Did the American government commit genocide against the Native American people? That’s the hot topic we will be discussing today in Ms. Green’s class.
We learned about genocide earlier this year, remember? Genocide is the tip-top of the Pyramid of Hate. (This poster is still hanging on our wall, but here’s a reminder for our readers-from-afar). Although the legal definition is very complicated, (and disagreed upon), we defined genocide as “the systematic destruction of a group of people.” During World War II, the Nazis committed genocide against the Jewish people. They killed six million Jews, and tried to destroy their culture as well. The Nazis burned their books and museums. They dehumanized the Jewish people and committed terrible offenses against them. While the Holocaust isn’t the only genocide that’s ever taken place, it is the most studied and discussed genocide in the world.
Americans are quick to look at the atrocities of the Holocaust and to say, “never again!” But are we, as Americans, willing to look at our own history with such a critical lens? Are we willing to look at the wrongs we have committed here inside our own country? While all of America might not be ready for this hard conversation, here in the 5th grade, we certainly are.
Here is the legal definition of genocide (it’s okay if you don’t understand it all, but read it a few times and see if you can try to get the gist of it):
Genocide is defined in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) 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: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part ; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Whoa. So what are the important parts of this definition? Here’s what stuck out to me:
- targeting a specific group of people
- killing members of the group
- causing serious harm to members of the group
- preventing births
- transferring children out of the group
Are these the things we did to the native people groups?
Let’s watch the following Ted Talk to get some more insight. This talk is by Aaron Huey, who has worked with the Lakota people for many years.
Whoa. Huey presents some pretty convincing arguments. What are your thoughts? Take a minute to reflect on this video.
We are now going to continue to examine this debate through art. Take a look at the following images, and follow along on your paper.
This famous painting from 1872 is titled, “American Progress”
First, I want to turn our attention to this painting. This painting is very famous, and is the painting the state of Texas requires me to teach fifth graders about. What do you notice in this painting? What colors are used? Who are the people? What is the difference between the left side of the painting and the right? Who does the angel represent? Do you think the artist behind this painting would classify this as genocide? Why do you think this painting is the one Texas wants fifth graders to see?
The following graphics and paintings are lesser known works of art. Choose a few, and answer the following questions:
- Describe what you see in the image. What does it look like? What’s happening? What do the words say?
- When do you think this image was created?
- What statement is the artist making?
- Would this artist agree that the destruction of native people was genocide?
- Do you agree or disagree with this artist?
If you finish analyzing the artwork, here are two articles you might be interested in reading:
This article says, “When the term “genocide” is uttered in mainstream school environments, it usually refers to the Jewish Holocaust.. But in many US classrooms, the United States is left out of the list of countries where genocide has occurred. And so, when the College Board decided in 2012 (1) that high school students taking Advanced Placement US history should learn about the American Indian genocide – and other events in our history that do not support the notion that ours is a country where peace, justice and the so-called “American way” have always prevailed – the uproar could be heard [around the world]”
Celebrating the Genocide of Native Americans, by Gilbert Mercier
This article claims, “When Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas in 1492, on his quest for gold and silver, the Native population, which he erroneously called Indians, numbered an estimated 15 million who lived north of current day Mexico. It was, by all considerations, a thriving civilization. Three hundred and fifty years later, the Native American population north of Mexico would be reduced to less than a million. This genocide was brought upon the Natives by systematic mass murder and also by disease, notably smallpox, spread by the European colonists.”
Thank you, as always, for being brave enough to have the conversations adults are afraid to have. I am so very proud of you, my courageous changemakers and peacemakers.