Trust, States, and Colonialism

Trust, States, and Colonialism

Duane Champagne

For most indigenous peoples, the relations of trust responsibility within colonialism and modern states are not the same.  Trust responsibility arises during the colonial period when under the doctrine of discovery European Christian kings claimed the land in North and South America.  The Catholic church though the powers of the Pope granted New World land to Spanish and Portuguese kings.  The English and French followed and adopted the a similar doctrine.  The European colonial powers were granted control over land because according to Christian doctrine, a heathen people could not hold title to land when confronted with a counter claim from a Christian king. In return for the land and political power, the kings were entrusted to Christianize the Indians and take responsibility for their welfare as subjects.

During the colonial period, kings explicitly recognized and carried out their trust responsibility. The Spanish kings organized Indian communities into local municipal governments and often indigenous individuals were granted powers of governorship of regions under the power of the king. While land was reallocated to landholders and non-Indigenous farmers and ranchers, indigenous communities were entitled to retain use of some land. The king gave land grants to prominent citizens for economic development of the land.  Indian communities were often pressed into labor for the empire or attached to landed estates.

In US and Canada, the British king in the 1760s took trust control over much of eastern north America.  Land was controlled by the king as crown land and Indians lived on the land at the pleasure of the king. The British king recognized indigenous land rights, but considered Indians subject to the British crown. Indigenous peoples were not consenting political parties to the early colonial regimes, lost land, cultural identity, and political autonomy.

In the United States and Canada, the trust responsibilities and powers of the colonial period were transferred to the new Canadian and US governments.  The Proclamation of 1763 remains law in Canada specifying British control over land and trust relations to Indians. In the United States, the control over land and trust relations were continued through the result of the court cases now called the Marshall trilogy, which were argued during the 1820s and early 1830s.

In Latin and South America, however, the trust relations that indigenous communities had, offering at least some continuity of land and some self-government, were transferred to new nation states during the independence movements of the 1810 to 1820s period. In California, mission indians were transferred from Spanish to Mexican control.  The new nation states, often modeled after the United States, favored political equality, individual rights, market economy, and representative government.   Indigenous rights and the old colonial trust responsibility were put aside in exchange for granting indigenous citizenship within the new nation states and promises of market economy.  While the Latin and South American democratic states met with mixed success, Indians communities become economically, politically, and more culturally marginalized than they were in colonial societies.  In California, mission Indians were granted citizenship and opportunities to form local municipal governments and exchange parish priests for the old mission padres.  The California plan continued trust and land for indigenous peoples fell victim of to Mexican landed interests, who dismantled the missions and took up the mission lands.  The Indian lands, formerly in trust, were granted as private property to Mexican citizens.  Some California Indians were given private land grants, but most lost them during the American period after 1847.  In New Mexico, the pueblo villages had to petition congress to regain Indian status. California Indians negotiated 18 treaties with the Unites States, but the treaties were not ratified, the protections of trust responsibility were not extended to them.  Mexican Indians were granted citizenship, but did not enjoy trust relations from the new Mexican government.  Nation states throughout Latin and South America took the opportunity of establishing independent and post colonial governments as a means to absolving trust responsibility for indigenous peoples.

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