Mistreatment and killing of Native Americans continued for centuries, in every area of the Americas, including the areas that would become Canada, the United States. In the United States and Canada, federal policy, residential schools, the American Indian Wars, and the doctrine of manifest destiny contributed to genocide.
Despite the long history and enormity of the subject, the number of courses on comparative genocide remains small. It is our belief that educating about genocide not only enhances causal explanation and understanding but will help to create individuals I societies committed to detect and prevent future genocidal atrocities.
Between 1846 and 1873, California's Indian population plunged from perhaps 150,000 to 30,000. Benjamin Madley is the first historian to uncover the full extent of the slaughter, the involvement of state and federal officials, the taxpayer dollars that supported the violence, indigenous resistance, who did the killing, and why the killings ended.
During the past century, researchers have learned a great deal about the nature and
scope of what Russell Thornton has called the demographic collapse of the Indigenous
population in the Western Hemisphere after 1492. As David Stannard has explained, the almost inconceivable number of deaths caused by the invasion and conquest of these lands by Europeans and their descendants constitute “the worst human holocaust the world had ever witnessed.”
To a significant extent, disagreements about the pervasiveness of genocide in the history of the post-Columbian Western Hemisphere, in general, and U.S. history, in particular, pivot on definitions of genocide. Conservative definitions emphasize intentional actions and policies of governments that result in very large population losses, usually from direct killing. More liberal definitions call for less stringent criteria for intent, focusing more on outcomes.
Why are some genocides prominently remembered while others are ignored, hidden, or denied? Consider the Turkish campaign denying the Armenian genocide, followed by the Armenian movement to recognize the violence. Similar movements are building to acknowledge other genocides that have long remained out of sight in the media, such as those against the Circassians, Greeks, Assyrians, the indigenous peoples in the Americas and Australia, and the violence that was the precursor to and the aftermath of the Holocaust.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Euro-American citizenry of California carried out mass genocide against the Native population of their state, using the processes and mechanisms of democracy to secure land and resources for themselves and their private interests. The murder, rape, and enslavement of thousands of Native people were legitimized by notions of democracy--in this case mob rule--through a discreetly organized and brutally effective series of petitions, referenda, town hall meetings, and votes at every level of California government.