Dead Indians, Live Indians,
and Genocide


As per "American Holocaust, Columbus and the Conquest of the New World, David Stannard, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-507581-1 the term "genocide" was coined by Raphael Lemkin in his book, "Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, published in 1944. His thinking is summarized by Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn. pp. 279-280:

Under Lemkin's definition, genocide was the coordinated and planned annihilation of a national, religious, or racial group by a variety of actions aimed at undermining the foundations essential to the survival of the group as a group. Lemkin conceived of genocide as 'a composite of different acts of persecution or destruction.' His definition included attack on political and social institutions, culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of the group. Even nonlethal acts that undermined the liberty, dignity, and personal security of members of a group constituted genocide if they contributed to weakening the vitality of the group. Under Lemkin's definition, acts of ethnocide- a term coined by the French after the war to cover the destruction of a culture without the killing of its bearers-also qualified as genocide.

Lemkin stated that "Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group: the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor." This has most certainly been the case as regards the First Nations.

American Holocaust, pp. 279. United Nations General Assembly resolution, 1946:

Genocide is the denial of the right of existence to entire human groups, as homicide is the denial of the right to live of individual human beings; such denial of the right of existence shocks the conscience of mankind, results in great losses to humanity in the

form of cultural and other contributions represented by these groups, and is contrary to moral law and to the spirit and aims of the United Nations. Many instances of such crimes of genocide is a matter of international concern. The General Assembly Therefore, Affirms that genocide is a crime under international law which the civilized world condemns, and for the commission of which principals and accomplices-whether private individuals, public officials or statesmen, and whether the crime is committed on religious, racial, political or any other grounds-are punishable.

pp. 280 - Genocide Convention of the United Nations (1948):

...Article II- In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group, (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The United States failed to sign on to the Genocide Convention for forty years. This, in itself, makes a very definite statement.

As noted in Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in the United States, Ward Churchill, ISBN 1-56751-020-5:

Considerable anxiety was expressed by various senators and expert witnesses over the years that certain activities of subordinate (state and local) governments and private parties, each of them sanctioned and/or protected by the federal government might well violate the terms of the Convention." Indeed the United States, when the time was right took pains to modify the Convention via a resolution which contained the following: "Nothing in the Convention requires or authorizes legislation or other action by the United States of America prohibited by the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the the United States.

In this manner, the government sought to "elevate the U.S. Constitution to a status above that of the Laws of the Nations." And...quoting from Chapter 5 - The Earth Is Our Mother from the book The State of Native America, Genocide, Colonization and Resistance, edited by Annette Jaimes, ISBN 0-89608-424-9:

Hitler's conception of lebensraumpolitik - the idea that Germans were innately entitled by virtue of their racial and cultural superiority to land belonging to others, and that they were thus morally free to take it by aggressive military action - obviously had much in common with the 19th century American sense of 'Manifest Destiny.'

...Even the the nazi tactic of concentrating 'undesireables' prior to their forced 'relocation or reduction' was drawn from actual U.S. examples, including internment of the Cherokees and other 'Civilized Tribes' during the 1830's before the the devastatingly lethal Trail of Tears was forced upon them, and the comparable experience of the Navajo people at the Bosque Redondo during the period 1864-68. point, in my opinion, to go into a, b, or c as noted in Article II - I believe the record speaks for itself. However, as regards d - Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, I'd like to throw in a particularly appalling 20th century episode. This, as regards the Indian Health Service: In the mid-70's a Choctaw-Tsalagi doctor was approached by a 26-year-old NA woman who desired a "womb transplant." She had been sterilized when she was 20 at the Indian Health Service hospital in Claremont, Oklahoma. One thing lead to another and it was discovered that 75 percent of the Claremont sterilizations were non-theraputic, that women (NA's) were being prompted to sign sterilization forms they didn't understand, that they were being told the operations were reversible...some women even being asked to sign sterilization papers while they had yet to come out of birthing sedation.

"Common Sense magazine reported that the Indian Health Service was sterilizing 3,000 Indian women per year, 4 to 6 percent of the child bearing population...Dr. R. T. Ravenholt, [then] director of the federal government's Office of Population, later confirmed that 'surgical sterilization has become increasingly important in recent years as one of the advanced methods of fertility management.'" In response to critics of this program Ravenholt "told the Population Association of America in St. Louis that the critics were 'a really radical extremist group lashing out at a responsible program so that revolution will occur.'" Now, I am familiar with the Norplant flap some years ago when, I believe, someone posited that Norplant might be a great idea for welfare/poor women. However, I have not encountered, ever, in this country anything that compares with the IHS operation.(If anyone can aim me to a detailed pool of information re the IHS Claremont Ops I would be grateful.) Couple the Claremont ops with "Historic" vice "Non-Historic and "Termination"(no pun intended) and, IMO, it becomes clear that one way or another, by hook or by crook, Wasichu is/was? determined to lessen the administrative/moral burden carried by virtue of being responsible for the First Nations/First Peoples once he had conquered the continent.

Susan Brill,Bradley U.( is responsible for the following...

I asked for information to send on to the PHIL-LIT discussion group regarding the genocide of Native peoples. I thought some of you might be interested in the long compiled posting I shared with the PHIL-LIT folks. Generally the responses were positive, individuals acknowledging that there was much information they just didn't know. A few souls are still duking it out, but the issue is largely fading out. At least at this point, no one is stating any longer that there was no genocide over here, and the folks do now understand that the situation was different from tribe to tribe even though the larger issue of racism and cultural genocide affected all Native peoples.

I want to thank all of you who responded to my request for information...

Okay, now that we've exhausted both the topic of genocide and ourselves in relation to it, let me share with everyone some responses from fellow scholars of Native Studies across the country. Now, bear in mind that these are folks involved in a Native American Literatures discussion group (not specifically the domain of historians), but a number of those involved straddle both areas. I shared with them parts of one representative P-L poster (name deleted) on this issue.

As I had expected, the response to my query regarding whether or not the atrocities perpetrated against Native peoples in the Americas constituted genocide was that, yes, this was genocide, but not in the centralized form perpetrated in Nazi Germany. Yes, in the Americas there was genocide, the intentional annihilation (or attempted annihilation) of tribes.

By the way, I find the argument that genocide does not occur where an entire population is not completely eradicated very troubling--particularly in its implications. Genocide can (and does) occur to varying degrees. But in any case, here are the responses from Native Studies folks.

I've numbered the responses and included all that I received. Each offers some useful information germane to the issue. #3 cites the genocidal intentionality of the smallpox infestation in regard to one tribe. #6 and 7 give a long (and very useful) discussion of definitions of genocide, particularly within UN deliberations. #5 refers to the interrelationship between US policies and practices against Native peoples and the Nazi holocaust (US practices against Native peoples being some of the models the Nazis knew about and learned from). #'s 1 and differentiate the Acadian displacements from European/US behaviors re Indians. #'s 1, 2, and 7 cite specific examples. And #'s 4 and 8 comment specifically on State supported extermination of Indian peoples.

Of course, I see all of the following commentaries useful on this issue, but for those who don't want to wade through all eight of the responses, I particularly recommend responses #'s 3 and 5-8.


[I have deleted the name/addresses of respondents but will supply same if a legitimate (in my opinion) request is made.]

Consider a campaign with slogans such as "The only good injun is a dead injun" and "Nits Make Lice" (a justification for murdering children for chrissakes). Can we really say that there are/were no genocidal intentions here? I don't think so. But then I haven't noted any documented evidence to the effect that the U.S. government advocated such policy. Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems to have been generated by the military commanders who would have had no one to kill if the Indian campaigns had been cancelled. After all, everyone needs to justify the neccessity of his job in some way or other.

Of course the government did not do much to insure that the military represented the United States in a suitable fashion. Even after the tales of Sand Creek began to circulate--and many U.S. citizens were appalled by the atrocities that occurred there--not much was done to curb the actions of insubordinate military commanders. What do you think happened on the Washita? That was no accident, it was a premeditated massacre which, incidentally, was not sanctioned by government officials.

In other words, if we look at this as a genocidal policy I think that we are wrong to accuse the U.S. govt directly. It is rather the result of a miliary which was allowed to operate unrestricted. In this sense I think that we can definitly call it genocide. After all, that is essentially the same thing that happened in Nazi Germany, the military was allowed to operate in an unresticted arena. But of course that military was operated by a dictatorial government.

And by the way, I don't think that we can equate the U.S. campaign against the Indian to the British campaign against the Acadians as far as the execution of policy goes. While both Governments intended to simply displace the people and occupy the land, the British did this swiftly and successfully whereas the U.S. plan, being on a much larger scale, was slow and tedious and almost necessitated genocidal military tactics because it allowed too much time for resistance to build up.

I would stear you in the direction of a).the sand creek massacre in Colorado, and b). the Pequod tribe. The sand creek massacre is an instance where a military leader, Chivington, needed a battle to mark his troop with heroism. Until the massacre, the regimond had not "shed blood" and was receiving flack from Denver citizens. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe were told to go to sand creek were they would be protected by the US military. The tribes were attacked by Chivington and several other regimonds while the majority of their men were off hunting. The chief of the Cheyennes, Black Kettle, was told by another military leader (I've forgotten his name) that raising an American flag would indicate to US attackers that they were a peaceful nation. He raised the flag, but the military kept attacking. Most of the Native Americans killed at Sand Creek were women and children. Black Kettle and the remaining tribe latter moved to Washita River which was designated as "Indian Territory". He and most of the remaining tribe were massacred in 1868 in an attacked lead by Custer.

The Pequod tribe was obliterated when we first settled this country. The Puritans viewed the Pequod tribe as iconoclastic and massacred the tribe based on this reason alone. I have more information on this incident but it's not handy at the moment.

I guess what I'm getting at is the yes the US has been involved in massacring Indigenous people and yes some of these actions can be considered genocide. While sand creek was not supported by the government, it is still a genocide given the US mentality of manifest destiny. The incident is most definitely a governmental genocide given that Puritan religous leaders served as government leaders and initiated the massacre. Some might say though that we as a country had no formal government, however, these early governments set the stage for our later government objectives.

I do not "speak" on-line as a rule, but your post gave me pause. Feel free to share it with the list, if you want, but delete my name please.

About genocide. Since there are people, a large enough body to constitute a voice, who claim there was no Jewish holocaust, no genocide, just POWs, etc., I'm not sure borrowing the moral force that "genocide" and "holocaust" carry ala the WWII Jews works anymore, but I think that's the intention when those terms are applied to American Indians.

Most historians of American Indian life hold that disease leveled the population more than actual killing with weapons. While I believe that is true, "germ warfare" in for form of small pox blankets was also used.

From William Trent's description of the "gift" to the Delaware, 1763:

Out of our regard to them [the Delawares] we gave them two Blankets and Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.
Certainly, Trent speaks of the "effect" in a way that one can see as genocidal--a strategy intended to wipe out a people. On the other hand, U.S. policy has always been mixed. The army did set out to exterminate Indians in many specific occasions--Sand Creek and St. Marias Massacres are two examples. But after the St. Marias Massacre (Montana Blackfeet, 1870) the legislature passed a law that former army officers could not hold positions in the Indian Affairs Office. They were thinking particularly of Civil War officers who came out of that war effort brutalized and brutalizing.

What I am addressing is the word "genocide"--if it's defined as a policy, carried out without exception as the Nazi policy was, then can we say American Indians were genocidally (systematically) exterminated? After having said all of that, I hold the belief that 1) Indians were genocidally murdered at various times and in various places, and that to call it anything but genocide is ridiculous; 2) the horror of the Jewish holocaust, from the point of view of white Europeans and Americans who acknowledge it happened, is that it was scientific and carried out against a "white" "race." 3) I would argue that Indians have suffered "scientific racism" from the very beginning of contact, but the world is used to categorizing people of color as inferior; hence, atrocities against Indians take on a less serious tone.

Dee Brown has some useful references. California's policy was State supported extermination. Jackson, Helen Hunt, collected the documents and acts while they were fresh. Chivington of course remarked, while ordering his men to shoot Indian babies, "Nits make Lice," which almost deserves a Bayrische translation. The custom of shooting stragglers on long marches was also semi-official. Brown gives most of the sources.
Check out the first chapter of Ward Churchill's book _Indians Are Us?_, if you don't already know all about it. It speaks directly about the Nazi/U.S. comparison, and includes an argument that I think has some really brilliant qualities. Churchill isn't a universally loved guy, to say the least, but the legal argument in that chapter is fascinating.
I'll try and help you with your phil-lit discussion w.r.t. genocide.

First off, I suggest that you ground the discussion in modern legal terms of art. This won't be to everyone's tastes, but the UN language, and that arising from the Nurenberg Trials have the advantage of providing a clear common framework for a discussion.

Next, there is the not-quite history of the p-l poster, and the commonly found relativism present there. I'll take them in the order these occur.

First, the depopulative mechanism is presumed to be volitional, hence some moral question. This obscures the role of contact-era disease as a depopulative mechanism or set of mechanisms, and causes two long-term problems in understanding the contact era: it allows a Moody/Kroeber (AHS) population estimate to exist in the uncritical non-archaeologically grounded popular historians, rather than a population estimate at least an order of magnitude greater (see Doybens or Ramenofsky in the contact population and pathenogen literature), and it allows first and subsequent European records to stand as describing a then stable, steady-state collection of cultures, rather than those already under a die-off pressure without precident, three or more times as depopulative as the bubonic plague events of pre-contact Europe.

Second the policy-based displacement is romantically placed in what I'll refer to as "cavlary time". In Anglo-America displacement by militarized policy begins with the Pequot War (ca 1640), again in the King Philip War (ca 1670) in New England, and in several contemporanious wars in Virginia and the Carolinas. These Crown and colony policies continued under the Philidelpia and Washington governments -- the causes of the Blackhawk War and so on.

Third there is the relativism of the "sad fact" para, and implied within that both an ignorance of pandemic-period wars of assimilation and wars for the control of European trade goods routes, as well as the ignorance of pre-pandemic States.

Fourth, the Huronia - Five Nations wars were both assimilative and trading driven, and should be seen as a part of a larger whole, the Beaver Wars period, and integrated into Anglo - French and Anglo - Dutch continental competition, and eventually as part of the first global war, the Seven Years War. Finally, the Hurons were not exterminated, their polity, Huronia was defeated, and large Huron populations were incorporated into the Five Nations. Others moved west some incorporated into western polities, some maintaining Huron polities in exile.

Fifth, the representation of intra-European competition is so simplified as to be without much use in illuminating motives, necessities, or material conditions. The Acadian disposition was not unique, Spanish Florida was also forced into exile, ending the Two Republics period.

Sixth, the "Europeans" were not uniformly "fabulously successful", the temperate zone descendent polities of the contact-era, the US and Canada, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Argentina and Uruguay, are settler states. The remainder are creole states. Very different mortality models and dispossession process took place over widly varing moments in European cultural, hence colonial cultural histories. Mexico has had an indigenous head of state, the US has not.

Seventh, UN genocide is not total extermination. To cite the Beothuk and the Caribs as the only examples is inacurate (the Florida pre-Seminole tribes are omitted, as are others), it would also let the German National Socialist government (1933-1945), its agents and so forth, plead a necessarily effective defense to the charge of genocide, as during the period of that polity's existance, under the execution of its policies w.r.t. European Jewery and European Gypsies, not to mention the religious, political, sexual, and eugenic targets of those policies, no targeted population actually was totally exterminated.

Clearly, neither the UN nor common sense could meaningfully restrict the concept of extirpative warfare only to sucessful instances of that, as the survival of Ishi to die of disease would free the state of California from a charge based upon its policy of paying bounty for scalps during the first decades of its Statehood period. One survivor cannot constitue a bar on prosection for genocide.

Eighth, the Caribs were not simply worked to death, contemporary Spanish records support both massacre and pathenogens as accounting for the bulk of the populations of several Caribian islands, along with group suicide. In many respects, what happened in the Caribian in the 15th and early 16th centuries is similar to the conquest and depopulation/repopulation of the Cannaries in the 14th and early 15th centuries.

Ninth, the reasoning in the "In the case of the USA" para is flawed on several counts. Again, it posits a universal target population with out regard for the motives, material conditions or assimilative adaptation of Woodlands and Plains peoples, and artifically places the policy in question during the latter half of the 19th century. This is ahistorical, as the "frontier" (actually more of a Front-Edge Battle Area or FEBA to use modern military terminology) was not static over time. The reference made to the poster's provical population contains errors in fact. The Neutrals (aka Tobacco) were not extinct as a population at the time of termination of British Crown jurisdiction over the Americas south of the Great Lakes. They had been defeated as a polity, and incorporated into the Five Nations, or displaced further west, like the populations of Huronia and its allies. In this para there is also no understanding of the division within the Five Nations at the time of that war, nor of the movement of boundaries between 15th century Huronia and Iroquoia, up to the late 18th century. To classify the Ontario Mohawk as non-indegenous is somewhat disingenious.

Tenth, the (modern) Canadian critique of US policy in the former Indian Territory, now the state of Oklahoma is too simple to be illuminating. A better discussion would include the pressures of the Jacksonian executive, the War Between the States and divisions amongst the Oklahoma Nations, and the English Crown in Franco- and Anglo-Canada and the transfer of land from indegenous polities to Canadian settler interests, not overlooking the Red River and later Riel Rebellions, not simply as Metis events, but as originally anti-Ottowa events, joined by Treaty Nations, Metis, and even Anglo settlers.

Eleventh, treating the complexities of the creole polities that came into existance in New Spain and elsewhere simply as meeting or not meeting a universal erradication test is again disengenious. Even today before the UN genocide is alleged by competent parties on behalf of tropical peoples. Again, one Ishi, even a predominately indigenous population does not bar prosecution for cultural genocide -- a term of art recognized by UN law.

Finally, the conclusion w.r.t. the US, if there was a policy, then it was not longstanding nor vigoroously pursued and broadly ineffective, cannot be supported by archaeological, historical, or the legal record. It is as if the poster were to argue that the Dutch preservation through exile of a portion of European Jewery, or the survival of some Jews and Gypsies in Vichy France or Republican Spain or Facist Italy constitues a complete defense to the charge of genocide against the National Socialist government, hence a reversal of the convictions of the Nurenberg Courts, sitting in judgement over the architects and implementors of the "Final Solution". This is a pretty horrible conclusion for a european-identifying person to come to.

I suspect that the phil-lit discussants need to reach a finding of non-guilt on the charge of genocide, even if only rhetorically brought against one or more historical or contemporaneous nation state. It is somewhat, but not much, encouraging that these persons can encompass racism as part of the heritage of the Americas. It would be more encouraging if they included in their consideration of the issue the transfer of economic power, from the late 15th century to the late 20th century, say in the southern part of the Province of Ontario.

Both of the examples you mention are from the post-Civil War period, and the focus could reasonably be, if confined to the US and its ancestor entities, to the Pequot War of the first half of the 17th centory, and to the King Philip War of the second half of that century, as well as to contemporaneous wars in the mid-Atlantic colonial areas, Florida, and westward over time.

Also, wasn't Sand Creek perpetrated by the Colorado Militia under the command of a Militia Colonel Chivington?

Also, I think the implied definition of genocide you appear to be using is much narrower than that which falls within the scope of the legal term of art. Consider the case of Julies Stricher, the Nurenberg Courts held for conviction, the prosecution having only plead that Stricher published genocidal propoganda -- not for any specific act of homicide.

During the National Socialist period, 1933 - 1945, as recorded by the non-survivors, and testified to by the survivors, the overwhelming bulk of criminal acts falling under the Geneva Conventions, including that on Genocide, were not committed by the German military units, or units under the direct operational control of military command and control. Nurenberg pleadings and the historical and forensic archaeological records place the bulk of the acts for which these criminal charges were brought to units under the command and control of the political, not military, nor, pre-1933 and continuous (e.g., police powers) civil authorities.

Finally, the relocation of the Acadians must be seen within the context of the Seven Years War, that is, as a European historical event, like the French Crown's loss of India to the English Crown (well, actually each of their chartered almost-autonomous corporate states, the India Companies).

THE DESTRUCTION OF CALIFORNIA INDIANS edited by Robert F. Heizer, rpt. by U Nebraska Press, collects a great deal of data from newspapers, government reports, and other sources in the nineteenth century to support the judgment of genocide in this case.

Part of the problem is that people want to distinguish an explicit and coherent government policy (which the Nazis had) from an implicit but unwritten support of the murderous actions of private citizens. A lot of the time what you read in documents from the last century is overt hand- wringing from government reps (military or other) about how nasty are the depredations of settlers or ranchers and how they can't do anything about this situation. Sometimes it's sincere, a lot of the time it may be somebody who is helpless on the spot and the real responsibility belongs back in Washington where the captains of progress and industry have seen to it that Congress or the executive is not going to go in for any policing of murderous citizens when the victims are people of color.

Anyway, this book can certainly support the position that many Indians were deliberately murdered in California by many non-Indian settlers, and that both law and custom supported the slaughter, if they did not explicitly organize it.

Justice is a whore that won't let herself be stiffled, and collects the wages of shame even from the poor. Karl Kraus (1874-1936) Austrian satirist.

Washita Massacre

National Genocide Site

First Cumulative Site Index