There is much written concerning the Jewish Holocaust during World War II, when an estimated six million Jews were slaughtered or died from the elements and starvation, and there is much written concerning the African slave trade and the horrors surrounding the practice of slavery in America. However, little is written or even acknowledged concerning the genocide by the Europeans of the Native American people.
The term "genocide" derives from the Latin "genos," race or tribe, and "cide," killing, and means literally the killing or murder of an entire tribe or people (Genocide pp). The Oxford English Dictionary defines genocide as "the deliberate and systematic extermination of an ethnic or national group," and cites the first usage of the term as R. Lemkin's 1944 Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, "by genocide we mean the destruction of a nation or an ethnic group" (Genocide pp). In 1946, the United Nations General Assembly adopted this term and defended it as "a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups" (Genocide pp).
Twenty-one years after Christopher Columbus first landed on the Caribbean island he named Hispaniola, some eight million native people, he chose to call Indians, had been killed (Stannard pp). And this was only the beginning, for within a mere few generations, the Europeans had exterminated all but a handful of the Western Hemisphere's native peoples (Stannard pp). For years historical demographers have been uncovering, in region upon region, "post-Columbian depopulation rates of between 90 to 98% with such regularity that an overall decline of 95% has become a working rule of thumb" (Stannard pp). To put this in perspective, the ratio of native survivorship in the Americas following European contact was less than half of what the survivorship ratio would be in the U.S. today if every single white person and every single back person died (Stannard pp). By far, the extermination of the Native American was the most "massive act of genocide in the history of the world" (Stannard pp).
By 1496, the native population of Hispaniola had dropped from eight million to four million, and by 1508, it had fallen to less than a hundred thousand, and a decade later in 1518, there were less than twenty thousand left, and according to leading scholars, by 1535, "for all practical purposes, the native population was extinct" (Stannard pp). It had taken less than the normal life span of a human being, to exterminate an entire culture of people, millions in number and thousands of years resident in their homeland (Stannard pp). This same fate fell to the native peoples on the surrounding islands and well as the mainland of the Americas (Stannard pp).
Ironically, Columbus had written back to the King and Queen of Spain:
So tractable, so peaceable, are these people,' [referring to the Tainos on the island of San Salvador, so was named by Columbus], 'that I swear to your Majesties there is not in the world a better nation. They love their neighbors as themselves, and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle, and accompanied with a smile; and though it is true that they are naked, yet their manners are decorous and praiseworthy (Massacre pp).
Yet rather ominously, he wrote in his journal, "I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased" (Genocide-I pp). And he did.
Of all the horrific genocides that have occurred in the twentieth century none has come close to destroying so many -- in such great a proportion - of wholly innocent people (Stannard pp).
The gratuitous killing of the native people throughout the Caribbean and the Americas by the Spanish soldiers amounted no nothing less than outright sadism (Stannard pp). There are numerous accounts of Indians being led into mines, chained together at the neck and decapitated if they faltered, and of women routinely having their breasts cut off and heavy gourds tied to their feet before being tossed into the lakes (Stannard pp). Babies were taken from their mothers' breasts, killed and then left as roadside markers, and it was common practice to cut off arms, legs, hips, and heads with one stroke, like butchers cutting up meat for market (Stannard pp). Moreover, the conquistadors and padres routinely took children from their parents in order to feed their dogs and other animals (Stannard pp).
Within seventy-five years following the Europeans' first appearance, the overall population in central Mexico fell by 95%, from more than 25, 000,000 in 1519, to barely 1,000,000 in 1595 (Stannard pp). Within a century following their first encounter with the Spanish, the Andean society as a whole fell 96%, "along their 2,000 miles of coastline, where once 6, 500,000 people had lived, everyone was dead" (Stannard pp).
Between 1852 and 1860, under American supervision, the native population of California collapsed by 60%, this within eight years of the first gubernatorial demands for the Indians' extermination, and by 1890, 80% of the native population had been "wiped out by an official policy of genocide," leaving fewer than 18,000 still living (Stannard pp). And the number continued to drop, and as one observer from the mid-1800's reported of the white assault on the natives, that they were "shooting them down like wolves, men, women, and children, wherever they could find them ... And is gradually and surely tending to the final and utter extinction of the race" (Stannard pp). In approximately a century, 98% of the native Californians had been exterminated, and nationwide, only about one-third of one percent of America's population were natives (Stannard pp). Roaring across two continents, the worst human holocaust in the history of the world had claimed countless tens of millions of people, and now had finally leveled off, because now, "there was, at last, almost no one left to kill" (Stannard pp).
From the 1490's to the 1890's, Europeans and white Americans engaged in a continuous string of genocide campaigns against the native people, leaving the total extermination is estimated at 100,000,000, although many estimate that the total number was much greater (Stannard pp).
By the end of the sixteenth century, bullion, mostly silver, made up more than 95% of all exports leaving Spanish America for Europe, the and same percentage of native peoples had been exterminated in the process (Stannard pp). In 1492, the number of indigenous people in the Caribbean and Meso and South America, equaled at least that of all Europe, including Russia, and a century later it barely equaled that of England (Stannard pp). Entire cultures, rich, elaborate and ancient, had been erased from the face of the earth (Stannard pp).
David Stannard writes in his book, American Holocaust, that never before in Christian history "had the idea that humankind was naturally corrupt and debased reached and influenced the daily lives of a larger proportion of the lay community than during New England's seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries" (Stannard pp). From the first days of settlement, the British colonists repeatedly expressed enormous feat that they would be "contaminated" by the presence of the Indians (Stannard pp). In fact, less than a decade after the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, it was made illegal to "shoot off a gun on any unnecessary occasion, or at any game except an Indian or a wolf" (Stannard pp).
Thomas Jefferson, in the pursuit of the grand visions for American, wrote that of the remaining natives left, the government was obliged "now to pursue them to extermination, or drive them to new seats beyond our reach" (Stannard pp). In truth, most Americans considered the native peoples little more than dangerous wolves, and perhaps no one said it more plainly than Andrew Jackson when he urged troops to root out from their "dens" and kill Indian women and their "whelps" (Stannard pp). In his second annual message to Congress, Jackson added that although some people tended to grow "melancholy" over the Indians' being driven by whites to their "tomb," and understanding of "true philanthropy reconciles the mind to these vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make room for another" (Stannard pp). In 1855, famed Harvard physician and social commentator Oliver Wendell Holmes remarked that Indians were nothing more than a "half-filled outline of humanity" whose "extermination" was the necessary "solution of the problem of his relation to the white race" (Stannard pp). President Theodore Roosevelt said that the extermination of the natives and the expropriation of their lands, "was as ultimately beneficial as it was inevitable ... sure to come when a masterful people ... finds itself face-to-face with the weaker" (Stannard pp). Roosevelt, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, also remarked that "I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine or of ten are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth" (Stannard pp).
The Indian Removal Act, passed in 1830, empowered the government to…