- On Demography and Genocide
The 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defined 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:
a. killing members of the group;
b. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.—United Nations General Assembly, 9 December 1948, Assembly Resolution 260, Article II. (See also Article III.)
It is only relatively recently that “genocide” has been used to describe what happened to Native Americans, and determined efforts to end the term’s usage in this regard are a testament to the power of the term. The three volumes considered here address whether the history of American Indians north of Mexico may be called genocide. They do so in different ways and come to various conclusions. [End Page 210]
Alvarez treats American Indian decimation following circa 1492 as genocide, including what happened to the Aztecs and Incas. The book is “an attempt to present a more evenhanded account and objective discussion” of genocide and its subtleties and complexities (p. 7). It is not new scholarship but an overview of what is written. Emphasis is on the Southwest and California. Alvarez attempts to provide context by briefly discussing created images of American Indians. There is significant discussion of the concept of genocide, including cultural genocide, where special attention is directed to “education for assimilation.” This discussion is valuable and is Alvarez’s real contribution, as he offers a well-reasoned examination of genocide and the effects of colonialism on the American Indian population. His presentation of American Indian history is a lesser contribution. He relies on familiar examples to make his points, e.g., the Pequot War, the Long Walk, the gold rush in California; however, he provides uniqueness by discussing boarding schools.
The book is appropriate for one interested in the broad sweep of American Indian history as possible genocide; it is very suitable for the undergraduate classroom but less so for the graduate one or for scholars. Alvarez’s argument is that genocide in a narrow sense does not describe the whole of American Indian history: the history is more complicated. But there were acts of genocide, especially cultural genocide, a conclusion offered by numerous scholars. What term one uses doesn’t have anything to do with what happened, obviously. What happened was terrible no matter what you call it, as is discussed in his final chapter “What is in a Name?” Contemporary American Indian problems are addressed as well, and are related in part to American Indian victimization, past and present.
The collection edited by Woolford, Benevenuto, and Hinton covers all sorts of events that might be called genocide. There is some emphasis on Canada, including Canadian boarding schools (emphasized in the foreword by Theodore Fontaine, a Sagkeeng Anishinaabe), both of which I was glad to see. The volume emerged from a 2012 Canadian conference on genocide held at the University of Manitoba. Most of the authors—several of whom are American Indian or Metis—are at Canadian universities. Many adhere to the broad concept of genocide as having occurred to one degree or another and consider the term descriptive of some practices and events in North American history.
The introduction, afterword, and two chapters broadly discuss genocide...