The Native American Genocide And Its Legacy Of Oppression Today

Published November 21, 2016
Updated August 14, 2018

Was the systematic destruction of indigenous people in North America history's worst genocide?

Native American Genocide

Library of CongressU.S. soldiers bury Native American corpses in a mass grave following the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, 1891.

The recent controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline has once again turned the eyes of the world toward issues that continue to plague Native Americans.

In July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted approval for a $3.7 billion pipeline that will send oil from North Dakota deposits down to Illinois, where it can then be sent to markets in the Midwest, East Coast, and Gulf Coast.

Many Native Americans believe that the project will trample their lands and spell environmental disaster, hence their demonstrations. Of course, the protracted unrest is about more than the pipeline itself.

It’s about systems of oppression that for centuries worked to wipe out Native American populations and acquire their territorial holdings by force.

Thus to fully comprehend the current struggle between Native Americans and the U.S. government, it is first important to learn the history and scope of the Native American genocide that the U.S. government carried out for centuries.

Was It Genocide?

In the succinct words of historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, “genocide was the inherent overall policy of the United States from its founding.”

And if we consider the United Nations’ definition of genocide authoritative, Dunbar-Ortiz’ assertion bears out. The U.N. defines 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: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Given the fact that, among other things, the colonists and the U.S. government perpetrated warfare, mass killings, destruction of cultural practices and separation of children from parents to prohibit Native American tribes from carrying on, it becomes clear that many of the actions taken against the Native Americans were genocidal.

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