We know that American Indians suffered greatly during the expansion of our country in the mid-1800’s. Author Benjamin Madley actually calls what happened to them “An American Genocide.” Fully aware of the dramatic label he gives their sufferings, he details them and their specific causes in his book by the same name, and will discuss it at an upcoming event on BYU campus. He does so, not necessarily for the purpose of being polemic, but so Americans can be more fully aware of their history even as they condemn other countries for similar crimes.
According to The Nation, Madley writes because “in a world of genocidal violence, claims of American innocence and exceptionalism are dangerous.” His book, which has been talked about in Newsweek, truthdig, The LA Times, and his upcoming discussion will help those desiring to know more about our history as it relates to the American Indian, and what can be done to change things.
An American Genocide
“Accusations of genocide in California are hardly new,” says Richard White of The Nation. “Many historians, anthropologists, and Indian activists have made them, but An American Genocide stands apart for two reasons. First, Madley is interested not just in spectacular crimes, but also in their institutional basis. Second, he doesn’t use the term “genocide” for its shock value; instead, he considers the term carefully before applying it to state and federal policies.” At the lecture, we can expect an educated account of what truly happened in California in the mid-1800’s.
California Indians have pointed out that although the Holocaust and the Rwandan and Armenian Genocides are taught in schools, the massacre of their ancestors is not. Madley is seeking to rectify this: “He argues that what happened to California Indians was, according to the most widely accepted definition of genocide, not all that different from what happened to Jews, Armenians, or Rwandans.”
Dr. Madley is a professor of History at UCLA. Originally from Redding, California, he spent a fair amount of time in Karuk County. The Karuk are a Native American tribe based in Happy Camp, California. From them, Dr. Madley “became interested in the relationship between colonizers and indigenous peoples.” In 2016, the researcher published his book An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873. It won the 2016 Heyday Books History Award. However, that is not all he’s written; he has authored papers as well as book reviews and chapters. Dr. Madley further studies genocide in other countries including Australia and Namibia.
This lecture is part of the annual “William Howard and Hazel Butler Peters Lecture” series. It will be hosted by FHSS’s Charles Redd Center for Western Studies,
Do you think learning from the past can help us change the future?