US Indian Policy – Extermination and Assimilation

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U.S. Indian Policy: Extermination and Assimilation
by Glenn Morris

A destructive foreign ethic was introduced into the Americas from Europe in 1492, an ethic that places a premium on competition, private property, and subordination of the environment to human desires. As the United States expanded and invaded more indigenous regions, this European ethic shaped U.S. policy toward Indian peoples. U.S. Indian policy views indigenous Americans, their territorial claims, and their cultural and social practices as impediments to the spread of “true” civilization. While government policy has vacillated between extermination and assimilation, one end has been evident throughout — indigenous practices of communalism, shared land tenure, extended families, and grassroots consensus have been replaced, forcibly if necessary, by Western models of social organization and behavior.1

At various times, policies of extermination and assimilation have been embodied in legislation and regulations to force the removal of indigenous peoples, outlaw traditional spiritual practices, prohibit the speaking of traditional languages, sanction wholesale kidnapping and indoctrination of indigenous children in missionary or government boarding schools hundreds of miles from their communities, destroy indigenous legal and political systems, and undermine the moral and social authority of indigenous societies.

United States colonial policy has had a dramatically negative impact on the consciousness of indigenous peoples in the Americas.2 Many traditional values have been supplanted by techno-industrial beliefs; many indigenous children identify more closely with dominant-culture media personalities than with the messages and heroes of their own indigenous nations.3 The continuing erosion of traditional indigenous values and principles convinced many parents that traditional, indigenous wisdom was anachronistic — of no value in a complex, computer-driven society; so parents often consciously decided not to pass down much of the knowledge of past generations.4 Of course, the indigenous renaissance has done much to influence these negative attitudes, but there is still a long way to go.

As the noted Lakota and American Indian Movement leader Russell Means once observed,

European faith — including the new faith in science — equals a belief that man is God….American Indians know this to be totally absurd….American Indians have been trying to explain this to Europeans for centuries, but…Europeans have proven themselves unable to hear….It is the role of American Indian peoples, the role of all natural beings, to survive. A part of our survival is to resist. We resist not to overthrow a government or to take political power, but because it is natural to resist extermination, to survive. We don’t want power over white institutions, we want those institutions to disappear. That’s revolution….I trust the community and the culturally based vision of all the races that naturally resist industrialization and human extinction.

[Copyright the Fellowship for Intentional Community 1996]


1. Churchill, Ward, and Jim Vander Wall, Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (Boston: South End Press, 1988). Debo, Angie, And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1940, 1989). Eckert, Allan W., A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh (New York: Bantam, 1992). Harding, Sidney L., Crow Dog’s Case: American Indian Sovereignty, Tribal Law, and United States Law in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994). Hoxie, Frederick, A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians 1880Ð1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). Jaimes, Annette, The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization and Resistance (Boston: South End Press, 1992). Matthiessen, Peter, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (New York: Viking Press, 1983, 1992).

2. Denver Post, August 16, 1992, 15A, cites 1990 Census data: American Indians continue to have the lowest family income, the highest unemployment, a poverty rate of 23.7 percent compared to 10.3 percent nationally, and the highest incidence of teenage suicide in the United States.

3. Mander, Jerry, In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1991), examines the connection between the spread of the techno-industrial world view and the destruction of indigenous peoples. Churchill, Ward, “Another Dry White Season,” Bloomsbury Review (April/May 1992), critiques Mander from an indigenous viewpoint. Adams, Michael, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology and Ideologies of Western Dominance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989).

4. Prucha, Francis Paul, editor, Americanizing the American Indian: Writings by `Friends of the Indians,’ 1865Ð1900 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973). Weyler, Rex, Blood of the Land: The Government and Corporate War Against the American Indian Movement (New York: Everest House, 1984).

5. Means, Russell, “Fighting Words on the Future of the Earth,” Mother Jones (December, 1980), 22, reprinted as “The Same Old Song,” in Ward Churchill’s Marxism and Native Americans (Boston: South End Press, 1983).