within the treaties and even in the Indian Civil Rights
Act if 1968, Native Americans were given sovereignty whether or not this
actually kept. There are many tribes today which still have tribal governments.
Economically, Native Americans were targeted. There lands were taken from them
and their crops were destroyed. They were endangered by the disease which were
carried and sometimes administered among the Natives. Being forced out of their homelands on
long trails such as the Trail of Tears led to deprivation of many things which
caused the deaths of thousands.
mistreatment of Native Americans constitute genocide? There are certainly many
instances in which it could be considered genocide. The outspokenness of some
men back in those times of war distinctly called for the extermination of Native
Americans. There were many actions which were taken to “get rid” of them.
One also must
look at the fact of whether or not the removal of Native Americans constitutes
as a form of genocide if negative consequences occur along the way. The intended
death and destruction of a people just because they are of a certain origin or
ethnic background does fall under the definition of genocide. What the history
of Native Americans gives us can be determined as a form of genocide. While we
can not go back in time, we can learn from mistakes and learn tolerance from
history. This can help us to realize that not only does this go on in other
nations, it may also occur on America’s homeland.
Jo. “From where the sun now stands.” National Parks. Jan/Feb 99.
William S. “Fight No More Forever.” World & I. Aug 2002, Vol. 17.
and the American Holocaust.” New
News. Vol 94 Issue 41. 10/9/2003.
Walter A. “Freedom Just Around the Corner.” Harper Collins: 2004
Brenda. “ANALYSIS: American Indians see Columbus as the trigger man for a
Holocaust.” Indian Country Today (Rapid City, SD); 10/12/2004.
Robert A. “Alternative to Extinction.” Temple University Press.
Rights Act of 1968: