When digging deeper into American history and learning about what happened to Native American Indian populations brings extremely dark and unpleasant facts surrounding America’s foundation to the surface. These facts are often used to help undermine the commonly held belief that America is a great nation founded on moral principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is undeniable that Europeans committed many atrocities against the American Indians. This has led some to raise questions of genocide and ultimately charge Europeans for committing it. It is made clear that these allegations are extremely far-fetched following a close examination of the term “genocide” along with historical facts concerning both the relationships between Europeans and Indians along with the causes of death for American Indians. While it is undeniable that the coming of European settlers to the Americas brought about death as destruction for native populations, charging European settlers with genocide against Native Americans is misguided.
Although the exact numbers are difficult to determine, it is an accepted fact that the population of American Indians’ has declined immensely with the coming of the Europeans to the Americas; however, this does not mean that Europeans committed genocide in America. Early 20th century scholars have estimated there to have been approximately 1 million Indians living in present day America and Canada prior to the coming of European settlers; however, recently scholars likely favoring the allegations of genocide have labeled these previous estimates as “low-counts” and pushed the numbers up settling on a “middle-ground” estimate of 5 million, which is still a fivefold increase over the early estimates (Taylor 40). These numbers are difficult to determine due to a lack of evidence and are highly speculative; however, there is no denying the massive decline in their population following European settlement and this is a widely accepted fact. The massive decline in the Indian population following European contact has become the primary reason for allegations of genocide to be made. Although historians’ estimates vary greatly, there is much agreement on the causes of death which is important information in assessing the allegations of genocide. Jared Diamond, a UCLA professor states that “diseases introduced with Europeans spread from tribe to tribe far in advance of the Europeans themselves killing an estimated 95% of the pre-Columbian Native American population (Diamond 78). These figures help put things into perspective and show that regardless of how many deaths actually occurred, nearly all of the deaths were unintentional and not caused by genocidal action.
There have been claims made that assert that Europeans were involved in biological warfare and intentionally spread the disease through the distribution of small-pox infected blankets. This is a story often told to try to blame Europeans for causing the disease ultimately making them responsible for genocide; however, these claims are extremely inconclusive and are