The Ongoing Traumatic Experience of Genocide for American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States: The Call to Recognize Full Human Rights as Set Forth in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Information

3 American Indian Law Journal 424 (2015)


The power of myth and storytelling is well-known in American Indian communities. Oral traditions continue to have vitality and relevance in those communities as a means of providing instruction on the tribal worldview, philosophy and the accepted norms of human behavior in relation to each other and to other living beings. In the relationships between Tribal Nations and the United States, myth and storytelling have been and continue to be powerful tools in perpetuating the subjugation of and human rights violations against American Indians in judicial decisions, American history textbooks, and the mainstream media. The dehumanization of American Indians is a tradition that stems from the founding of the United States. The so-called "founding fathers" engaged in myth and storytelling at the creation of the new settler nation-state on North American soil. For Native peoples, the challenge in correcting foundational governmental and nation-building myths is ongoing and at times, deeply frustrating. However, the consequence for Native peoples not taking up the challenge is to succumb to externally imposed derogatory labeling, that results in self-denigration, and ultimately, lifelong victimization.

Part I of this article will discuss the early contact between Native Americans and Europeans. The European and, later, United States justifications for the genocide, dispossession and impoverishment of Native Americans will be discussed. Part II will review the legal justifications employed by United States Presidents and leaders to systematically dispossess American Indians of their lands and resources. The shift from political alliances to military massacres of American Indians signaled the next phase of dehumanization. Following military domination, the United States has imposed a perpetual incompetency on American Indians and asserted trusteeship. This policy frames the contemporary relationship between American Indians and the United States. Part III will examine the genocidal acts perpetrated by the United States to oppress American Indians and Alaska Natives. The section will conclude with the resistance efforts of Native Americans. In Part IV, the application of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will provide human right standards for re-establishing basic human rights for American Indians through the international evolution of Indigenous peoples' collective rights.