The ‘American Holocaust’
The genocide against the indigenous population of the United States of America spanned over four Centuries, beginning with the discovery of the ‘new world’ by the Spanish in 1492 and continuing with the early settlers to that ‘NewWorld’. In 1830 the Indian Removal Act was introduced as US Government policy which sought to ‘relocate’ Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River to the West in order to clear the land for ‘white’ settlers. Much of this land was deemed ‘sacred’ by native peoples with deep religious and spiritual significance. The forced deportation resulted in the well-known ‘Trail of Tears’ and led to the near extinction of the entire Cherokee Nation due to starvation, exhaustion and disease during the long journey. The discovery of gold in the West of the US, subsequent migration and expansion of white settlers, compounded the plight of Native Americans and resulted in further exploitation and loss of life. During this period, the Native American population reduced from a quarter of a million to less than 20,000. The mass hunting by the white man of the American Buffalo, a life source for the Native American, also contributed to their life losses. Compounding the massacres were the US government and church policies, which sought to wipe out traditional Native American values and beliefs and replace them with more American Christian ones. It wasn’t until 1968, through the Indian Civil Rights Act, that Native Americans were accorded tribal sovereignty – the right to govern themselves, define their own membership, manage tribal property, and regulate tribal business and domestic relations.
Some effects of the genocide:
- The estimated 2.5 million Native Americans living in the US continue to suffer from many significant social and economic problems – disproportionate rates of poverty, infant mortality, unemployment, low high-school completion rates, etc.
- The Native American Civil Rights movement continues to struggle for their cultural rights – traditional religious beliefs, preservation of tribal languages, carrying out native social practices; rights to religious freedom, the preservation of tribal sovereignty and treaty rights, etc.