Of course there were specific acts of genocide in North America and South America. Like the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 where the U.S. Army’s Seventh Cavalry committed an atrocity mainly against women and children. Brave army that was. They said it was done in retaliation for the slaughter at the Battle of Little Bighorn where Siouian warriors under the direction of Chief Crazy Horse defeated General George Custer and most of his soldiers. The Battle of Little Bighorn was seen by many as the final military attempted crushing of Aboriginal Independence in the United States, if not North America. As Anthony Hall mentioned in his wonderful book, The American Empire and the 4th World, “At the time of this massacre the Indian population in the area of the present-day United States had been reduced to 200,000 from an estimated pre-Columbian population of between 10 and 20 million.”
As I have said before many of those deaths resulted from hidden biological warfare launched by germs that the European invaders unknowingly carried with them, but others from specific acts like this battle.
Those battles led, in Canada to an oppressive regime of shackling Indigenous peoples, who were not released from them them until after World War II and even then only to some extent. The main instrument of that dominance in Canada was the Indian Act, an infamous federal statute that has been amended many times but is still with us today, which I will blog about soon. I think people who don’t know about the Indian Act will be shocked. Until that law was changed, the indigenous people of Canada were not allowed to organize, for fear of repetition of the violence against the control by Europeans and their descendants.
Whether the word “genocide” or not is used, there is no doubt that the process of transforming indigenous societies by European colonization was a harsh disaster for the Indigenous peoples. As Hall described it,
“…the actual process of transforming some of the richest and most extensive Indian societies on the planet proved catastrophic for the Indigenous peoples. Thus began the world’s most ruthless and sustained episode of ethnic cleansing, one that many believe continues yet. From its earliest stages, this drive aimed to extinguish Aboriginal civilization of the Americas and to replace it with an expanded transatlantic domain for the culture of Europe and for Western civilization.”
If you look at the modern definition of “genocide” now embedded in international law, you will that this clearly qualifies as genocide.
At times the Aboriginals looked to the monarchs of the Old World to staunch the bleeding. At best that met with mixed success. For example in New Spain the Spanish monarch was seen as the only force capable of protecting any Aboriginal rights. However, as Hall said,
“While the Spanish sovereign sporadically placed some checks on the murderous excesses of the Spanish colonists, the interventions of the central authority were generally too weak to moderate significantly the acquisitive zeal that attracted fortune-seeking immigrants from Europe to the New World”
England hardly provided more protection than its Spanish rivals. As Hall said,
“While England’s early colonial enterprises in North America were shrouded in the language of Christian evangelization, a more pressing spur to join in Europe’s transatlantic expansion was the fear that, if action was not quickly taken, Roman Catholic powers, including Portugal and France, would soon monopolize and control the apparently vast wealth of the so-called New World.”
Whether we like it or not, or admit it or not, this history is still with us today. Our society in fact is built on that genocide.