Five Excuses Europeans used to Colonize the Americas, June 2021

Information for this post was gathered from the book American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World by David Stannard, published in 1992.
In the words of Billy Ray Belcourt (2015), this post would also like to call “for both the destruction of the settler state and a repatriation of land to Indigenous communities.”
It is further acknowledged that this post was written on the occupied ancestral, traditional, and contemporary Lands of the Anishinaabeg—Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples, stolen in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw.
Reference: Belcourt, B. R. (2015). Animal bodies, colonial subjects:(Re) locating animality in decolonial thought. Societies5(1), 1-11.

  1. There weren’t many people living there anyway, and those who did live there “misused” the land.
    Saying that there weren’t many people living in the Americas allowed Europeans to underestimate the number of natives killed. Denials of massive death counts is common for at least two primary reasons. One, it protects the moral reputations of the people and nation(s) committing atrocities. Two, it also serves to justify continued racist initiatives upon peoples who have been and are victims of genocide. Presumably these reasons create a (false) discourse of violent action being continued because it isn’t adding much to a situation that already “isn’t that bad.” In short, regardless of whatever the precise number may be, a solid 95% of the native people in an entire hemisphere were killed between 1490 and 1890, and continues today.
  2. The natives were “uncivilized,” and had little to no culture
    Completely untrue. Native peoples and had a rich and diverse culture consisting of copious amounts of art (that even impressed many famous European artists for centuries), spectacular metropolises, sports, agriculture, an exceedingly diverse set of languages (a number of which still defy complete decipherability by modern Western scholars) and many other distinct and flourishing elements of culture.
  3. The natives were a violent people, constantly making war against themselves.
    While it is true that there was intertribal warfare, it was of a very different nature than those in the West and modern era are used to. For the natives, war was always explicitly declared ahead of time and in-person. Reasons for war were clearly and directly communicated. “Soldiers” were also able to choose not to fight and frequently did so. Sometimes provisions and weapons were even given to the opposing tribe ahead of time in order to make the battle fair and honorable.
  4. The natives welcomed the Europeans
    It is true that tribes throughout the Americas generally welcomed Europeans among first contact. Of course, this does not justify violence and genocide against them. They did this out of a genuine sense of selflessness, and even taught the Europeans how to survive in this “new world.” In fact, in all likelihood, Europeans never would have survived in the Western hemisphere long enough to exterminate the natives if the native population hadn’t shown them how to live. And, despite welcoming Europeans initially, natives also exceedingly forcefully and continuously resisted their persecution to some amazement and awe of the Europeans.
  5. All European involvement in the New World revolved around gold and personal gain.
    In a general sense this is true in that many European countries had genocidal initiatives. Yet, for Spain, genocide was a means to an economic end but the British Americans pursued extinction as an end in itself. Most Europeans and European countries, however, justified their violence under Christianity, asserting that non-Europeans were not fully or completely subhuman and needed to be brought under God’s rule or else eliminated. Christian purity, in terms of sexual and racial discrimination, was perhaps the central motivating factor for American genocide.