Genocide: The Extermination of Native Americans
Native Americans, as a race, have suffered from the very beginning of contact with the European colonists. Statistics largely support the case of genocide against the Natives. In fact, Native Americans once constituted 100% of the population in North America, whereas today they represent two percent of the population. The term genocide refers to the systematic killing of a whole national or ethnic group, and the denial of the right of existence to entire human groups, as homicide is the denial of the right to live (Churchill, 365). This paper will give evidence that genocide was committed against the Native Americans by the European colonists, whether it was entirely premeditated or not. This paper will also show that the United States government failed to sign on to the Genocide Convention for forty years. This, in itself, makes a very apparent statement.
The decline in population of the Native Americans began in 1492 with the settling of the European colonists. Initially, the colonists had no intent on eliminating the Natives. Instead, they were amazed at their technological ingenuity, marveling as well at their smooth functioning but complex machineries of government (Stannard, 103). At the beginning of the colonization process, the colonists and the Natives for the most part kept to themselves. In fact, the early settlers praised the Natives for their peacefulness, generosity, trustworthiness, and egalitarianism, all of which were conspicuously absent from English social relations of the time (Stannard, 103). The two groups even exchanged items with one another. The Natives would give the colonists beans, pumpkins, corn, and many other vegetables, while the colonists would give the Natives measles, small pox, and the flu.
Disease was not the only factor that transformed the Natives. Pigs, cows, and horses began running wild and free across most of the Americas, which had an affect on the ecosystem.
In the book, The Columbian Exchange, Alfred W. Crosby, JR. concludes by stating, We, all of the life on this planet, are the less for Columbus, and the impoverishment will increase (Crosby, 219).It was not until land became an issue, that the Natives and the colonists began battling. In the eyes of the Europeans, land was unclaimed unless it had a fence around it. The Natives, on the other hand, had no such belief. The Natives believed they were borrowing the land from the Gods. When good, or habitable land began to run thin, the colonists would take the land of the Natives. There were several ways the colonists would take the land from the Natives, but there was one way in which the colonists would take land that was just awful. This method involved the kidnapping of young Native children and holding them hostage until the land was given to them (Stannard, 105). This began the turning point of Native and colonist relations. From then on, any Native who encountered the colonists were captured, accused of being spies, and executed (Stannard, 106). Furthermore, Natives were lured into English settlements on the pretence of peace and sharing of entertainment, where there they were attacked and killed (Stannard, 106). This type of entrapment continued while hundreds upon hundreds of Natives were executed at the hands of the Europeans. The hatred of the Natives became so great that if any European were found peacefully associating with the Natives, they too would be executed. In the minds of the Europeans, This was the treatment for those who wished to act like Indians (Stannard, 105).
Two hundred years after the Europeans arrived, thousands of Natives had been killed by deception, poisons, and some were even hunted. They were hunted by Blood-Hounds to draw after them, and Mastives to seaze them (Stannard, 106). In addition, the mental approach to warfare was extremely different between the Natives and the Europeans. For the Natives, taking a life was an occasion. Their type of warfare was described as a kind of play (Stannard, 111). European soldier, Captain Henry Spelman, said that warfare among the Natives had no dicipline, so that when the Natives fought there was no great slawter of nether side (Stannard, 111). During warfare, the Natives followed a strict code of honor that usually kept the number of those murdered extremely low. John Underhill described Indian warfare best when he said, they might fight seven years and not kill seven men (Stannard, 111).
Nevertheless, the Europeans had an entirely different mindset when it came to warfare. The purpose of warfare for the Europeans was to eliminate or exterminate the enemy and take their land. Their way of thinking was supported by scripture from the Old Testament, the same scripture that describes God as avenging. Many European soldiers were reminded of a phrase derived from Deuteronomy that states, Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth.But thou shalt utterly destroy them (Stannard, 111).
That statement seemed to sum up the way the Europeans fought. As the tension between the two sides grew fierce, the way of eliminating the other became more brutal. Massacres became a common way of executing a large amount of Natives at one time. The Pequot massacre is an instance where a military leader, Mason, was planning nothing less than a wholesale massacre (Stannard, 113).
In the middle of the night, Mason, leading one group of soldiers and Underhill leading another, attacked the Pequots from two directions at once. They swarmed the tribe, slashing and shooting at anything that moved (Stannard, 113). Both Mason and Underhill began ordering their men to set fire to the village. While the European soldiers were watching men, women, and children bleeding and burning to death, Underhill reassured them that sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents (Stannard, 114). Most Pequots men that survived the attack were hunted into near extermination. While the Pequot women and children were captured and sold as slaves in the West Indies. Once the Europeans had removed or killed the remaining Pequots, they then removed the name Pequot from all New Englands maps so that there was no recollection of their existence (Stannard, 115).It is my belief the Pequot tribe was obliterated because the Europeans viewed them as heathens and massacred the tribe based on this reason alone. In addition, this incident could easily be a form of governmental genocide given that European religious leaders played the role of government leaders and initiated the massacre.
The problem in using the term genocide, which was first used to describe the atrocity of the Jews in World War II, is that Europeans regularly use methods of war that describes genocide. The General Assembly maintains that genocide is a crime under International law, which the civilized world condemns.In 1948 revisions were made to the original draft condemning genocide and in December of that year the General Assembly unanimously adopted it into law (Churchill, 364).
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 (Churchill, 367). Although the United States and the U.S.S.R were major advocates of revising the original international draft condemning genocide, most of the countries involved in creating the draft were guilty in some way of genocide.
The only defense the United States might have for taking forty years to agree to the International genocide laws, is there was no formal government during the time of colonization.
To conclude, I firmly believe, largely in part of statistical proof, that genocide was committed against the Native Americans by the European colonists the British North American colonies. Furthermore, it is my belief the United States failed to sign at the Genocide Convention because they had no excuse, nor remorse for what occurred to the Native Americans. I think genocide against the Native Americans is still occurring today.Native Americans are either faced with being totally assimilated by the Western Culture or dying out on the many reservations, in which they are kept there, out of the way and out of mind, by supposedly helpful governments. I feel it is genocide when the older Natives helplessly watch their children leave the reservations in order to make a living in the “civilized” world.
As this is taking place those children and young adults are turning their backs on their heritage, language, and culture and willfully accepting the stereotypical views of “civilization.
Although the United States, as a whole, has turned their back on the Native Americans there are still some people trying to preserve the culture, stories, art, ways of life, and spirituality of American Indian. Over the last fifty years, I have read and watched as many minorities in North America such as African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, etc have had their causes heard, and have had some, if not all of their inequities addressed, but I have heard very little about the Native Americans. It is my wish, that through education, more people will be encouraged to help in the causes of the Native Americans.