DENVER - While Americans
celebrate Columbus Day, American Indians remember one little toddler who
played on the quiet banks of Sand Creek, until the morning in 1864 when
the American soldiers came.
''Then, as one of the cavalrymen later told it, while his compatriots were
slaughtering and mutilating the bodies of all the women and all the
children they could catch, he spotted the boy trying to flee,'' wrote
David Stannard in ''American Holocaust.''
''There was one little child, probably three years old, just big enough to
walk through the sand,'' wrote a Calvary man.
''The Indians had gone ahead, and this little child was behind following
after them. The little fellow was perfectly naked, traveling on the
sand. I saw one man get off his horse, at a distance of about
seventy-five yards, and draw up his rifle and fire - he missed the
child. Another man came up and said, 'Let me try the son of a bitch; I
can hit him.'
''He got down off his horse, kneeled down and fired at the little child,
but he missed him. A third man came up and made a similar remark, and
fired, and the little fellow dropped.''
Stannard, board member of the new American Indian Genocide Museum being
established in Houston, said the most massive act of genocide in the
world followed the arrival of Columbus in the Americas.
''The danger lies in forgetting,'' said Elie Wiesel, in a book of oral
histories of the Jewish Holocaust.
''Forgetting, however, will not effect only the dead,'' Stannard said.
''Should it triumph, the ashes of yesterday will cover our hopes for
''To begin, then, we must try to remember.''
When Columbus first sighted land on Oct. 12, 1492, the American Indian
Holocaust began. The Spanish were driven by their lust for gold and
silver and the English fueled by their desire for property. Christians
killed with zeal those they believed defiled with sin. Spain needed
labor and set up missions in order to convert Natives. The English,
however, did not bother. Their goal was exterminating the Indian race.
''Just 21 years after Columbus' first landing in the Caribbean, the vastly
populous island that the explorer had re-named Hispaniola was
effectively desolate; nearly 8 million people - those Columbus chose to
call Indians - had been killed by violence, disease, and despair.''
Within a handful of generations, following their first encounters with
Europeans, the vast majority of indigenous peoples in the Americas were
Overall, 95 percent were obliterated.
''What this means is that, on average, for every 20 Natives alive at the
moment of European contact - when the lands of the Americas teemed with
numerous tens of millions of people - only one stood in their place when
the bloodbath was over.''
While remembering the millions that were tortured, enslaved, murdered and
eliminated by spread of diseases, Stannard said it is important to
remember that each was a sacred and treasured human life.
Putting a human face on the Indian people who died, like the little boy
whose remains were mangled at Sand Creek, Stannard said life should be
remembered, as one reads of the Jewish Holocaust and horrors of the
African slave trade, because the genocide has never stopped.
The Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States
observed that 40,000 people simply ''disappeared'' in Guatemala during
the 15 years preceding 1986. Another 100,000 were openly murdered.
''That is the equivalent, in the United States, of more than 4 million
people slaughtered or removed under official government decree - a
figure that is almost six times the number of American battle deaths in
the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam
Almost all the dead and disappeared were Indians, direct descendants of
the Mayas. Still today, indigenous in the Americas are tortured and
slaughtered, their homes and villages bombed, while more than two-thirds
of their rain forest homelands have been intentionally burned and
scraped into ruin.
Hispaniola was only the beginning.