The issues of genocide and the American Indian history has been a contentious issue, with many historians and writers looking at the massive depopulation of the indigenous populations of the Americans after 1492, and terming it as a clear-cut case of genocide. On the other hand, we have those historians and researchers who hold the notion that European and U.S. actions towards the Indians were disgraceful but they were hardly genocidal. Which has brought up the apparent contention that there is the issue of the claim based on the definition and understanding of the term genocide? Conservative definition of the term genocide has emphasized on the intentional actions and policies developed by governments after that resulting in significant population losses most as a result of the direct killing.
Other definitions do not necessarily look at direct involvement by states authorities but also focus on societal forces and actors, and allow for various forces destruction including dispossession and disease (Bailyn 3). Therefore, in resolving the issue of genocide in American Indian history, then it is critical to recognize the European and U.S. settler colonial project utilized enormously destructive forces on the Native populations.
Considering the definitions raised on what is genocide especially the societal forces of destruction that included the dispossession, that was part of the massive destructive forces unleashed on the indigenous Americans and communities, and then it would be safe to agree that genocide was perpetrated on the native populations by the European settlers. The genocide was characterized by violence that resulted from the expansion of the immigrant, inter-tribal violence that was frequently worsened by the colonial intrusions, the factor of enslavement especially on the black African slaves, disease, loss of land and resources, assault of tribal religion, culture and language. Of course, the magnitudes of these actions varied considerably in different times and places according to the goals of the particular colonial project being undertaken and the capacity held by the institution or colonial society perusing the specific interests. Besides, the willingness of the native communities to stage a resistance towards the imperial progress was also a determining factor of which they did not give up anything easily.
Focusing on the point of the initial contact between the Europeans and Native communities, the catastrophic impact of the European disease especially smallpox and measles, which the indigenous communities had not acquired immunity until the 1960s, the diseases contributed a massive loss of lives. Considering these devastating epidemics were brought to the native populations by the settlers acting as a force of destruction, then it could be right to say a genocide was perpetrated on the local American natives. There have been high estimates of the pre-Columbian population and a conforming very high figure in the initial depopulation. Nonetheless, the notion of the genocide has tried to be countered with the argument that the Europeans who brought the pathogens to the western hemisphere did not have the ill intentions of killing the local indigenous communities, thus supporting the “no” argument of the debate.
With an emphasis on the destructive forces imposed on the local people by the settlers, in their expedition quest, as their goal was not to kill the Indians but rather to acquire gold, and they did that. Nonetheless, take an example of the Spaniards, they needed Indian knowledge and labor to purchase the gold, as such, they ended up using violence to secure the native people and kept them in chains. There were even bets by the Spaniards as to who would slit a man into two or cut off his head with just a single blow. Considering this barbaric acts, then they do suggest the prevalence of genocide mentality, with the expansion leader looking at violence as an essential tool to facilitate their expansion and exploration goals (Paust 23).To be able to maintain slavery, these companies often wedged wars on the natives not with the sole purpose of killing every single Indian since they needed them to work, and only had the intention of impacting terror and fear. As such, considering these actions of forces destruction that also included rape, then yes, genocide was perpetrated on the Native Americans
The Native American communities were also perpetuated genocide on them through the different wars, such as the Pequot War that was a result of the colonial expansion claiming the lives of many native communities defending their land (Quinn 9). It might be argued that the colonialist did not kill all Pequot and only killed a substantial number, which included none combatants, including their legal declaration of national extinction, can constitute to genocide in various forms of the defining the term genocide.
In conclusion, the native Americas were subjected to genocide considering the different activities that amount to being classified as conducts of genocide towards a particular group of people. The critical evidence thus lay in the introduction of disease, enslaving the local, grabbing their land, war, rape, demeaning their culture and religion among other conducts, so yes, the Native Americans have perpetrated the act of genocide.
Bailyn, Bernard. The peopling of British North America: an introduction. Vintage, 2011.
Paust, Jordan L., et al. International criminal law. Durham NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2000.
Quinn, Riley. Guns, Germs & Steel: The Fate of Human Societies. Macat Library, 2017.