On genocide and settler colonialism: Walter L. Hixson, ‘Policing the Past: Indian Removal and Genocide Studies’, Western Historical Quarterly, 2016


Excerpt: For scholars Gary Clayton Anderson, John Mack Faragher, and Guenter Lewy, among many others, genocide appears to be a term reserved for Turks, Nazis, Cambodians, Rwandans, and other truly evil peoples but is unsuitable for application to American history.

Anderson has decided that the correct term to apply to the history of American Indian policy is ethnic cleansing, and that the 1998 Rome Statute provides the singularly correct bureaucratic entity to determine such matters. He glosses in passing that “[t]he Rome Statute does not specifically outline the crime of ‘ethnic cleansing,’” his own preferred term. He also incorrectly states that the United States has “accepted” the International Criminal Court; in fact, the United States continues to reject the jurisdiction of the ICC as a matter of state policy.

The historian’s task is to interrogate, frame, and contextualize terminology rather than assert (or dismiss) terms as if the meaning of these representations was precise or self-evident. I heartily concur with Anderson that ethnic cleansing is an excellent term to describe what happened in the colonial encounter. In American Settler Colonialism: A History, I employed it liberally, but I also argued that the United States “pursued a continuous ‘foreign-policy’ of colonial genocide targeting indigenous North Americans.” I added that, through centuries of borderland conflict, Americans “internalized a propensity for traumatic, righteous violence, and a quest for total security, which came to characterize a series of future conflicts.

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