Christian Discovery as Source of Reservation Crime

Peter d'Errico

The latest bad news about Indian reservations is getting worse; but there is a silver lining.

U.S. Attorney Ken Gonzales says violence on Indian reservations is "a kind of brutality that I don’t think a lot of people understand completely." Homicides, child sexual assaults, and domestic violence against women are commonplace.

Columnist Nicholas Kristoff discusses poverty and "suffocating hopelessness" as characteristics of reservation life. He suggests changes in Tribal land laws and more traditional cultural education as responses.

The New York Times reports "epidemic levels" of child abuse on the Spirit Lake reservation. U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs, "What are you doing to make sure we’re responding to this appropriately?"

The question of what is appropriate is key. It needs to be answered by prosecutors, educators, and B.I.A. personnel, and, especially, by people working with federal Indian law. Federal Indian law is the reason reservations are failing and people are being suffocated by hopelessness. Here are some analytical steps to demonstrate this:

• federal Indian law is the infrastructure of American Indian reservations

• federal Indian law is founded on the Doctrine of Christian Discovery

• the Doctrine of Christian Discovery is racist religious domination under the appearance of law

• racist religious domination produces generational psychological and sociological dysfunctions

• generational psychological and social dysfunctions produce crime and interpersonal abuse

• the appropriate fundamental response to crime and abuse is to heal the causative dysfunctions

• the way to heal the dysfunctions is to remove the root domination

• the way to remove the root domination is to repeal the Doctrine of Christian Discovery

• repealing the Doctrine of Christian Discovery will purge the core of federal Indian law

• a purged federal Indian law will consist of respectful government-to-government relations

• respectful government-to-government relations is the opposite of domination

The first practical step to implement this analysis is to overturn Tee-Hit-Ton v. United States. That goal deserves to be on the to-do list of every lawyer working to improve the conditions of American Indian life. It's that simple, which is not to say that it is easy.

We can learn something about the ingredients of a successful challenge to Tee-Hit-Ton by studying the successful challenge to its twin case, Brown v. Board of Education. The U.S. Supreme Court decided the two cases within a 13-month period in the middle of the 20th century. One case repealed the racist apartheid doctrine of "separate but equal" to liberate black people; the other affirmed the racist religious doctrine of Christian Discovery to continue dominating indigenous peoples.

A key element in the Brown case was that the challenge to apartheid treatment of blacks went beyond legal issues. It included reams of data on the psychological and social damage to blacks from the application of racist law. Social scientists from various disciplines provided testimony. At first, some of the lawyers resisted this approach, but the lead lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, was convinced of the significance of this information and brought it into the argument.

Juan Williams, author of Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary (1998), put it this way: "Marshall saw the crippling insecurity among …black children as a legal issue. The government, by its endorsement of segregation, was promoting self-hate in black children." In his oral argument, Marshall said that inferior schools and resources were not the issue; the issue was segregation itself. Segregation hurt the "development of the personalities of children" and "destroy[ed] their self-respect."

The attack on segregation as causing actual damage to people was a crucial part of the strategy that succeeded in overturning the racist doctrine of "separate but equal." The Supreme Court based its unanimous decision on the historical, anthropological, psychological, and sociological evidence of damage by racism as much as it did on the strictly legal arguments about equal protection and due process.

When the same Court affirmed the doctrine of Christian Discovery a few months later, it did not consider any social science data; but it relied on and approved the racist social stereotypes embedded in the doctrine of religious domination. The Brief for the United States in Tee-Hit-Ton said U.S. domination of Indians was based on "grants from the Popes, who claimed the power to grant to Christian monarchs the right to acquire territory… inhabited by Indians who were heathens and uncivilized." The Brief continued, "The recognition of this principle by the Federal Government may be seen, at this day, in those small reservations which are made to individual Indians, or to the tribe itself, upon the relinquishment of the body of their lands."

The silver lining in the cloud of bad news about reservation crime is the opportunity to mount a frontal attack on the Doctrine of Christian Discovery as causing actual harm to human beings, as well as being legally loathsome. Let's get to work.

Peter d’Errico graduated from Yale Law School in 1968. Staff attorney in Dinébe'iiná Náhii?na be Aga'diit'ahii Navajo Legal Services, 1968-1970. Taught Legal Studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1970-2002. Consulting attorney on indigenous issues.

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nightrain's picture
"Federal Indian law is the reason reservations are failing and people are being suffocated by hopelessness." Umm, what? Federal law is present on every recognized reservation, yes? So then, if the above statement is true, every reservation and most, or all, of the inhabitants would be in a state of hopelessness, ie, there would be no successful reservation raised Natives. Poppycock. It begins and ends with the parents (plural), and how they raise their children. Abuse alcohol, develop a sense of entitlement, be slothful, without a sense of respect for law and order, yourself, others, hard work, and your children will certainly follow your example. I've seen both types on the Navajo reservation: The hardworking kids of good parents who good on to be very successful people like pro golfers, race drivers, engineers, scientists, etc. And, the kids of bad parents, who end up in jail, prison, on welfare with multiple kids from multiple fathers, or sadly kill themselves. Federal law, absent or not, has nothing to do with rolling up your sleeves, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and making a success of yourself.
adelinadefender's picture
The author of this article, Peter d'Errico is like the Lone Ranger coming to the aid of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' failing its govern-ment-to-government relationship and putting the blame on Christianity. Since Tonto would aggressively disagree he is not accompanying his sidekick on this round. We are not that stupid. And from country are you Mr. d'Errico? Well, sir, "The silver lining in the cloud of bad news about reservation crime.." will not have Tonto mounting a "frontal attack" to cut off the fiduciary and trust obligation of BIA in this scenrio. As for your attack on the Doctrine of Christian Discovery as causing actual harm on human beings..." YOU need to get to work and prove it!
basnavely's picture
Brown v Topeka as a breakthrough case in which Critical Race Theory was used, in context, to demonstrate the "big picture" itself was causing inequality. The Discovery Doctrine is similarly part-and-parcel of a "big picture" that involved past (and recent) physical and cultural genocidal efforts, and so "Tribal Crit" (as coined by Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy) certainly seems applicable. Despite the Papal Bulls that pertain to the Discovery Doctrine, I do not view it solely as a Christian issue for the reason that, at the times of their being authored, the Church and State were bonded together (just as they had been since the time of Emperor Constantine). Instead, I perceive the doctrine as a sham used to justify frequent use of overt violence in order to sate unmitigated greed for property. The entire situation is quite sad. Most are unable to detect the hidden cultural agendas involved either for the reason that they do not suffer their negative effects, or for the reason they are convinced that meritocracy is a reality and not a fairy tale.
gsevalikova's picture
I never heard of Tee-Hit-Ton until today, and I do wonder if these Papal bulls are still active or have been revoked. the subject should be discussed in any case. Of all perspectives on Columbus, his crimes,and the results. I have yet to see anyone asking us Asians,who were the original targets of the Vatican and the monarchies who answered to them, how WE feel about what happened here. NO we don't approve of his actions and what came after. But you see, it's Marco Polo's travels on the Silk road along with his father and brothers,who really started this thing affecting the Hemisphere. They were merchants,yes,but spies for the Vatican's Popes as well. They were sent on a mission to gather info on the Kublai Khan and how vulnerable he would be to european forces by land and sea.
gsevalikova's picture
I just logged on.I use a public computer for this,so it's hard at times to find one available- I never heard of Tee-Hit-Ton but I'll loook it up right away. Most won't know about how Asians feel about Columbus, Doctrine of Discovery, since few ever ask. Why not? We, of those Silk Road countries,as well as better known nations like China,Japan,etc. were the real,first targets of the Vatican and its Popesand monarchies,and one can't get the whole picture without considering this fact. Congratulations to you for bringing the subject to light,and denouncing it!! And yes it is a good idea to see if the Bulls are STILL active,and if so, taking legal action against it immediately. You'll be doing the world itself a favor. Did you know that from Alexander the Great and Roman times, Europe has been trying to do to us first what they did to YOU? And that Natives were caught by surprise because they/you had no info from US about world events and how they were going to hit you? And even worse, many of us found out that Europe had control of the US stock market since 2010 or 2011,and no comments from anyone? You should also be looking into just how Europe is "reinvesting" big time in it's former colonies once again,and taking over fast- from Bushes 1&2 and Reagan,on. That's why there is no manufacturing base as before,and jobs sent overseas,not stopped yet. If you go online and read foreign papers like financial times.com /theeconomist.com/solari.com/trendsresearch.com,you can see with your own eyes and prepare for a soon- crashing dollar! Why do you think Washington will never prosecute Goldman Sachs, unless forced to by Americans. Internationalist politicians here,American by name only kickstarted this- look up LIBOR scandals and you can see how awful it is. Panic won't help-knowledge and preparations will. By the way Russia always said that if America went broke,or had major unrest, it would attack here with it's allies. Russia in May sent bomber jets to simulate attacks on Alaska-5/18/2012. They held war games with Syria,Iran,China last month,and America was the target. We who left USSR decades ago always try to warn US officials about this stuff and mostly get laughed at.
gsevalikova's picture
Have The Doctrine of Discover revoked if it's still active. By the way, have you ever heard of The Tartar Relation? It's the original source for the Bulls,and you can Goole it. Asia and the silk Road was/is their target. I should know, because I'm from there,and ex-Soviet also.
gsevalikova's picture
Solari.com /trendsresearch.com/sundaytimeslondon.com. What makes anyone think that the threats to this hemisphere ended with whites?? Others plan to do similar things-ever hear of the Islamist Thinkers association? (islamiststhinkersassociation.org) Thay want make America an Islamist State with Sharia laws. Study Sharia. The moderate Muslims here are really scared of these guys! Please have the Doctrine of Discovery revoked in court collectively,and ask Asian -American groups to stand with you.
Anonymous's picture
Christianism is the most genocidal religion of all times. DEATH TO CHRISTIANISM!