An Open Letter to 'Occupy Wall Street': A Shawnee-Lenape Perspective

Steven T. Newcomb

Greetings on Colonization Day,

I begin by prayerfully remembering our free and independent ancestors, the Lenape and all the Original Nations and Peoples of this vast Turtle Island (Mother Earth), and of the entire Western Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America.

As you ‘occupy Wall Street,’ I ask you to reflect: You are on the island upon which our Indigenous ancestors lived and thrived for thousands and thousands of years. Please take a moment to recognize that we, the Original Nations, still exist here on Turtle Island. We have the right to exist as free and distinct nations with full self-determination.

What is the true source of our many grievances? It is the mentality and behavior of greed. The word ‘America’ is the combination of two Latin words ame (a command form of ‘love!’) and rica (riches and wealth). The effects of an insatiable desire for and the pursuit of riches and wealth first afflicted our Indigenous nations and peoples, and now afflict all peoples. Clearly, we need to address and rectify the political economy of greed, and the destruction it has caused and continues to cause.

Greed is an unsustainable value, but it is also an illness that is rooted in addiction. It is maintained in keeping with the slogan, ‘The more you eat (consume), the more you want.’ The addict will stop at nothing to get a fix; he will sacrifice anyone and anything to feed his addiction. For this reason, an economy of greed has and will continue to sacrifice the health and well-being of women, children, men, and all living things on Mother Earth. As a great Anishinaabe leader has profoundly stated, “Their way of living is our way of dying.” It is rapidly becoming ‘the way of dying’ for everyone.

Today, after centuries of invasion and predatory consumption (‘devouring’) of our traditional lands, territories, and resources on Turtle Island and elsewhere, the waters of the rivers and streams that were once pure enough for our ancestors to drink from are now filthy and poisoned. Water is Life. The chemical contamination of Water, and, therefore, of Life itself, is emblematic of a way of life predicated upon patterns of greed that are destined to collapse.

The suffering of human beings and the destructiveness to life on Mother Earth has been a direct consequence of colonization, domination, dehumanization, militarization and war. Unfortunately, these conceptions and behaviors have become the metaphorical bricks and mortar of the current unsustainable world order. They are expressed in a number of documents issued in the fifteenth century by the Holy See at Vatican Hill in Rome; these documents called for the domination of all non-Christian peoples throughout the world, and for the theft of all our lands and territories. To this day, the ideas found in those papal documents are woven into US Indian law and policy.

Those Church documents unleashed claims to a right of conquest and domination in the name of a “right of Christian discovery.” The monarchies of Christendom used those documents to claim the territories of our nations in the Western hemisphere, simply because our territories were not yet in the possession of any Christian prince or dominator (‘dominorum christianorum’). This paradigm of domination has been used to give governments and corporations virtually unlimited access to our traditional lands and territories. If approved, the Keystone XL pipeline will be but the latest example.

Despite the destructive effects of more than five centuries of subjugation, as the Originally Free Nations and Peoples of Turtle Island, we still remember what it is to be truly free as exemplified by our ancestors. Our ancestors evolved life-ways and values that challenged European feudalism, medievalism, and lordship. Today, forces seem to be working toward neo-feudalism and neo-medievalism, with a long range plan for irreversible global domination in the name of ‘national security,’ under the unblinking eye of the surveillance state.

We have entered the ‘Brave New World’ written about by a prescient mind a generation ago. Not only have we survived, but we now have the capability of expressing ourselves in the language of the Colonizers, and we are maintaining the message that our great leaders tried to convey to your ancestors: Stop the patterns of destruction and greed before it is too late. The Chernobyl-scale release of radiation at Fukushima, Japan is a clarion call.

We must invert the key symbol of domination. Once inverted, the patriarchal symbol of ‘the dome of domination’ becomes a bowl; when filled with water, the bowl is the symbol of the Sacred Feminine, as exemplified by the White Buffalo Calf Woman. She was the one who brought the Sacred Pipe to the Oglala Lakota Nation.

The Living Laws and Values of Turtle Island that the White Buffalo Calf Woman brought include: Honor and Respect; Compassion and Pity; Sharing and Caring (to carry the well-being of the People in one’s heart); Patience and Fortitude; Bravery and Courage; Humility; Seeking Wisdom and Seeking Understanding. In keeping with the White Buffalo Calf Woman’s teachings, Love and the Beautification of Life are healing values that need to replace the love of riches and wealth.

Next May, 2012, a year of great transformation, we will be in New York at the United Nations as part of our work toward decolonization at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The theme of the Permanent Forum will be the destructive legacy and deadly impact of the Doctrines of Discovery and Domination on Indigenous Nations and Peoples and on Mother Earth. We ask for your support by renouncing the Doctrine of Christian Discovery.

Steven Newcomb, Shawnee/Lenape, is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, and a columnist for the Indian Country Today Media Network.

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marcbowlegs's picture
Very eloquent and informational article. Thanks for posting! I'm going to pass this along....
protectedsun's picture
Fantastic letter Steve - Education and action is key. The momentum is now. Nicole
fiorella21's picture
Dear Mr. Newcomb, like you, I'd like to think of the word "America" as a compendium of "ame"-love and "rica"-riches; it certainly seems to fit. However, just for the sake of accuracy, I don't believe we are correct. As far as I know, from what I learned in history books in school, America was named for "Amerigo" Vespucci, an Italian explorer, contemporary and friend of Columbus, who did more extensive voyages after him, and to whom was given the great honor of lending his name to the New World. Apparently, it was Martin Waldseemuller, a French cartographer, who decided to name the new continent “America” on his world map of 1507. As explained in Wikipedia: “It was the publication and widespread circulation of the letters [describing Vespucci's voyages] that might have led Martin Waldseemüller to name the new continent America on his world map of 1507 in Lorraine. Vespucci used a Latinised form of his name, Americus Vespucius, in his Latin writings, which Waldseemüller used as a base for the new name, taking the feminine form America, according to the prevalent view (for other hypotheses, see the footnote in the introduction). The book accompanying the map stated: "I do not see what right any one would have to object to calling this part, after Americus who discovered it and who is a man of intelligence, Amerige, that is, the Land of Americus, or America: since both Europa and Asia got their names from women". Amerigo itself is an Italian form of the medieval Latin Emericus (see also Saint Emeric of Hungary), which through the German form Heinrich (in English, Henry) derived from the Germanic name Haimirich.[4]" The bottom line? Amerigo turns out to be an Italian form of Henry!!! Who’d have thought it?
randy's picture
Great letter. The complexities of our present day world seem to become more complex by the minute but none of it can escape the simple truth captured in the words of such visionaries as Chief Seattle and many other clear powerful minds from the past. Mankind has broken connection with earth and cosmos and has become trapped in selfish ego that does not comprehend the fact that we are killing out host. I pray there will come present day visionaries to speak the truth that will lead back to reason, respect and understanding of our world and I believe the indigenous people retain the greatest potential to produce those visionaries.