Did the phrase "final solution" for a form of genocide first appear with the Canadians, or with the Nazis / Holocaust?

The TVTropes "Final Solution" page explains the origins of the term:

While the Holocaust may be the Trope Namer, the term "Final Solution" comes from the Canadian government's attempts to eradicate the Native population in the 19th and early 20th century.

It gives this blog page, which quotes a letter, "Duncan Campbell Scott to D. MacKay: DCS to BC Indian Agent Gen. Major D. MacKay. 12 Apr. 1910. DIA Archives RG 10 series.":

It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habituating so closely in the residential schools, and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian Problem.

Googling around, I found:

Did the term "Final Solution" first appear as euphemism for genocide in Canada?

  • 2
    A complicating factor is of course that the Holocaust was not the “Final Solution” until it was translated—it was the Endlösung to the Germans. So was the German name a translation of the English euphemism (as employed by the Canadians)? Or was it perhaps rather simply a coincidentally similar coinage in German, and only the English translation “Final Solution” that borrowed from the Canucks? Dec 26, 2016 at 11:04
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    The words "final solution" have a clear meaning other than extermination and their normal meaning makes sense in this context. Most discussion in Canada around the topic of the residential school system assumes that it was aimed at a "final solution" of assimilation, not extermination. You may be taking a meaning that arose around 1940 and applying it to a sentence written thirty years previously in a different language.
    – Al Maki
    Dec 26, 2016 at 15:09
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    @AlMaki - True... But it's still ethnocide? Or whatever elimination of a culture is called... But likely the distinction between assimilation and extermination is very important... If you're right, I still want to know if that letter exists or not... Which might mandate a move back to Skeptics, or something...
    – Malady
    Dec 26, 2016 at 15:18
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    @Malandy - I think you need to clarify what your question is here. The origin of "Final Solution" as a set phrase about the "solution" to a racial problem comes from Nazi Jewesh policy of the early forties, not from the Canadian genocide, despite the expression might have been used at that time as a general expression. Or are you asking about the existence of that letter?
    – user66974
    Dec 26, 2016 at 19:49
  • 1
    The first mention of "final solution" (Endloesung der Judenfrage) by Nazis is found in a letter from Goering to Heidrich dated July 31, 1941.
    – Graffito
    Dec 26, 2016 at 21:47

2 Answers 2


The 'Indian problem' before 1880: Conquest, relocation, and extinction

Multiple U.S. writers and at least one Canadian writer used the phrase "final solution of our Indian problem" (or variations on it) before Duncan Scott did in 1910. From "Report to Accompany Bill S. No. 899" (February 19, 1869), in Reports of the Committees of the Senate of the United States for the Third Session Fortieth Congress, 1868–'69 (1869):

Pacific Railroads Will Settle the Indian Question.

They can only be permanently conquered by railroads. The locomotive is the sole solution to the Indian question, unless the government changes its system of warfare and fights the savages the winter through as well as in summer. The railroads will settle the country as they progress. The water stations and freight stations built on lines immediately become the germs of towns and the centres of military operations. Farms follow the roads and a column-front of self-sustaining settlements moves slowly but surely towards the Rocky mountains. As fast as the roads go by military posts and forts, these become useless and are abandoned. The roads push the border farther west every day. As the thorough and final solution of the Indian question, by taking the buffalo range out from under the savage, and putting a vast stock and grain farm in its place, the railroads to the Pacific surely are a military necessity. As avenues of sudden approach to Indians on the war-path, and of cheap and quick movement of supplies to troops, they are equally a military necessity.

From James Steele, "Copper-Distilled," in The Kansas Magazine (March 1872):

The land trespassed upon belongs to the Indian, and he is justified in his resistance. Granted. For so did once New England belong to him. And once all belonged to Adam. But there is no freehold save under the laws of civilization. In the time to come, the territory of the world will be claimed only by those who use it for God's first purpose, the tilling of the soil. Theorize as we may, the westward march of civilization, with all its attendant evils and final results, is the foreordination of the Almighty, and in this piece of bad theology but stubborn fact, lies the final solution of the Indian question.

From William Ludlow, "Report of the Chief of Engineers" of a reconnaissance expedition to the Black Hills of Dakota (under the military command of Lieutenant Colonel George Custer) in the summer of 1874 (April 28, 1875), in Executive Documents Printed by Order of the House of Representatives, 1875–'76 (1876):

Whatever may ultimately be determined as to the existence of large amounts of precious metal in the Black Hills—and the evidence gathered on the trip I conclude was on the whole discouraging to that supposition—the real wealth and value of the country are, beyond doubt, very great. Utterly dissimilar in character to the remaining portion of the territory in which it lies, its fertility and freshness, its variety of resource and delightful climate, the protection it affords both against the torrid heats and arctic storms of the neighboring prairies, will eventually make it the home of a thronging population. To this, however, the final solution of the Indian question is an indispensable preliminary. The region is cherished by the owners both as hunting-grounds and asylum. The more far-sighted, anticipating the time when hunting the buffalo, which is now the main subsistence of the wild tribes, will no longer suffice to that end, have looked forward to settling in and about the Black Hills as their future permanent home, and there awaiting the gradual extinction that is their fate.

The demise of the extinction-oriented "final solution of the Indian problem" may be related to the unexpected news from census reports that the Indian population in the United States was not declining at all. From "Increase in Indian Population," in the Sacramento [California] Daily Union (December 26, 1877):

The American mind had quietly settled down to the conviction that the Indian was fast disappearing from the continent. We received this statement as the final solution of the Indian problem. We accepted the theory with all eagerness, because it seemed to relieve us of grave responsibilities. Believing fully in the extinction of the Indian, we bravely took our share of the blame by abasing the Indian agent, the army and our forefathers, and at the same time excused ourselves by the fond theory that this extinction of our predecessors in ownership was the natural and lawful consequence of their contact with civilization—it was manifest destiny. ... And now it seems that figures and estimates have been playing tricks on us, or that the imagination is not quite so useful in scientific research as has been supposed!

This article cites reports that Indian populations in the eastern United States were increasing. The census of New York Indians, for example, indicated that "everywhere they appear to be increasing in numbers as they advance in civilization." Such an outcome posed a rather existential challenge to the idea that the noble savage was doomed to extinction as the relentless onslaught of European pioneers pushed ever farther westward.

The 'Indian problem', 1872 and later: Civilization and assimilation

In a Quaker weekly published 1872, we see the first discussion (in Google Books content) of "the Indian problem" as an issue to be solved not primarily by defeating armed Indians militarily, dispossessing them, and forcing them farther west, but by bringing them into the expanding United States as citizens. From "Report of the Indian Committee of Baltimore Yearly Meeting" (October 28, 1872), in Friends' Intelligencer (December 1872):

The aim of the [Ulysses Grant] Administration, and this appears to be favored by the Indian Commission just alluded to, is to get all these different scattered tribes of Indians to remove voluntarily to Indian Territory, which is to be secured to them permanently, and then the Government to afford them all needed assistance and protection, and every aid to promote their enlightenment and civilization, and their preparation for ultimate citizenship, as the final solution of the Indian problem, so long a subject of deep perplexity and concern to the friends of humanity and justice.

From "The Indian Question," in Friends' Review (June 7, 1873):

The increase of expenditure by the Government in the care of the Indians, due to he inauguration of the present policy, is set down at three and a half millions of dollars annually. The clear exposition by F. A. Walker of the measures essential to a safe final solution of the Indian problem, and his statement of the cogent reasons in their favor, are of sufficient interest to induce us to return to the subject at another time.

From "The Cherokee Nation," in the [Austin, Texas] Weekly Democratic Statesman (April 16, 1874):

The results anticipated from the change in their [the Cherokee people's and the U.S. government's] relations are the gradual blending of the Indians under the same form of government, and whose executive and judicial officers shall be appointed by the President—the allotment of their lands in severalty—the gradual extinction of all civil distinctions between them and citizens of the United States, and their ultimate absorption as a portion of their population. This end is regarded as the final solution of the so-called Indian question—and is cherished by many persons who are unquestionably the friends of the Indians‚who regret the indignity and injustice too often heaped upon them, who deplore their rapid decline and sincerely desire their protection and preservation. They are inclined to look favorably upon these changes in the condition of the Indians in this country from motives of humanity and that large spirit of Justice which regards the rights of all men of every color and in every condition of life.

From "The Indian Bureau Transfer" (dateline December 28, 1878), in The Nation (January 2, 1879):

It must be remembered, by the way, that the notion of civilizing the Indians is not mere philanthropic sentimentalism, but that the attempt has been made in certain instances with success : as, for example, in the Indian Territory, where there are whole tribes, formerly nomadic and predatory, now converted to steady agricultural habits. Of course this cannot be done with the first generation. To be civilized the Indian must be "caught young." But the fact that the work of civilization has been proved practicable in certain instances should never be left out of sight, and the theory of certain amiable persons, that the real solution of the Indian problem is extermination ought not for a moment to be entertained. No such process of extermination is going on, so far as is known by those most competent to express an opinion on the numbers of the Indian population. Indeed it is generally believed here now that there are quite as many, if not more, Indians in the country than there were fifty years ago.


This evidence [of inflated prices for goods sold to Indians], of course, all goes to show the curious fact that the demand for the transfer of the Indian Bureau from the Interior to the War Department is founded upon precisely the same arguments that thirty years ago led to its transfer from War to the Interior. In fact, the management of Indian affairs appears to have a necessarily corrupting influence upon whatever branch of the Government undertakes it. Under Mr. [Carl] Schurz [Secretary of the Interior] there is no doubt that it is purer than it has been for years—in fact, probably as pure as it can be made. But the number of abuses he has himself brought to light are a discouraging commentary on the system. Those who have looked forward to the transfer to the War Department as a final solution of the Indian problem will find that Mr. Schurz's testimony makes it clear that there is room for difference of opinion on the subject.

From a letter by George Lee (U.S. Indian agent, Mackinac Agency, Michigan), to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (September 1, 1880), reprinted in Executive Documents of the House of Representatives for the Third Session of the Forty-sixth Congress, 1880–'81 (1881):

Our schools are quietly doing their work, and from this silent but certain influence I look for the final solution of the "Indian question." I have endeavored in every manner and at every practicable opportunity to impress upon the minds of the Indians the importance of education for their children as the means of making their way successfully in life. They are from year to year becoming more and more impressed with the importance of this, and nothing seems to stimulate them so much to send their children to school as a proposal to discontinue it.

From "Secretary Teller's Carlisle Speech," in The Council Fire & Arbiter (June 1883):

We are spending $20,000,000 a year for feeding and fighting Indians, and when he [Teller] asked Congress for $2,500,000 to educate Indians, he got just $400,000! There were 40,000 Indian children. If Congress would give him the money, he would put 20,000 of them in just such schools as this [Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania], at once; he would follow this with the other 20,000 as soon as possible. And when we have taken these 40,000 Indian boys and girls and taught them how to take care of themselves, we may safely say that in five years we shall either prove that this system of industrial education is the true and final solution of the long-vexed Indian problem or we shall have proved to the world that the race is incapable of civilization.

From Joseph Cook, "Frontier Savages, White and Red," a lecture delivered in Boston on March 2, 1885 (1885):

They [Indian Rights Associations] unanimously demand that the tribal relations of Indians be broken up, and land in severalty guaranteed to them as soon as possible. It is a very general conviction that Indian citizenship and possession of the ballot are the only final solution of the Indian problem.

From H.R. Voth (missionary), report to the acting agent (Captain J.M. Lee) of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Agency, Indian Territory (September 3, 1886), reprinted in Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior for the year 1886 (1886):

It is often said that the Indians dislike or are ashamed to work. That is true, but I unhesitatingly assert that the Indian can be taught to like the work if the one who teaches him works with him. It is one thing to oversee an Indian at work, and another thing to lead him into the wok. Almost anyone can do the first, very few will do the latter. I think just as much pains should be taken to secure competent industrial teachers as in the selection of efficient school teachers. An industrial teacher can do more harm than an incapable school teacher. Have very little doubt, that, a final solution of the "Indian problem" would be hastened very much if the Government would furnish the Indian agents competent, faithful industrial teachers, with the same liberality with which it has supplied the Indians with school facilities.

From James Kerr, "The Indian: How Shall We Treat Him?" in The Current (October 16, 1886):

In our dealings with the Indian—in the attempted solution of the "Indian question"—how shall we treat him? Shall each tribe and nation of red men be regarded as a separate and independent sovereignty, with all the privileges and entitled to all the considerations of a foreign nation; or shall the Indians collectively be treated as wards of the Federal Government? A proper answer to these questions lies at the very foundation of a final solution of the perplexing "Indian problem."

From "Prof. Painter's Work at Washington and Elsewhere," in The Fourth Annual Report of the Executive Committee of the Human Rights Association, for the Year Ending December 14, 1886 (1887):

The first step forward in general legislation toward a final solution of the Indian problem was taken during last winter, in the passage of the Dawes Bill, providing for the allotment of lands in severalty and the admission of the Indians into the body politic, thus preparing for the termination, at an early date, of the Reservation system, and for removing these people from Bureau control and p;acing them under the protection of the laws.

From Elbridge Brooks, The Story of the American Indian: His Origin, Development, Decline, and Destiny (1887):

Said a clever young Indian woman—Insh-ta The-am-ba, known to us as "Bright Eyes"—"the white people have tried to solve the Indian question by commencing with the proposition that the Indian is different from all other human beings. Allow an Indian," she adds, "to suggest that the solution of this vexed question is citizenship."

To this conclusion, too, all thoughtful students of the question are rapidly tending. The Indian problem as it stands to-day is of our own [that is, white Americans'] making. Its solution must also be our own. But the Indian himself—the chief factor in the problem—must be made the means by which a final solution is reached. Education and severalty seem to be the only paths which lead to Indian manhood.

From "Final Report of the Business Committee," in Report of the Secretary of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1887, volume 2 (1887):

We congratulate the country on the notable progress towards a final solution of the Indian problem which has been made during the past year. The passage of the Dawes bill closes the "century of dishonor;" it makes it possible for the people of America to initiate a chapter of national honor in the century to come. It offers the Indians homes, the first condition of civilization; proffers them the protection of the laws; opens to them the door of citizenship. ...

From Julius Seelye, "Introduction" (1890), in Helen Jackson, A Century of Dishonor: A Sketch of the United States Government's Dealings with Some of the Indian Tribes (1885/1909):

It will be admitted now on every hand that the only solution of the Indian problem involves the entire change of these people from a savage to a civilized life. They are not likely to be exterminated. Unless we ourselves withdraw from all contact with them, and leave them to roam untrammeled over their wilds, or until the power of a Christian civilization shall make them consciously one with us, they will not cease to vex us.

From "The Progress of the World," in The Review of Reviews (June 1892):

The Indian question has had fresh attention by reason of the debates in Congress upon the Indian appropriations. A longer article elsewhere in this number of THE REVIEW, presents in detail the features of our present Indian policy, and takes the ground that in spite of all temporary and local frictions, the Indian problem is at length in the course of real and final solution.

The "longer article" mentioned in this extract begins on page 551 of the periodical and includes a useful and concise enumeration of ten points underlying "the new Indian policy" of assimilation.

From Robert Hill, "Indian Citizenship," in *Proceedings of the Nineteenth National Conference of Charities and Correction (1892):

We must not look upon Indian citizenship as a panacea for all of the ills of the border. Nor must we expect that dividing land in severalty by itself will secure such final solution of the Indian problem as will be satisfactory to the thoughtful student of sociology. It has been said, however, that under the spur of recent laws the the education of the younger Indians will eventually solve the Indian problem. This takes too hopeful a view of present methods of Indian education. The education which the Indians now receive, while largely unfitting them or the former life, does not place within their reach the comforts to which they have become accustomed while in school. The system is not yet a perfect system.

From George Holme, "Indian Types," in Munsey's Magazine (May 1893):

The great divergence of opinions upon the final solution of the Indian problem in the United States is a commentary upon the range of thought that influences all acts of the American government. All these theories must go into the mill at Washington, and be ground again and again, before the cake which the Indian must eat is ultimately baked. It is the view of the men who are scholars and historians, that the Indian's final destiny must be absorption into the white communities. This has happened with all primitive people who have been conquered; but there is a consideration here that has never come before in the history of the world. In the historical cases of assimilation, there has been but little difference between the conqueror and the conquered. Here the difference is that of the opposite poles.

From Lucy Textor, Official Relations Between the United States and the Sioux Indians (1896):

Such were the provisions of the Dawes Land in Severalty Bill, a bill which was regarded by its supporters as marking the final solution of our Indian problem. Previous legislation had been in large measure tentative, had no been directed toward a definite end. True, it had aimed at the ultimate civilization of the Indians, but the measures adopted o bring about this civilization had lacked breadth and coherence.

From note about the twentieth annual meeting of the Connecticut Indian Association (November 22, 1901), a missionary group, reported in The Indian's Friend (December 1901):

Aside from our own work, which for two decades has been carried on so successfully, it may be confidently stated that the Indian problem as a whole is much nearer its final solution than many suppose. White does not differ from black more completely than the Indian question of today differs from the Indian question of twenty years ago.

From Merrill Gates, "The Next Steps to Be Taken" (October 16, 1901), in "Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners, reprinted in Congressional Series of United States Public Documents (1902):

Is it not possible, as we approach the final solution of the Indian problem, to devise some plan by which the title of an Indian to his allotted land shall be made to a certain degree dependent upon occupancy and use, so that the principle of the homestead act, which gives land to the actual settler who wishes to use it, may be worked in with the principle of the severalty act? I have not yet attempted to think through the details of such a plan.

From "The Lake Mohonk Conference of the Friends of the Indian," in The Messenger (December 1903):

Dr. Abbott's evident intention [in urging that the War Department take over administration of Indian affairs and that the Department of Education run Indian schools] is to see that the Federal Government will educate every child under the Stars and Stripes, in the States as well as in our dependencies, and that the spoils system will be effectually put out of existence. Dr. Merril E. Gates, Secretary of the Board of Indian Commissioners, vigorously opposed this plan. His contention was that the Indian problem is now near its final solution, that special schools for the Indians will soon end, that the Indian Agent is fast disappearing, that 2,882 employees are already under Civil Service Rules, that he army would be a menace to the peace of the tribes, and that army officers of repute and ambition looked upon such a detail as highly undesirable.

From a letter from E. Matheson, principal of the Battleford [Saskatchewan] Industrial School to Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs Frank Pedley (July 5, 1905), reprinted in Annual Report of the Department of Indian Affairs for the Year Ended June 30, 1905 (1906):

Some of our ex-pupils are engaged in various places as teachers or helpers in connection with the Indian schools. One is attending college, studying with a view to taking holy orders. Another has taken his course and has been ordained to the sacred ministry of the church. Verily the work has not been in vain and surely these schools are steps towards the final solution of the Indian problem.


in the United States, discussions of "the Indian problem [or question]" and its "final solution" go back to at least 1869. In the earliest commentaries, the envisaged "final solution" tended to be genocide. But within a few years, the discussion shifted to assimilation—education in the white Western (and Christian) tradition, pastoral skills training, and U.S. citizenship under these supposedly civilizing influences.

By the 1880s, references to "final solution" of the "Indian problem" in a nongenocidal sense become commonplace. It is therefore false to identify the Canadian government official Duncan Scott, writing in 1910, as the original source of the term. Modern texts claiming that Scott coined the phrase "final solution" in connection with "the Indian problem" begin appearing in Google Books matches from the 1990s.

Given how established this terminology was by the 1940s, I wouldn't be surprised if it influenced the wording that the translator of the Nazi German phrase Endlösung der Judenfrage adopted. But any attempt to equate the genocidal implications of the two solutions entails a willful disregard for many decades of U.S. usage in the context of integrationist (not exterminationist) policy.

In Google Books search results, the last positive invocations of a "final solution" to "the Indian problem" occur in the middle 1940s. Once the Nazi use of "final solution" became generally familiar in the United States, its application to Native Americans vanished—except among revisionist historians interested in scoring provocative rhetorical points by applying its malevolent modern meaning retroactively to the assimilationist policy propounded most ardently by progressives in North America during the period 1873–1945.


The expression Final Solution has a German origin and originally refers to the Nazi Jewish Policy:

  • A term applied by Nazis to the genocide of European Jews during World War II. Before instituting the Final Solution, the Nazi government had abolished the Jews' rights, destroyed and confiscated their property, and confined Jews in concentration camps.



  • 1947, translation of German Endlösung, name given to Nazi Jewish policy from 1941.


Ngram: Final Solution

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