Learning to See How American Indians Are Dominated

Steven Newcomb

For generations, we,, the original nations and peoples of North America, have been conditioned to think and behave in a dominated manner. This has been part of the process of becoming “civilized,” which is a polite word for “dominated.”

“Civilization,” according to the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, is defined as “the act of civilizing” especially “the forcing of a particular cultural pattern on a population to whom it is foreign.” The act of forcing is an act of domination, and thus “civilizing” involves forcing a cultural pattern of domination on nations or peoples that had previously remained undominated, meaning free of domination.

Nations and peoples living free of domination are made “civilized” by being rendered unfree, by being forced under a foreign and invading system of “government” (the Latin word for which is “domination”).

Based on the above, we are able to decode the belief that “civilizing” Indians was the process of making sub-human Indians human; to learn to be “human” in this sense and in this context involves free peoples “learning” to quietly live a dominated (“governed”) existence. Here quietly means “without protest or disturbance,” and “without talking back to or acting against the dominating authority.”

In his classic book The Savages of America: A Study of the Indian and the Idea of Civilization, Roy Harvey Pearce wrote: “America had to be planted so that sub-humans could be made human.” Pearce continues:

The practical problem of bringing savages to civilization was to be solved by bringing them to the Christianity which was at its heart. Success in empire-building and trade was to be measured by success in civilizing and Christianizing; success in civilizing and Christianizing would assure success in empire-building and trade.

What is empire building? It is a process by which the dominance of one group or people is extended over an increasingly large geographical area, and over original peoples already living there, free and independent of the invading empire’s domination. Now that we are able to see the unmistakable pattern of domination, we are also able to realize that in this context “civilization” “civilizing” “empire-building” and “Christianity” are other words for domination. Thus, we can decode Pearce’s above explanation in the following and highly redundant and circular manner:

The practical problem of bringing the savages to domination was to be solved by bringing them under the domination which was at its heart. Success in domination-building and trade was to be measured by success in dominating; success in dominating would assure success in domination-building and trade.

Pearce quoted from Letters Patent issued in 1606 for the colonization of Virginia to illustrate his point. In that document, said Pearce, the King of England wrote of the furtherance of a work

which may, by the Providence of the Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of His Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such people, as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God, and may in time bring the Infidels and Savages living in those parts to human civility and to a settled and quiet Government…

The King of England characterized the undominated and free existence of our original nations as a life lived “in darkness and miserable ignorance.” Second, the planned domination of our free nations was characterized as ‘bringing’ our free peoples “to human civility” and “to settled and quiet Government.” (notice the capital ‘G’) This is more documented evidence that the terms “human,” “civil order” (“civility”) and “Government” are euphemisms for domination. Living free of Christian European domination is categorized as less-than-human.

I find it remarkable that U.S. federal Indian law is seldom acknowledged to be an anti-Indian conceptual framework of domination and dehumanization, carefully constructed and maintained by U.S. government officials. Those Indian people who have made a conscious decision to embrace that system seem incapable of seeing the domination and dehumanization that are at the root of federal Indian law. We certainly do not hear of Indian leaders calling federal Indian law into question because it is premised on domination.

Is it not startling that we have been deceived into believing that a relationship of domination and subordination is one of “trust?” What a lie! A relationship of trust presumes a second party that is demonstrably, or at least presumably, trustworthy, and the federal domination (government) has never met that criterion.

The most critical question we are facing has nothing at all to do with “seceding” from a political structure and system we never acceded (agreed) to join, but, rather, “How are we to liberate ourselves from illegitimate and dehumanizing patterns that have been imposed on us under the false name of ‘law’.” How do we get those addicted to the domination of our existence, both dominated and dominators, to stop? Have we developed the habit of meekly submitting to being dominated?

Steven Newcomb (Shawnee,Lenape) is the co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, and is the Indigenous and Kumeyaay Research Coordinator for the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.

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michaelmack's picture
The points made are completely valid. We cannot change history. The issue for those of us who are conscious of this is - how do we make peace within ourselves knowing that we are survivors in a culture that generally has no regard for our history, no real respect for our traditional cultures, and no desire to see us outside of the stereotypes they place us in?
piqua's picture
Think of the Black Hills, San Francisco Peaks, Ocotillo, and all the other sacred and significant places that Indigenous nations and peoples are not able to protect from desecration as a result of the dominance of the dominating society. Think of all the Indian lands that are now being wrongfully occupied, and economically benefiting the society of the United States because of successful dominance. Thinks of the waters of Indian nations and peoples that are now under the dominating control of the non-Indian society. I wrote my column in an effort to identify the underlying patterns of domination and dehumanization that are intrinsic to the conceptual and behavioral systems used against our nations and peoples. Those patterns are everywhere in evidence historically, and they continue to operate to this present day, globally. How is it that the words "domination" and "dehumanization" are seldom if ever used to identify those phenomena as problems to be solved? What does any of this have to do with "changing history"? Nothing. To say that we cannot change history is not the same as saying that we cannot work to identify and then end patterns of domination of dehumanization. However, unless we recognize that those patterns exist, both conceptually and behaviorally, then how can we work to end those patterns in our own lives and encourage others to do the same? What is typically called federal Indian law and policy is an institutionalization of domination and dehumanization, yet how often do we ever hear anyone saying so? We have been programmed to never recognize that was has been called "civilization" is from the point of view of an original free and independent existence, domination.
wanbli's picture
Piqua, Right ON wise sister!!!! Pilamiyah, Wanbli 2012
wanbli's picture
Ah Ho!!!! Pilamiyah, Wanbli 2012
wanbli's picture
Micheal Mack: Frist Nation People of Turtle Island are not here to change the white mans history or to make and excuse for his sins, transgressions and a brutal, deceptive and manipulating euro centric history and political lifestyle against God and Humanity. We are not here to change their dehumanizing behaviors and characteristics of attitude throughout history for lust, power and control of mother earth and all living things, that they will enslave within they're national hypocrisies. This is an American Issue and Nation Issue that they must choose to accept or pay the consequences of this moral bankrupt society, called and humane society of freedom liberties, justice, prosperity, equality, the American Way. What of bunch of shit!!! There are many call but only a few chosen! To accept reality not westerners imaginations. Many red peoples are born again to earth and sky and is the solution to lasting life, an a big part to the New Creation, that we are creating within this Dehumanizing and Genocidal western science history that is non-repentful. Yet, First Nations are led by the Spirit of a Living Creator! You, see the last will be first ant the first will be last at the closing and dismantling all remembrances of those that created it and supported it and fed it systematic oppressive assistance to destroy all of the human race. But, the Creator of all Indigenous People of Red Earth had a plan, and that plan of the historian of all historians is happening now! America owns the Creator of heaven and earth and all red indigenous nationhood's they're souls and every thing and all things left on this continent,!!!! Nothing will save them but the acts of genuine sincere mercy, charity and compassion upon all the poor of earth and all red nationhood's of Turtle Island. And give back what they continue to steal from God and all his red children and everliving things here on Turtle Island. White Rich and Poor Americas must make all wrongs right before God to our ancestors they're offspring and the next million years! Or its over for America and they're self-righteous taxpayers and citizens and students of empire!!! Wanbli 2012
smartphoenixnavajo's picture
If you have credit cards, cars, insurance, expensive clothes (non name brand), expensive watch(es), cable, internet, granite counters, more than one bathroom, more than two cars in a house hold, children go to college, more than one degree, shop for food at finer grocery stores (TJs, etc), and the main factors, if your trash can(s) and recycle bin are full every week, even over, then you are "addicted to the domination of our existence,..." Simply put, your full assimilation has occurred, next!