The First American Genocide

Frances Charles, chairwoman of the Lower Elwha Klallam
Tribe, counts cedar boxes holding tribal ancestors’ remains unearthed
by work in
connection with reconstruction of the Hood Canal Bridge, a state Department
of Transportation project. STEVE RINGMAN PHOTO

SEATTLE – If it had been only one skeleton,
the project would have continued. Even a few dozen skeletons might
not have been enough to persuade Washington state officials to abandon
$283 million bridge-repair project along the Strait of Juan de Fuca,
about 65 miles northwest of here.

But what construction workers stumbled upon went beyond anything
ever found in the Pacific Northwest: an ancient Indian village dating
back 17 centuries, with lodges, dance halls, and cemeteries containing
of skeletal remains. Nearly 300 complete skeletons have been unearthed,
many of them buried in clusters, including entire extended families.

Men and women lay in ritual embrace. Infants were buried
with mothers, the young and the old lay side by side, as many as 11 in
a grouping.

”This is just the tip. There could be thousands of people buried there," said
David Rice, a senior archeologist for the Army Corps of Engineers in
Seattle, who characterized the site as potentially the largest prehistoric
and burial grounds ever found in the United States.

The arrival of Europeans in the late 1700s and early 1800s marked the beginning
of a devastating decline for the region’s Indians. Smallpox and other
European diseases wiped out 90 percent of the native population, scientists
say. Rice thinks the mass graves at Tse-whit-zen resulted from these

If there were a Hall of Fame for Genocide, the European
extermination of the American Indians would surely have a featured
spot. Although impossible to accurately rank human genocide in terms
of total dead, anthropologists agree that the indigenous population
of the area which now holds the United States at the time of contact
(1492) was between 10 and 15 million. In an almost teutonic display
of efficiency, 400 years later there were fewer
than 300,000 left.

In the Latin regions of America, although genetic
intermingling made extermination problematic, ethnicide was employed
as a non-lethal sidekick to partial genocide. In both North and South,
the dominant cultures have escaped full responsibility for the ‘cides
due to the inadvertent collaboration of nature.

Without genetic or acquired resistance to old European
favorites like smallpox and syphilis, the Indians were decimated by
disease and dropping like flies before the invading Christians ever
laid a baptizing hand on their heads.

The diseases spread like wildfire, crossing both continents
in a death march that made the European Black Plague look like a mild
flu season. 60-90% fatality rates were common, complex societies fell
apart, survivors wandered and reverted to savagery. Between the time
Columbus’s crew hit the beaches of Atlantic South
when Pizarro
40 years
later the diseases had beaten him to the punch. The Inca Empire was
dying from exotic European diseases, explaining in large part how 200
pestilent Spanish thugs could conquer an advanced civilization with
of inhabitants.

These bodies in Washington represent direct physical
evidence of the greatest genocide this hemisphere has ever seen.  It
will be interesting to see how this story develops, and we will try
to keep
an eye on it.

from the Boston Globe

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