Historian speaks about Native American genocide

The USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research hosted Benjamin Madley Tuesday to speak about the controversial murder of as many as 16,000 Native Americans by vigilantes, state volunteer militiamen and U.S. Army soldiers during the period between 1846 and 1873. 

Madley, an Associate Professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently published An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 after conducting research on the topic of Native American history. He used the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention to define genocide and then prove, with historical evidence, how the removal of tens of thousands of California Native Americans during and after the Gold Rush by the United States government was an act of genocide.

In order to accurately depict the historical events, Madley spent over a decade looking for relevant details to complete the stories in various archives in libraries and by visiting a variety of Native American tribes who have passed down stories through generations. The purpose of Madley’s work is to raise awareness of this genocide so reparations can be made for the generations affected. 

“It’s time for state and federal officials to acknowledge the genocide that happened here in California under United States rule,” Madley said.

When asked about the inspiration for his research topic, Madley relayed a story about his childhood and how his experiences growing up shaped his interest in Native American history.

“I spent a lot of time in Karuk Country growing up where my father worked with Karuk people in Northern California,” Madley said. “So, at an early age, I was exposed to conflicts between natives and newcomers. Then, I came down to Los Angeles in high school and attended University High where the Indian mascot discussion was beginning and where students were discussing the fact that we were taking classes on ancient Tongva village site. That’s when I began to wonder ‘Where are all the Indians?’ But I only really began deeply investigating California Indian history in graduate school.”

Madley’s work and passion for genocide reflects the overall purpose of the USC Shoah Foundation to provide curious students with the resources and opportunities to pursue higher learning in the field of genocide.

The USC Shoah Foundation was first founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994 to collect and preserve testimonies of Holocaust survivors. Since then, the organization has expanded to collect testimonies from other major international tragedies, including the Rwandan, Armenian and Mayan genocides. Wolf Gruner, the founding director of the foundation, established the Center for Advanced Genocide Research to raise awareness of the work that is being done in the field of genocide. Gruner, in an attempt to encourage interdisciplinary research on genocide, also provides fellowships and internships to bring scholars to USC and encourage USC scholars to research various genocides using the foundation’s extensive database of testimonies and information.