The European colonization of North America is among the most significant world history events. A few centuries after colonizers’ first encounter with North America’s indigenous inhabitants, the interpretation of colonizers’ attitudes to Native Americans still promotes debates. Some scholars even refuse to regard colonization as an act of genocide. This paper argues that the colonization of America can be classified as the genocide of Native Americans as it features the goals of destroying the group, replacing it with new settlers, or causing health deficiencies.
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Despite disagreements regarding the colonizers’ actual and explicitly voiced intentions concerning the indigenous population, the colonization meets the definition of genocide for the most part. The United Nations defines this term as the acts of violence performed “with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, or religious group” (qtd. in Healey and Stepnick 265). The definition extends beyond killing, and genocides might involve the establishment of various conditions to disrupt specific groups’ consciousness, mental well-being, and access to resources. The facts of settler-colonialism taking place during the colonization era are widely acknowledged as a clear manifestation of genocide (Cameron and Phan 26). Drawing the line between the goals of physically destroying the nation or replacing the indigenous population might be unnecessary as both options cannot exist without unbearable losses for the target group.
Aside from killings, for instance, the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, the colonizers made certain efforts to reduce the vulnerable group’s ability to reproduce and stay healthy. These include well-thought strategies that would cause enormous harm to the indigenous population without affecting the colonizers. Smallpox epidemics deliberately organized by the colonizers are an example of such strategies (Healey and Stepnick 265). Initially required to gain more access to the territory, biological warfare was applied to instrumentalize Native Americans’ unique community health history, including the lack of immunity against previously unknown diseases. Alcohol addiction is rather common in the descendants of the colonized indigenous peoples (Cameron and Phan 25). These issues are sometimes traced back to European colonizers’ contributions to making social drinking and alcohol consumption outside of specific ceremonies popular among Native American tribes through trade and natural exchange activities. Therefore, efforts to affect Native Americans’ health as a group could lend credibility to the genocide hypothesis.
Genocide involves the manifestation of unambiguous contempt for the target group, and some colonizers’ disagreement with the use of violent methods does not remove the systemic harmful effects of their counterparts’ actions. Certain colonizers, for instance, John Chivington and his troops, were explicit about their desire to eliminate Indigenous Americans (Healey and Stepnick 266). That degree of contempt led to the killing of hundreds of peaceful people at Sand Creek, including the most defenseless categories, such as children and the elderly (Healey and Stepnick 266). Other colonizers could see such attitudes as absolutely inhumane and inappropriate. However, since nothing was done to prevent that mass killing and suppress or at least reduce the anti-Indigenous moods, the other colonizers’ sincerity of intentions can also be open for discussion.
To sum up, colonization can be termed an act of genocide due to the presence of the intent to destroy the group through mass murder. Efforts to influence Native Americans’ physical well-being through indirect approaches also deserve attention in defining colonization’s historical status. Settler colonization has much in common with genocide and perpetuates the latter. Also, the existence of colonizers that did not want explicit violence did not undermine the destructive effects of interactions with Europeans on Native Americans.
Cameron, Susan Chavez, and Loan T. Phan. “Ten Stages of American Indian Genocide.” Revista Interamericana de Psicología, vol. 52, no. 1, 2018, pp. 25-44. Web.
Healey, Joseph F., and Andi Stepnick. Diversity and Society: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender. 6th ed., Sage Publications, 2020.
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