The Bounty Teacher's Guide

Historical Context

Overview of the Story of Raphael Lemkin

The personal story of Raphael Lemkin is that of an upstander extraordinaire. The choices he made and actions he took changed the world, though he sacrificed his personal wellbeing for the cause to which he devoted himself. Here is a brief overview of his remarkable life, key accomplishments, and the shortcomings of his perspective.

Born in 1900 to Polish Jewish parents on a farm in what was then Russia, Raphael Lemkin was the second of three sons. Czarist Russia had occupied this area of his Polish homeland a century earlier and the Jews were often caught in the crossfire of the long-standing territorial disputes throughout East Central Europe.

I was born in a part of the world historically known as Lithuania or White Russia, where Poles, Russians (or rather, White Russians), and Jews lived for many centuries. They disliked each other and even fought, but in spite of this turmoil they shared a deep love for their towns, hills, and rivers. It was a feeling of common destiny that prevented them from destroying one another completely.

I lived my first ten years on a farm called Ozerisko, fourteen miles from the city of Wolkowysk. [8]

Lemkin was homeschooled by his mother until the age of fourteen, and her vast library fed his curious mind with books on history, literature, and poetry. “As soon as I could read, I started to devour books on the persecution of religious, racial, or other minority groups. I was startled by the description of the destruction of the Christians by Nero.” [9]The young Raphael was well aware of pogroms and mob violence that targeted Jews. “In Bialystok in 1906, when Lemkin was six years old, a hundred Jews were killed in one incident.” [10] As a child, Lemkin yearned to understand how and why powerful nations could occupy and destroy people in weaker nations with impunity.

World War I ignited in 1914 and engulfed most of Europe and beyond. The Lemkin family farm was located where Russian and German troops often clashed. At one point, the family took refuge in the forest while their home was destroyed and their crops, horses, and livestock seized. Because of their time in hiding, one of his brothers grew sick and later died of pneumonia and malnutrition. After the war, their small farming village became once again part of Poland.

Lemkin was troubled by the Ottoman Empire’s annihilation of nearly a million Armenians. Unleashed in 1915, the killing of the Christian minority was systematic, first targeting the country’s leadership and then men in the prime of their lives. Women, children, and the elderly were forcibly taken from their homes and made to walk on death marches to be beaten, raped, slaughtered, or left to die of exposure and starvation. After the end of the war and the disbanding of the Ottoman Empire, perpetrators of the Armenian slaughter were tried by a Turkish court but escaped punishment, as there was no legal pathway for members of the international community to indict and prosecute them. Lemkin believed that an attack upon national, religious, and ethnic groups should constitute a punishable international crime, but the sovereignty of states shielded perpetrators from accountability for mass murder of their own citizens. Some of those who planned and ordered the killing of Armenians were able to live comfortably and undisturbed in exile in Germany.

In 1921, Lemkin was studying law at a university in the border city of Lvov in Poland (at the time of this writing, Lvov is known as Lviv and located in western Ukraine). That same year, an Armenian genocide survivor named Soghomon Tehlirian traveled to Berlin to assassinate Mehmed Talaat, Minister of the Interior of the former Ottoman Empire and lead architect of the annihilation of the Armenian people. Placed on trial, Tehlirian argued that he killed Talaat to avenge the murder of 85 members of his family and other Armenians in Erzurum, his hometown.

According to Philippe Sands, British-French lawyer and author of East West Street, “Tehlirian’s defense lawyer played a group identity card, arguing that the defendant was merely an avenger of the ‘large and patient’ family of Armenians.” [11] The trial judge instructed the jury to rule not guilty if they believed Tehlirian acted without free will because of “inner turmoil” he had experienced after the murder of his family and community. The jury deliberated for less than an hour and rendered a unanimous not guilty verdict. [12]

Six years later, in a different trial in Paris, another jury delivered a not guilty verdict in “the trial of a Jewish assassin, Shalom Schwartzbard, who shot and killed Simon Petlura, the Ukrainian leader he held responsible for pogroms that killed perhaps 50,000 Jews after First World War. Lemkin was struck that both trials were for the murder of one man, and yet the murder of an entire people–not for what they had done, but for who they were–was not considered a legally recognized crime.” [13]

In May 1926, when Lemkin was close to earning a doctoral degree in law at the University of Lvov, he and one of his law professors debated the acquittal of Tehlirian. The professor pointed out that a nation’s sovereignty implies the right to do as it chooses within its own borders and that the mass murder of its citizens did not constitute an international crime. Lemkin was deeply disturbed by this argument and continued to wrestle with the issue for the rest of his life.

After graduation, Lemkin became a Deputy Prosecutor of the District Court of Warsaw. Barred by the Polish Minister of Justice from joining the Polish delegation bound for the Madrid meeting of the League of Nations in 1933, Lemkin persuaded a delegate to introduce his ideas about the urgent need for a multilateral convention to prosecute crimes that constitute “act of extermination directed against the ethnic, religious, or social collectivities whatever the motive (political, religious, etc.).” [14] He referred to the crimes as “Acts of Barbarity.” Lemkin’s proposal was afforded little heed at the Madrid meeting [15], and soon thereafter Germany declared its departure from the League of Nations. Within months, Poland had cozied up to Germany by signing a nonaggression pact.

With Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, Lemkin’s worst fears about state impunity for targeting members of a social group began to materialize, and his concern soon increased with the consolidation of Nazi invasion of and rule over other nations, starting with Austria and the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in 1938, and then Poland in 1939. The advent of war had a catastrophic impact on Lemkin and his family. Genocide scholar James Waller informs us that with “… the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 … Lemkin soon became an internally displaced refugee. Fleeing the bombing of a train on which he was a passenger, Lemkin was forced to retreat to the woods outside Warsaw.” [16]

Lemkin dodged German bombs while roaming the Polish countryside and eventually faced Russian interrogation. “To avoid incarceration, he shed his intellectual sensibility, cast off his city clothes, exchanged his expensive glass rims, and assumed the demeanor of a White-Ruthenian peasant with enough conviction to ensure his release.” [17]

Unable to convince his parents to leave with him, Lemkin fled the battlefield of the Second World War in 1940 and made his way to Sweden to await passage to North Carolina, where he had been offered a job at Duke University. [18] While in Sweden, he initiated a detailed legal analysis of Nazi decrees and ordinances to document their plans for occupation, domination, and annihilation. Philippe Sands describes Lemkin’s time there.

As a lawyer, he understood that official documents often reflected underlying objectives without stating them explicitly, that a single document might be less revealing than a collection.

He spent time at the central library in Stockholm, gathering, translating, and analyzing, looking for patterns of German behavior. The Germans were orderly, putting many decisions in writing, producing documents and a paper trail, clues to a bigger conception. This might lead to “irrefutable evidence” of crime. …Lemkin’s work identified as an overall aim the wholesale destruction of the nations over which the Germans took control. [19]

Lemkin discovered in his research that the gradual measures that can lead to genocide begin with targeting a group, depriving its members of basic rights, and demonizing and dehumanizing them as they become more isolated from the rest of society. This is followed by the spiritual and cultural annihilation of the affected people, and their physical annihilation.

During World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill reported to the world about his meeting with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In Churchill’s words,

Scores of thousands … of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated by the German police troops upon the Russian patriots who defend their native soil. Since the Mongol invasions of Europe in the sixteenth century there has never been methodical, merciless butchery on such a scale….  And this is but the beginning. Famine and pestilence have yet to follow in the bloody ruts of Hitler’s tanks.
We are in the presence of a crime without a name.
Three and a half years ago I appealed to my fellow-countrymen to take the lead in weaving together a strong defensive union within the principles of the League of Nations, a union of all countries who felt themselves in ever-growing danger. But none would listen. All stood idle while Germany rearmed. [20]

The “crime without a name” had already become Lemkin’s life’s work. Until he gave it a name, terms such as “mass killings,” “race murder,” “barbarism,” and “crimes against humanity” were used, though none captured what Lemkin found most distressing: state actors that systematically targeted individuals because of their social identity and destroyed the essential foundations of their lives.

By the time World War II ended four years later, Raphael Lemkin had lost 49 relatives in the Holocaust, including his parents, who were gassed to death at Treblinka in occupied Poland. ⁹

Guidance for Teaching

Ask students to write a short essay that describes the historical context that helped shape Raphael Lemkin’s life: the relationships and people, ideas and events, challenges and opportunities, which contributed to the choices he made.
Please make an argument about how these forces impacted him.

Lemkin and the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Now we turn our attention to the long road that Lemkin took to the U.N. and the ramp he built for negotiations that led to the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was unanimously adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on December 9, 1948.

Upon his arrival at Duke Law School in 1941, Lemkin continued the research he had begun in Poland and Sweden and started to write a book.

Documents from Stockholm, the Library of Congress, and friends across Europe continue to arrive in North Carolina. On German actions, they offered detail … and rumor, of mass executions and deportations. The gathering decrees were part of a larger framework, a system for killing. [Lemkin] used the materials to teach a course at the University of Virginia’s School of Military Government in Charlottesville. Students were impressed. [21]

In 1948, when teaching at Yale University, Lemkin implored President Roosevelt to adopt “a treaty to make the mass destruction of civilians an international crime.” [22] He grew frustrated with the lack of action by elected officials. Lemkin took his leave from academia and became a civil servant, eventually being appointed Special Advisor on Foreign Affairs and International Law at the U.S. War Department. By this point in his life, Lemkin was fluent in at least nine languages and able to read in fourteen.

With support from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in New York, Lemkin’s book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, was published in November 1944 and the word “genocide” appeared in print for the first time. The book provides detailed accounting of Nazi decrees, ordinances, orders, and laws to destroy targeted groups. Lemkin writes,

New conceptions require new terms. By “genocide” we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group. This new word, coined by the author to denote an old practice in its modern development, is made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing), thus corresponding in its formation to such words as tyrannicide, homicide [sic], infanticide, etc. Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killing of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. [23]

In 1945-1946, Lemkin left the War Department and contacted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, lead U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. According to Philippe Sands,

[Lemkin] informed Jackson that his book was available in the library of the Supreme Court and enclosed a copy of his article, “Genocide: A Modern Crime” (with a byline describing Lemkin as a Pole with an international “viewpoint”). The article retraced Lemkin’s dogged efforts, from his Madrid pamphlet to the book, with the aim that any Nazi who “put his foot abroad” would be caught. 
Axis Rule had been borrowed from the Supreme Court library and taken to Jackson’s office, where it would remain for more than a year, to be returned in October 1946. [24]

Though only in a research capacity, Lemkin was invited to join Jackson’s team, which meant he had to remain in Washington, D.C. Nonetheless, he was eventually allowed to join the prosecutorial team in London. While genocide was left out of the Nuremberg Charter, it became part of the indictment at the trials. While no Nazi official was convicted on this count, the word was introduced during cross-examination and used in closing arguments. [25] Genocide was referenced in newspaper editorials as well, and Lemkin’s book received broad recognition.

Now that the crime had a name, Lemkin turned his attention to the passage of an international law that would make genocide an international crime. In 1946, he moved to New York, where he became a regular visitor to the newly created United Nations at its temporary headquarters in Queens. On December 11, 1946, the U.N. General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning genocide and declaring it an international crime. While an important step, the passage of this resolution was just the first step in what became a longer process. The next and more meaningful step was to charge the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council with drafting a convention on the crime of genocide. The writing took another two years, involving copious drafts and the deliberation of numerous committees and a secretariat. Lemkin traveled to Geneva when these bodies convened there.

While elements of Lemkin’s 1933 Madrid proposal were used to draft the convention, U.N. member states opposed and removed key features. For example, the principle of universal enforcement was rejected by the U.S. and other colonial powers.

Under the banner of state sovereignty, simply put, some states wanted to retain “the legal right to be left alone.” The Soviet Union certainly did not want any investigation into Stalin’s policies and practices any more than the United States wanted any investigation into Jim Crow laws and racial segregation. Britain and France certainly had no interest in anyone examining their historical human rights record in Kenya, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Algeria. [26]

Debate over inclusion of the expression “cultural genocide” in the convention was contentious, especially for settler colonial states that feared they could be held accountable for past actions. “There was enough discussion that most could agree on one fundamental reality–retaining cultural genocide could pose a substantial risk to the passage of the convention.” [27] A compromise clause was added to Article II, which includes the forcible transfer of children from a (targeted) group to the (dominant) group (Article II e).

Lemkin lobbied tirelessly for passage of the convention. Scholar and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, reflects on his extraordinary effort.

When it came to tallying twenty domestic ratifications, Lemkin again became a one-man, one-globe, multilingual, single-issue lobbying machine. Sifting through Lemkin’s papers, one is awed by the quantity of correspondence he maintained. He sent letters out in English, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Italian, and German. Long before computers or photocopiers, he handcrafted each letter to suit the appropriate individual, organization, or country. [28]

Historian Jay Winter adds this reflection about Lemkin.

He went to great lengths to add a voice here, an editorial there, gaining the support of a women’s organization today, a foreign minister tomorrow. A man of great conviction, but not great charm, he was an uncomfortable presence, someone not easily deflected. Speaking to him a second, third, or 33rd time could be tiresome or worse. And Lemkin was everywhere–cocktail parties, dinners, press conferences, intimate gatherings, public meetings, anywhere men and women of influence could be found. He was a guide to hell, a voice from the killing fields; he played the role of public conscience…. Lemkin was a one-man NGO, the man who never goes away. [29]

Both groundbreaking and rife with limitations, the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was ratified by twenty nations in Paris on December 9, 1948 and the U.S. was the first signatory on December 11.

In 1951, the Convention became part of international law, thus binding the countries that signed it. But the ratification by U.N. member states was another matter entirely and even though President Truman asked U.S. senators to ratify it, U.S. ratification took another 40 years, decades after Lemkin’s death in 1959. The mightiest hurdles to ratification in the U.S. were arguments for sovereignty and official concern about this country’s history of racial violence and segregation. 

During this protracted process, he reacted to a 238-page petition, We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People, published by W.E.B. Dubois, William Patterson, Paul Robeson, and leaders of the Civil Rights Congress. In perhaps Lemkin’s poorest moment, he denounced the authors and proponents of the petition, arguing that discrimination against a people is not the same as their death. This has led to discussion of the impact of his limited perspective as a white European male, even with the great suffering he and his people endured. [30]

Had it not been for William Proxmire of Wisconsin, who, beginning in 1967, delivered “3,211 speeches over a 19-year period urging the United States to ratify the Genocide Convention,” [31] the convention may have never passed. The U.S. was the 98th country to ratify it. Final approval took another two years, and the Senate attached a “sovereignty package” with assorted disclaimers that render the convention unenforceable. President Reagan signed it into law on November 4, 1988, four days before the presidential election that would elect George H.W. Bush and signal the end of Reagan’s two-term presidency.

It is important to acknowledge and examine the other definitions of genocide that have been presented since Lemkin’s introduction of the term. For example, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, genocide is “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.”

On the other hand, the Oxford English Dictionary states that genocide is “the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group.”

These two definitions share an emphasis on the deliberate nature of genocide, although Merriam-Webster’s definition is more expansive in that it includes the destruction of political and cultural groups and not solely the killing of a large group. At the same time, the definitions differ significantly from the U.N. Convention’s, which, for example, mentions “in time of peace or in time of war,” deploys the hard-to-quantify language of “in whole or in part,” and refers to “serious mental harm” as well as bodily harm, and mentions conditions of life calculated to bring about a group’s “physical destruction in whole or in part,” including by “imposing measures to prevent births within the group” and by “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Guidance for Teaching

Teachers: By encouraging students to conduct a close reading of the U.N. Convention’s preamble, articles, and their respective clauses, you can help them deepen their understanding of the word genocide and consider how it might be utilized in a variety of contexts and for different purposes.  Then, focus their attention on Article II and ask them to provide written examples, based on what they know or what they can research, for each of its five clauses.
In the next section we will dig into the relationship between genocide and settler colonialism.

Settler Colonialism: Fuel for Genocide

Raphael Lemkin was keenly aware of a connection between settler colonialism and genocide. As noted by scholars Michael McDonnell and A. Dirk Moses, “… Lemkin’s manuscripts reveal … that early modern and modern colonialism was central to his conception of genocide. Indeed, the very notion is colonial in nature because it entails occupation and settlement.” [32] Lemkin makes this point in his chapter on genocide in Axis Rule in Occupied Europe.

Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity but as members of the national group….

Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain, or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization of the area by the oppressor’s own nationals. [33]

According to Lemkin, the “techniques of genocide … represent a concentrated and coordinated attack upon all elements of nationhood.” [34] Genocide is carried out in these domains: political, social, cultural, economic, biologic, physical, religious, and moral.

Lemkin describes German techniques of occupation that use culture to destroy a nation, the forbidding of a people to use their own language in schools and printing, and compulsory education that favors some and excludes others.

In order to prevent the expression of the national spirit through artistic media, a rigid control of all cultural activities has been introduced. All persons engaged in painting, drawing, sculpture, music, literature, and the theater are required to obtain a license for the continuation of their activities. [The goal was to ensure] the population has also been deprived of inspiration from the existing cultural and artistic values. [35]

For Lemkin, the extinction of a culture was a means to genocide, the systematic destruction of a nation of people.

Genocide is, as we have noted, a composite of different acts of persecution or destruction…. The entire problem of genocide needs to be dealt with as a whole; it is too important to be left for piecemeal discussion and solution in the future. Many hope that there will be no more wars, but we dare not rely on mere hopes for protection against genocidal practices by ruthless conquerors. [36]

Though “nation” can connote either a country or a unified group of people, in these quotations Lemkin seems to be using the term in the former sense, as McDonnell and Moses do when linking genocide with conquest (“Conquerors”) and colonization of another nation/territory. It is important to recognize that genocide can be perpetrated not only against a colonized group of people in a separate country but against a group of people within the country of the perpetrators. A clear example of this is the attempt by German Nazis to annihilate German Jews. Thus, contrary to what McDonnell and Moses seem to be arguing, genocide is not exclusively a part of colonization and colonialism, whether settler colonialism or some other form. [37]

The case of the Rwandan genocide is more complicated because although Hutu Rwandans committed genocide against Tutsi Rwandans and moderate Hutus, the ideology and actions of Hutu genocidaires were strongly influenced by Belgian colonial actors who decades earlier had racialized the social differences between Hutus and Tutsis. That helped lay the foundation for genocide.

In any case, much of what Lemkin states above about nation and nationhood also pertains to genocide directed at a subgroup of people within the perpetrators’ country. Lemkin seems aware of this fact when he points out that “genocide is a problem not only of war but also of peace.” [38] This consequential insight was clearly folded into the wording of the preamble to the U.N. Convention: genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law.

Regardless of whether genocide happens internationally as part of colonialism or domestically with little or no connection to colonialism, it always begins with scapegoating, name-calling, humiliation, and the use of dehumanizing propaganda to isolate the targeted group. According to Professor Herbert Kelman [39], the following markers are present in genocide: routinization of cruelty, dehumanization of victim and victimizer, and an unquestioning obedience to authority. Genocide proceeds unchecked when local and international onlookers stand by and enable it. The refusal of bystanders to put a stop to mounting cruelty has brought shame to generations of settlers and elected officials who could have intervened but failed to do so.

Guidance for Teaching

Ask students to write a short essay on different acts of genocide and the characteristics and significance of what some refer to as cultural genocide.
In the following section we begin to unpack the impact of genocide on Indigenous peoples.

Genocide and Indigenous Peoples

All five clauses of Article II of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide are relevant to the history and contemporary realities of Indigenous peoples. And, there is a gruesome applicability of Clauses A (killing) and E (forcibly transferring children) to the 2021 discovery of mass dumping grounds for the bodies of Indigenous children in Canada and the United States at former labor camps known euphemistically as residential and boarding schools. These revelations, not news to most Native people, signal the first time many non-Native people in both countries are confronted with the consequences of boarding schools (called residential schools in Canada), or what Penobscot scholar Rebecca Sockbeson refers to as “warfare against” Indigenous people.” [40]

While the mainstream media typically calls these “mass graves,” many Native people reject this nomenclature because graves are usually chosen places of reverence, love, and respect, unlike these sites that were dumping groups for children who died of disease, malnutrition, heartache, neglect, and direct violence.

As we explore the many impacts of genocide on Indigenous peoples, viewers of Dawnland may recall these statements by two commissioners of the Maine-Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), gkisedtanamoogk and Matt Dunlap.

gkisedtanamoogk (co-chair of the Maine-Wabanaki TRC): Everything that state policy and federal policy is doing is about the eradication of us from the Earth. Now probably the softest example of eradication is social integration. But the results are the same. No more treaties. No more Indian rights. No more lands. No more Indians. You take away a people’s understanding of who they are, their self-sufficiency, and you replace it with nothing. And it’s only been the resurgence of our culture that’s really helped restore us, to really enable us to remember.

Matt Dunlap (commissioner of the Maine-Wabanaki TRC): When you forbid people from speaking their language, you take their children away and put them in totally different cultural settings, what are you really doing? What else do you call it besides cultural genocide? The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has just concluded its work. We’ve issued our report. Some of the feedback on this report, people are saying, “No, no, no. This is not genocide: Genocide is what happened at … Auschwitz. Genocide is what happened in El Salvador or in Sierra Leone or in Rwanda. This is not genocide.” [41]

The TRC’s final report (2015) to which Matt Dunlap refers, Beyond the Mandate: Continuing the Conversation, suggests that to improve Native child welfare, the state of Maine and the tribes which now comprise the Wabanaki in Maine must address the following issues.

  1. underlying racism still at work in state institutions and the public;
  2. the ongoing impact of historical trauma, also known as intergenerational trauma, on Wabanaki people, which influences the wellbeing of individuals and communities;
  3. differing interpretations of tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction that makes encounters between the tribes and state contentious.

The report goes on to assert,

These conditions and the fact of disproportionate entry into care can be held within the context of continued cultural genocide, as defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. In particular, the Convention notes that genocide means “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” We posit that Article 2, Sections b and e, – “Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” and “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”– apply to what Wabanaki communities face here in Maine. [42]

Guidance for Teaching

Invite students to consider the two clauses from the U.N. Convention that are mentioned in the Maine Wabanaki TRC report: “Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,” and “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Viewers of Dawnland may be able to identify where in the film they saw evidence of serious bodily or mental harm to members of the targeted group, and where they heard testimony about the forcible transfer of children from a targeted group to another group. If need be, teachers can remind students of gkisedtanamoogk’s words about official policies that aim to eradicate Native peoples from the Earth. They can also invite students to argue in favor of or against the applicability of Article II clause (c), “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” to the reality described by gkisedtanamoogk.

There is an abundance of scholarship on how and whether the crime of genocide is applicable to the history and current reality of Indigenous peoples, and debate among scholars from a variety of disciplines can be acrimonious. For some scholars, it is paramount to prove intent and therefore they focus their research on a specific place and historical period where there is an abundance of documentation.

In An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873, Benjamin Madley does just that.

Under US rule, California Indians died at an … astonishing rate. Between 1846 and 1870, California’s Native American population plunged from perhaps 150,000 to 30,000. By 1880, census takers recorded just 16,277 California Indians. Diseases, dislocation, and starvation were important causes of these many deaths. However, abductions, de jure and de facto unfree labor, mass death in forced confinement on reservations, homicides, battles, and massacres also took thousands of lives and hindered reproduction….

The organized destruction of California’s Indian peoples under US rule was not a closely guarded secret. Mid-nineteenth-century California newspapers frequently addressed, and often encouraged, what we would now call genocide, as did some state and federal employees. [43]

There are other helpful sources that apply the definition of genocide to both the history and the current reality of Indigenous peoples, which can be found in the Resources section of this guide: Russell Thornton’s American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492; Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States; Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker’s “All the Real Indians Died Off: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans; Andrew Woolford, Jeff Benvenuto, and Alexander Laban Hinton’s Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America. Other authors, such as Alex Alvarez in Native America and the Question of Genocide, and Gary Clayton Anderson in Ethnic Cleansing and the Indian: the Crime That Should Haunt America, take a more skeptical view of genocide as applied to Indigenous people, in part because of the difficulty of proving intent and also, more generally, because of shortcomings of the U.N. definition, which Michael Magliari deems “at once too narrow and too broad.” [44] Alex Alvarez suggests “genocide itself is a contested concept subject to varying perceptions and interpretations” and that the U.N. definition has limitations. [45] Gary Clayton Anderson argues that ethnic cleansing is a more accurate descriptor of what happened in the United States.

In the final section of this lesson, we work with a model that identifies ten stages in the development of genocide.

The Ten Stages of Genocide

Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 4
Stage 5
Stage 6
Stage 7
Stage 8
Stage 9
Stage 10

Former U.S. State Department official Gregory Stanton developed a linear model of the progression of genocide across predictable stages. [46]

While his ten stages of genocide framework does not consistently provide a neatly differentiated model, it does show the incremental nature of the trajectory of genocide and for that it is a valuable teaching tool. For educators, it can be useful when reviewing primary sources on the interactions between Indigenous peoples and colonial settlers to ask how any of the ten stages might be applicable.

According to Stanton, the final stage, denial, “lasts throughout and always follows genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide … deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims.” [47]

It is worth pausing here to consider the many faces of denial of genocide against Indigenous people in the U.S. and the arguments used to suggest that what happened and is happening do not constitute genocide. Because denial is among the surest indicators of genocide, this is worthy of further research, reflection, and discussion.

Recognizing there are different interpretations of history can deepen the process of learning and unlearning. In this teacher’s guide, we use the dual lens of the View from the Boat and the View from the Shore to examine the historical record through a variety of perspectives.

Differing Perspectives

View from the Shore:

In 1757 or 1776, in the struggle between Great Britain and America, your people came to us for assistance....After many kind words and promises, Francis Joseph, who was the chief of the tribe ... gathered an army of six hundred men.... We know the Indians who served in that war are passed out of existence, but the Passamaquoddy Tribe helped the Americans in that war.... In the treaties ... and in the laws of Massachusetts and Maine ..., we were guaranteed the right to hunt and fish forever.... Just consider ... how many rich men there are in Calais, in St. Stephen, Milltown, Machias, East Machias, Columbia, Cherryfield, and other lumbering towns. We see a good many of them worth thousands and even millions of dollars. We ask ourselves, how do they make most of their money? Answer is, they make it on lumber or timber once owned by the Passamaquoddy Indians. -Dawnland Voices, Lewis Mitchell (1847-1930), 170-171

View from the Boat:

The more we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed the next war. For the more I see of these Indians, the more convinced I am that they all have to be killed or maintained as a species of puppets.

-General William T. Sherman

Work Cited

Raphael Lemkin, Totally Unofficial: The Autobiography of Raphael Lemkin, ed. Donna-Lee Frieze (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 3.
 Lemkin, Totally Unofficial, 1.
¹⁰ Philippe Sands, East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity” (New York: Knopf, 2016), 146.
¹¹  Sands, East West Street, 150.
¹² The Trial of Soghomon Tehlirian,
¹³ Jay Winter, “Prophet Without Honors,” Chronicle of Higher Education, June 03, 2013,
¹⁴ Raphael Lemkin, “Acts Constituting a General (Transnational) Danger Considered as Offences Against the Law of Nations,”
¹⁵ Lemkin, Totally Unofficial, 23-24.
¹⁶ James Waller, Confronting Evil: Engaging Our Responsibility to Prevent Genocide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 12.
¹⁷ Lemkin, Totally Unofficial, xii.
¹⁸ Raphael Lemkin Papers, 1931-1947. Raphael Lemkin Collection, Columbia University Libraries Archival Collections, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, New York, NY,
¹⁹ Sands, East West Street, 168.
²⁰ Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s broadcast to the world about the meeting with President Roosevelt, August 24, 1941, British Library of Information,
²¹ Sands, East West Street, 179.
²² Waller, Confronting Evil, 13.
²³ Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress (New York: Howard Fertig, 1973), 79.
²⁴ Sands, East West Street, 185.
²⁵ Waller, Confronting Evil, 14.
²⁶  Ibid, 27.
²⁷  Ibid, 25.
²⁸  Samantha Power, “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 61, 63.
²⁹ Winter, “Prophet Without Honors.”
³⁰ Waller, Confronting Evil, 28-30.
³¹ Ibid.
³² Michael A. McDonnell and A. Dirk Moses, “Raphael Lemkin as Historian of Genocide in the Americas,” Journal of Genocide Research, 7, no. 4 (December 2005): 501-529.
³³ Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, 79.
³⁴ Ibid, 82.
³⁵ Ibid, 84.
³⁶ Ibid, 92.
³⁷ Granted, in the case of the Rwandan Genocide, colonization of Rwanda by Europeans set up conditions for genocide, but it did not occur during the period of colonial occupation (insofar as Hutus were not foreigners engaged in conquering or in what McDonnell and Moses term “occupation and settlement”).
³⁸ Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, 92.
³⁹ Herbert Kelman, “Violence Without Moral Restraint: Reflections on Dehumanization of Victims and Victimizers,” Journal of Social Issues 29, no. 4 (1973): 25-61.
⁴⁰ Rebecca Cardinal Sockbeson, “Cipenuk Red Hope: Weaving Policy Toward Decolonization & Beyond," Ph.D. thesis, University of Alberta, 2011, 85-86; for more information about a major federal investigation into the U.S. government’s Indian boarding school policy, see the outstanding resources provided by The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition:
⁴¹ Dawnland,
⁴² Beyond the Mandate: Continuing the Conversation (Hermon: Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2015), 8.
⁴³ Benjamin Madley, An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 3.
⁴⁴ Michael F. Magliari, “Naming the Crime: Genocide, Extermination, or Ethnic Cleansing?” reviewer of Anderson, “Ethnic Cleansing and the Indian: The Crime That Should Haunt America” H-AmIndian (December, 2016),
⁴⁵ Alex Alvarez, Native America and the Question of Genocide (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 33.
⁴⁶ Gregory Stanton, “The Ten Stages of Genocide,” Genocide Watch, last modified 2016,

Continue to Lesson one: Conclusion

Conclusion and Full Work Cited List