by Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D.
In 1948, the United Nations passed the Genocide Convention, making it a crime to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. Forty years later the Convention finally was ratified by the United States Senate, and then only because of truly heroic efforts by Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin. Proxmire gave 3,211 speeches on the floor of the Senate, a speech a day for 19 years, every one of them unique, until the Convention was finally passed in 1988.
Why did it take forty years for the Senate to ratify the Convention? One reason was that our leaders were afraid that the United States would be accused of genocide. 
In 1455 Pope Nicholas V proclaimed that Portugal and Spain could conquer North America in the name of Christian expansion. This ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ was used to justify stripping Indian tribes of their lands and their ways of life.
The resulting genocide of the American Indians was carried out against every aspect of their existence. The buffalo, essential to the Indian way of life for food, clothing, weapons, decoration, shelter, fuel, and spiritual practice, was almost completely wiped out. Tens of thousands of Indians were sold as slaves alongside African slaves and were even sold to other colonies in the Caribbean and South America.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced almost 50,000 Indians off their lands in the southeastern part of the country and marched them to present-day Oklahoma; thousands died of starvation and disease on this Trail of Tears. Thousands more were housed in three concentration camps and an insane asylum.
From the 1850s to the early 1900s, Indian land was even further reduced by the Dawes Act; 90,000 more Indians became homeless and 90 million acres of Indian land were lost.
Mass executions occurred throughout the country. Soldiers massacred women and children at Sand Creek, Colorado in 1812; no one was ever held responsible. The U.S. 7th Cavalry killed hundreds of Lakota Sioux in 1890 at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, with impunity; and of course the largest mass execution in the United States – 38 Dakota were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota in 1862, ordered by then-President Abraham Lincoln only one month before he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Genocide includes not only extermination but also the transfer of children of the group to another group. Indian children were taken from their parents and their communities to be raised in white-run boarding schools where they were forced to assimilate to white Christian culture. Native religions were outlawed until 1978.
The trauma continued on into the 20th and, now, the 21st centuries. In the 1970s the U.S. Government Indian Health Services forcibly sterilized 25-50 percent of American Indian women. And the centuries of brutality reverberate today in a legacy of familial violence, human trafficking, alcoholism, and disease.
The City Councils of Minneapolis and St. Paul have resolved to rectify some of the wrongs that were committed here in Minnesota. We must all support efforts to bring truth, honor, and justice to those whose lives and cultures were so brutally destroyed.
 The Genocide Convention Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations. United States Senate, 1950, Eighty-first Congress, Second Session on the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 204-205.