Cultural genocide in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States


  • Jon Reyhner Professor of Education Northern Arizona University
  • Navin Kumar Singh Northern Arizona University


This article focuses on the impact of cultural genocide on the Indigenous populations of four former English colonies--Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States of America (USA)--and current efforts to heal the wounds caused by this genocidal activity. Cultural genocide is much more widespread and ongoing than the murder of ethnic minorities, and in the four countries under discussion government policies promoted English-only schooling and conversion to Christianity, making schools instruments of cultural genocide. If indigenous students resisted, they were further marginalized and if they attempted assimilation they often found that their skin color still excluded them from full citizenship.

Some people think that democracies are immune to genocide, but through the “tyranny of the majority” laws can be passed that suppress minority languages and cultures as do the various “English-only” and “Official English” laws in effect in some states in the USA today (e.g. Crawford 2000). Lemkin in his original discussion of genocide included the “prohibition of the use of their own language by the population of an occupied country” (Lemkin 1944, ix). The 1868 Report of the U.S. Indian Peace Commission stated, “Schools should be established, which [American Indian] children should be required to attend; their barbarous dialect should be blotted out and the English language substituted.” Besides suppressing indigenous languages, colonial governments suppressed Indigenous cultural practices, including Potlatches, Sun Dances, and other religious activities

Author Biographies

Jon Reyhner, Professor of Education Northern Arizona University

Jon Reyhner is Professor of Education at Northern Arizona University (NAU). He co-author of American Indian Education: A History (University of Oklahoma Press, 2004) and editor of Teaching American Indian Students (University of Oklahoma Press, 1992). He has been involved in a series of annual Indigenous language conferences that began in 1994 at NAU and maintains a “Teaching Indigenous Languages” web site at with over 100 papers related to revitalizing Indigenous languages and cultures.

Navin Kumar Singh, Northern Arizona University

Navin Kumar Singh is a Doctoral student in Curriculum and Instruction at NAU. He has a Master’s in Education from Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal, and earned a second Master’s in Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Language from NAU. He worked for more than a decade for Nepal’s Ministry of Education.


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