The population of North America prior to the first sustained European contact in 1492 CE is a matter of active debate. Various estimates of the pre-contact Native population of the continental U.S. and Canada range from 1.8 to over 12 million. 4 Over the next four centuries, their numbers were reduced to about 237,000 as Natives were almost wiped out. Author Carmen Bernand estimates that the Native population of what is now Mexico was reduced from 30 million to only 3 million over four decades. 13 Peter Montague estimates that Europeans once ruled over 100 million Natives throughout the Americas.
European extermination of Natives started with Christopher Columbus' arrival in San Salvador in 1492. Native population dropped dramatically over the next few decades. Some were directly murdered by Europeans. Others died indirectly as a result of contact with introduced diseases for which they had no resistance -- mainly smallpox, influenza, and measles.
Later European Christian invaders systematically murdered additional Aboriginal people, from the Canadian Arctic to South America. They used warfare, death marches, forced relocation to barren lands, destruction of their main food supply -- the Buffalo -- and poisoning. Some Europeans actually shot at Indians for target practice. 14
Oppression continued into the 20th century, through actions by governments and religious organizations which systematically destroyed Native culture and religious heritage. One present-day byproduct of this oppression is suicide. Today, Canadian Natives have the highest suicide rate of any identifiable population group in the world. Native North Americans are not far behind.
The genocide against American Natives was one of the most massive, and longest lasting genocidal campaigns in human history. It started, like all genocides, with the oppressor treating the victims as sub-humans. It continued until almost all Natives were wiped of the face of the earth, along with much of their language, culture and religion.
We believe that:
The following essay contains only a small sampling of the horrendous atrocities inflicted on Natives by Europeans.
"Christopher Columbus has been a genuine American hero since at least 1792 when the Society of St. Tammany in New York City first held a dinner to honor the man and his deeds." Columbus Day has been celebrated as a national holiday since 1934 in honor of this dedicated and courageous explorer. Unfortunately, his character had a dark side.
Columbus described the Arawaks -- the Native people in the West Indies -- as timid, artless, free, and generous. He rewarded them with death and slavery. For his second voyage to the Americas:
"Columbus took the title 'Admiral of the Ocean Sea' and proceeded to unleash a reign of terror unlike anything seen before or since. When he was finished, eight million Arawaks -- virtually the entire native population of Hispaniola -- had been exterminated by torture, murder, forced labor, starvation, disease and despair." 1
A Spanish missionary, Bartolome de las Casas, described eye-witness accounts of mass murder, torture and rape. 2 Author Barry Lopez, summarizing Las Casas' report wrote:
"One day, in front of Las Casas, the Spanish dismembered, beheaded, or raped 3000 people. 'Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight,' he says, 'as no age can parallel....' The Spanish cut off the legs of children who ran from them. They poured people full of boiling soap. They made bets as to who, with one sweep of his sword, could cut a person in half. They loosed dogs that 'devoured an Indian like a hog, at first sight, in less than a moment.' They used nursing infants for dog food." 3
The Spaniards eventually went on to conquer Mexico and the southern U.S.
The British occupied areas from Virginia northward. Hans Koning wrote:
"From the beginning, the Spaniards saw the native Americans as natural slaves, beasts of burden, part of the loot. When working them to death was more economical than treating them somewhat humanely, they worked them to death. The English, on the other hand, had no use for the native peoples. They saw them as devil worshippers, savages who were beyond salvation by the church, and exterminating them increasingly became accepted policy." 5
David E. Stannard wrote:
"Hundreds of Indians were killed in skirmish after skirmish. Other hundreds were killed in successful plots of mass poisoning. They were hunted down by dogs, 'blood-Hounds to draw after them, and Mastives [mastiffs] to seize them.' Their canoes and fishing weirs were smashed, their villages and agricultural fields burned to the ground. Indian peace offers were accepted by the English only until their prisoners were returned; then, having lulled the natives into false security, the colonists returned to the attack. It was the colonists' expressed desire that the Indians be exterminated, rooted 'out from being longer a people upon the face of the earth.' In a single raid the settlers destroyed corn sufficient to feed four thousand people for a year. Starvation and the massacre of non-combatants was becoming the preferred British approach to dealing with the natives." 4
In the early 18th century, the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey promoted a genocide of their local Natives by imposing a "scalp bounty" on dead Indians. "In 1703, Massachusetts paid 12 pounds for an Indian scalp. By 1723 the price had soared to 100 pounds." 10 Ward Churchill wrote: "Indeed, in many areas it [murdering Indians] became an outright business." 6 This practice of paying a bounty for Indian scalps continued into the 19th century before the public put an end to the practice. 10
In the 18th century, George
Washington compared them to wolves, "beasts of prey" and called
for their total destruction. 4 In 1814, Andrew Jackson "supervised
the mutilation of 800 or more Creek Indian corpses" that his troops had
Extermination of all of the surviving natives was urged by the Governor of California officially in 1851. 4 An editorial from the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, CO in 1863; and from the Santa Fe New Mexican in 1863 expressed the same sentiment. 6 In 1867, General William Tecumseh Sherman said, "We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux [Lakotas] even to their extermination: men, women and children." 6
In 1848, before the gold rush in California, that state's native population is estimated to have been 150,000. In 1870, after the gold rush, only about 31,000 were still alive. "Over 60 percent of these indigenous people died from disease introduced by hundreds of thousands of so-called 49ers. However, local tribes were also systematically chased off their lands, marched to missions and reservations, enslaved and brutally massacred." 12 The price paid for a native scalp had dropped as low as $0.25. Native historian, Jack Forbes, wrote:
"The bulk of California's Indians were conquered, and died, in innumerable little episodes rather than in large campaigns. it serves to indict not a group of cruel leaders, or a few squads of rough soldiers, but in effect, an entire people; for ...the conquest of the Native Californian was above all else a popular, mass, enterprise." 11