10 Horrific Facts about the Native American Genocide
The term genocide is defined as the deliberate killing of large groups of people, particularly those in a specific nation or ethnic group. However, this term, which put simply is mass murder, did not come into widespread use until the 1940s. This is when Raphael Lemkin, a jurist at Yale University coined it in his Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. In addition to making the term mainstream, Lemkin also stated that genocide doesn’t mean the immediate destruction or eradication of a nation or people. Instead, it is a coordinated plan of various actions that has the end goal of destroying the foundations of life for certain groups.
While many people automatically think of the Holocaust when talking about genocide, there is no question that one of the first instances of this was with the Native Americans. Those who came to the “New World” had the intention of destroying – in part or in whole – this nation of people. During the time of this genocide, it wasn’t always obvious that this was the end goal of the “white man” who had landed on the shores of the Americas. This made it difficult for Native Americans to avoid being eliminated.
During this time, many horrendous crimes were committed against these people, from murder to torture, and even human trading and trafficking. Here you can discover and learn about 10 of the most horrific activities that occurred during the Native American genocide and some of the long-lasting effects these acts have had.
10The Killing of Millions of People
Millions of indigenous peoples were murdered in an effort to depopulate the “virgin wasteland” settlers found when they first arrived in the New World. For a long time, it was thought that only a million inhabitants were present when Europeans first arrived. However, today, it is estimated that pre-contact population of Native Americans was likely between nine and 18 million. By the latter part of the 19th century, this indigenous population was reduced from the numbers above to approximately 250,000. This is an elimination of 98 to 99 percent of the total Native Americans present. Today, it is estimated there are two to three million people on earth who identify as being Native American.
Some of the most well-known examples of this outright slaughter and murder include the 1890 massacre of more than 300 Lakota at Wounded Knee in South Dakota and the 1864 massacre of more than 250 Arapaho and Cheyenne at Sand Creek in Colorado. When the incident occurred at Wounded Knee, the Lakota Indians were holding a religious ritual referred to as the Ghost Dance. However, since the U.S. government was frightened and unfamiliar with these practices, they sent in troops and shot down more than 300 Lakota, many of which were women and children. The bodies of those who were murdered were stripped and thrown into a pit. During the 100th anniversary of this event, Lakota descendants dressed as their ancestors and make the 250-mile trek that those who were trying to escape the mass assassination followed.
9The Introduction of Alcohol
When it comes to the mental and bodily harm of the Native American people, no other action was quite as devastating as the effect of alcohol. This is something that has led to a situation where alcoholism, accidental death, homicide rates, suicide, and unemployment are still much higher than the national average for Native Americans.
The majority of studies available regarding the subject of alcoholism in the Native American communities, even ones done as late as the 1980s, don’t mention that these issues are all directly related to the policies set by the United States Government for the Native people.
In fact, alcohol was a prominent part of the invasion by the Europeans into North America and it constituted an especially versatile weapon for the invaders. In reference to an Indian Health Services report from 1987, as late as the year 1894, the deaths related to alcohol in Native populations in the United States was 4.8 times higher than among all other races. Also, in addition to the number of deaths that were due directly to diseases resulting from alcoholism, the use of alcohol is considered as a main, contributing factor in homicides, suicides, unintentional and intentional injuries, and mental health issues of the indigenous peoples in North America.
This means that alcohol not only helped reduce the population of Native Americans when the New World was first discovered but it also still affects communities all over the U.S. to this day, causing many disorders and deaths in this race.
8The Indian Removal Act
One of the best examples of eradicating the Native American population is seen with the “Indian Removal.” Andrew Jackson signed the “Indian Removal Act” into law in 1830 after gold had been discovered in Georgia. This was home to the Cherokee nation.
After gold was discovered, the U.S. government wanted control of the land, which ultimately led to the “death march,” which is commonly called and known as the “Trail of Tears” in history books. This act decreed that the so-called Five Civilized Tribes, which included the Seminole, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee Indians, had to leave their homelands. However, they were being forcibly “removed” and herded to the west. This is when the western frontier became known as “Indian Territory.”
Thousands of these people were first sent to concentration camps, and then they were bound in chains and marched with bayonets pointing at them to their new homelands. This was located west of the Mississippi. While there were 17,000 Cherokee removed, only 8,000 were able to survive the horrific conditions on the path to their new home. Many died of disease and malnutrition. The Choctaw people lost 6,000 of their 40,000 population and the mortality rate for both the Seminoles and Creeks was around 50 percent. All throughout the country, similar actions took place with native populations being herded into “reservations” during this removal period. Jackson promised the Indians peace, but this only lasted for 50 years until the General Allotment Act was passed.
7The General Allotment Act
The General Allotment Act came into effect 50 years after the Trail of Tears, when the Indians were relocated to another part of the country. When the Indians were originally moved from their homes, the president at the time, Andrew Jackson, promised them that they would stay in a location where the white people would not bother them and that they would not have any claim to the land. He also promised the indigenous people could live in plenty and peace and that the land would remain theirs forever.
However, when the General Allotment Act was put into effect, it destroyed what remained of the indigenous land base. Individual tribe members had been promised that the land that had been allotted to them was for their heirs without fail. However, due to inflicted conditions that are said to have brought about physical destruction to the lands, the new Act took the land from the Indians, leaving them with nowhere to go. And their lands were sold to non-natives (see ad above).
Even today, there are many Native people who struggle to try and regain ownership and control of the lands that were seized by the U.S. government under these types of policies. Many people claim that it is because of these types of acts that many Native Americans still live below the poverty line today. These are not issues that are quickly resolved for the people either, with the U.S. government still desiring to hold on to the land they deem as theirs, not the Indians.
6Involuntary Sterilization of American Indian Women
The U.S. government had a hand in virtually all aspects of Native American life. This included health care issues among the indigenous populations. This began as early as the 1800s. At this time, the War Department’s army physicians were worried about the increasing number of incidences of contagious diseases, such as smallpox, among the natives who were living nearby military posts.
Eventually, what evolved out of this “concern” was what was referred to as the Indian Health Services, or, for short IHS. One of the main roles of this department was the involuntary sterilization of American Indian women. In fact, according to reports from this time, between the dates of 1970 and 1976, between 25 and 50 percent of all American Indian women were sterilized. The vast majority of these women never gave their informed consent or were manipulated into giving consent. This was extracted from them with threats that they would lose their benefits if they did not undergo the operation.
This is an atrocity that happened in what is considered “civilized” times for the “white man.” The operations that were used for this sterilization process were crude, and also often resulted in the women developing infections and other complications from the surgery. There are many who even died while undergoing the procedure. The ultimate goal of the U.S. government was to minimize the population to try and control the outbreak and spread of the infectious diseases that the Europeans had brought with them to the “New World.”
5Creation of Indian Boarding Schools
During the latter portion of the 1800s and early 1900s, there was a new type of Indian Removal utilized. This was a movement used to try and “civilize” or “assimilate” the remaining population of Native Americans. It was during this period of time that various Indian boarding schools were created. At these schools, the Indian children had to follow strict almost military style discipline. The schools also prohibited the children from speaking their native languages and from practicing their religion. They were not even allowed to visit their families.
To ensure that all Indian children entered these schools, Indian agents traveled from one home to the next on reservations and gathered children as young as the age of five. They “removed” the children from their home and placed them in the boarding schools. Modified types of this practice continued for decades, including in the 1950s, 1960s, and the 1970s.
Many of the Indian children were ultimately removed from their parent’s homes and put in white foster homes. The reason for this was to help and improve their current economic conditions. From the years of 1958 until 1967, both private and public agencies in the U.S. promoted the practice of white families adopting Indian kids. In a response to these types of practices, the leaders of various tribes worked to enact the Indian Child Welfare Act, which prevented the involuntary termination of Native American’s parental rights.
4The Government Controls all Economic Development of Indian Land
Any and all development projects on Native American land has to undergo a review period and receive authorization from the government. This is a process that is notoriously long and tedious. On Indian land, a business or company has to go through at least four different federal agencies and 49 individual steps to acquire a permit for any type of energy development. Off the reservation, this is accomplished in just four steps. This type of bureaucracy helps to prevent tribes from being able to capitalize on the resources they have.
The fact is, many Native Americans have to wait for years to pass prior to receiving the needed approvals when it comes to energy development on Indian-owned lands. This is a process that only takes a few months on private land. At any point, an agency has the option to demand more information or to shut down the development altogether. There are some Native Americans that have waited more than six years to receive the title search report that other people in America can acquire in only a few days.
As a result, many investors avoid development on Indian lands completely. When any type of development occurs, various federal agencies are going to stay involved every step of the way, even going as far as to collect payments on the tribe’s behalf. At this point, the royalties are distributed to the Indians who own the land; however, this money often gets “lost.”
3The Delivery of Small Pox Laden Blankets
The control of the American Indian population began long before “Americans” moved in. In fact, during the time of the French and Indian War, the British delivered blankets to the Indians that had been infected by smallpox. This event occurred in 1763 before the USA was ever formed.
After the French and Indian War, the Native Americans were no longer being ruled by the French (with whom they had become comfortable) and now under British rule. The Native Americans hated the deal they received from the British since they treated the Indians so badly. The goal of the Indians during the war was to restore rule to the French, but in the end, they wanted freedom.
However, since freedom wasn’t an option, and the British gained control, the Indians took action. They began to raid settlements, schools, and towns, killing every “white” person they could find. This is what was referred to as the Pontiac Rebellion. At this time, Lord Jeffrey Amherst concocted the idea to give Indians the blankets that were infected with smallpox.
Due to the blankets and the widespread nature of the disease, thousands of Indians became ill and died. This included many women and children. After this, the Indians also became dependent on the Whites for pellets and gunpowder, which is something they ran out of quickly when hostilities arose.
2Hitchcock vs. Lone Wolf
By the time the 20th century arrived, many Native American people were forcefully removed from their homelands and put on reservations. In 1867 the Medicine Lodge Treaty was created. This appeared to provide tribes some type of say in what occurred regarding the lands that they had been forced to move onto. The treaty stated that in order for reservation land to begin being used for other purposes, a 75 percent majority approval was required by the tribe currently living on the land.
However, in 1900, the government made the decision to parcel the land off that was previously given to the Kiowa-Comanche tribe. The individuals who accepted a certain plot of the land were also given official citizenship. The additional land was also parceled off and sold to anyone who wanted to buy it; however, no approval was sought or given. As a result, leader of the Kiowa tribe, Lone Wolf, filed a lawsuit against the government for the breach of the treaty, but he was unsuccessful.
According to the verdict handed down, Congress had the right to change any prior treaties they needed to because the government retained control over everything that happened on any reservation in the United States. While the case went all the way up to the Supreme Court, the verdict did not falter. As a result, the members of the tribe were then considered “wards of the nation.” Not long after this occurred, more than 50,000 settlers moved into what was considered surplus land on the reservation. The verdict still has not been overturned today and is a valid and active precedent.
1The Hopi Indians who were Sent to Alcatraz
Alcatraz was originally discovered by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 1540s; however, it had been inhabited for more than 10,000 years. When the Spanish came into the area there were approximately 10,000 people living in the Bay Area. According to the tradition, the island was long used for the same reasons it was down the road – isolating individuals who broke laws.
In 1894, the Hopi were in the midst of a rebellion against the various government regulations that had been placed on them. These stated that they had to send their children away from their homes to attend the government-run schools. In an effort to force the parent’s to send children away, it was suggested that law enforcement and the military members go and arrest anyone who did not send their kids. When snows and other bad weather conditions made that impossible, the government interrupted the supply of food and goods.
However, many Hopi still refused to send their children. As a result, 18 tribal leaders were arrested and had to face a trial. When found guilty (which they all were) they were sent to Alcatraz. Those left behind still didn’t comply and those arrested were released a year later. At this point, they continued their peaceful protests against the educational restrictions.
While the Indians were unsuccessful at stopping the development of these educational institutions, they did bring attention to an issue that had gone on for far too long.
There is no question that the United States government has always had somewhat of an uncomfortable relationship with the individuals who lived on the lands prior to the European settlers. While the relationship has improved over time, there is still quite a long way to go and much to make up for. There is no question that in just the last century, there has been an amazingly large amount of horror experienced by the native tribes in America.
While many people automatically think about the Holocaust when thinking about genocide situations, there was one just as bad that occurred on U.S. soil – the genocide of the Native Americans. While the steps that were taken were not immediate, they affected this population none-the-less. As a result, the number of Native Americans in the U.S. fell significantly, and the losses have still not been made up for. From boarding schools, involuntary sterilization, and mass murder, these people had to live through horrific pasts that no person ever wants to face.
Better understanding what went on can help ensure these types of atrocities don’t occur again in the future. Learning from the past is the best way to move forward with a better and brighter future. While there are still amends to make, there is no question the U.S. government has come a long way in regard to how Native Americans are treated and viewed, which speaks leaps and bounds when you consider how the relationship between these people began.