Instructor: Phil Nelson
Native American Genocide Genocide, a term forged from the Greek word ‘genos’ meaning “race, people” and the Latin word ‘cidere’, which means “to kill”, was first coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent in his work about the Nazi occupation of Europe. Ever since, the word has become ubiquitous and used without fail to describe and define the gravest and the most horrific of crimes committed against humanity. The United Nation General Assembly reinforced the word, providing a definition to the world by adopting the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) in 1948. The CPPCG defined genocide as− “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 CPPCG definition encases well-known devastations such as the Holocaust of the Jews, Rwanda genocide, the Killing fields in Cambodia, the Sri Lanka civil war, Darfur, and many others; however, many more events of genocide have lost their spotlight and almost faded into the pages of history. Close to home, or more accurately, at home in America, the systematic loss of the Native American population since the arrival of the European settlers also meets the definition of genocide.
The forceful occupation, invasion, removal, and killing of thousands, if not millions of the native population through direct violence or indirect introduction of new pathogens, reverberates in the long pages of American history. This horrific genocide of the Native Americans entangles deceit, harm, treachery, and destruction, starting from the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the shores of America and continuing with numerous “Indian Removal Acts”, across the Trail of Tears and massacres of various Native tribes; all resulting in a cumulative destruction and encroachment of their culture, way-of-life, religion, ownership of land, and irrecoverable depopulation. The discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus and his voyages from 1492 to 1502 A.D led to the establishment of a permanent contact of the American continents to the European civilization. As the first explorers settled into the ‘New World’, they brought with them disease and pathogens never encountered by the Natives. The immunity lacking native population rapidly succumbed to diseases such as small pox, measles, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, cholera, etc. often with a mortality of up to 50% in most tribes. The diseases brought by the Europeans are not easily tracked due to poor record keeping, however, there is a general consensus that small pox was one of the most lethal diseases for the Native population. Aside from the unintentional inoculation of the Native people in America, there have been deliberate attempts by the Europeans to spread illness in the form of biological warfare. During the French and Indian War, European commanders suggested that the spread of small pox to the Natives would be beneficial to them. While small pox contaminated blankets and handkerchiefs were given to Natives in hopes of spreading the disease. Although, there are debates on the availability of sufficient evidence on the use of biological warfare by the Europeans, there is little doubt that the arrival of the Europeans brought with them disease that caused unprecedented depopulation of the Native Americans. Amidst the ongoing pain caused by epidemic after epidemic of horrific and fatal diseases, the Native Americans were