Living in a World of Domination

Steven Newcomb

In his book Metaphysics of Modern Existence (1979), Vine Deloria, Jr. wrote: “The fundamental factor that keeps Indians and non-Indians from communicating is that they are speaking about two entirely different perceptions of the world.” This also is because Indians and non-Indians find their origins in completely different worlds.

Deloria wrote of the challenge of “tracing the origin and scope of the peculiar beliefs of the non-Indian,” instead of “finding a way to express the reality of the Indian experience in Western European scientific and religious terms.” Such an inquiry, he said, “was what Western peoples formerly called metaphysics—a search for the structure and meaning of reality.” This search is an effort to overcome the fact that the underlying premises of Western European reality ordinarily go unnoticed.

In Language and Art in the Navajo Universe (1977) Gary Witherspoon points out that most “professional intellectuals, let alone lay people, are not fully aware of or able to articulate the axiomatic [self-evident] premises on which their own thinking is based.” He provides “a major test of validity” which is “whether and to what extent the account of a people’s world adequately explains and makes intelligible the events of that world.”

One challenge is to identify those premises of reality that are so taken for granted, so self-evident, that no one “ever gives them any thought.” What I am getting at, then, is the metaphysics of domination—being able to discern and clearly identify, for all to see, the structure and meaning of a reality of domination.

Such a reality is constitutive of what has been called Western civilization, the expansion of which occurred through the process of forcing of a cultural pattern of domination on other nations and peoples. Everywhere we look historically in the colonization of “the Americas,” we see this pattern of forced imposition and its destructive, deadly effects.

As a result of that centuries-long process, domination is now a world in which we live without noticing; it is similar to the way a fish lives in water without noticing. Yet, we have no theory to account for systems of domination and their consequences on humans and ecological systems. There is no Department of Domination Studies in your local college or university. Good luck finding a professor of Domination Studies. There aren’t any.

Rather than focus on domination, we as Indian people seem obsessed with “law.” In Indian country we constantly hear people discussing “Indian law,” even though it is a form of law that no Indians had a hand in creating, and even though the foundations of that idea-system were designed to be anti-Indian by working against the interests of Indian nations. What is being called federal Indian law is a product or result of a cataclysmic collision of worlds; a collision between the worlds of the dominators and the worlds of our original free and independent nations and peoples.

It is time to realize that the non-Indian law system called “federal Indian law” is nothing but a product of the Euro-American mental world. It is a result of and exists within the political context of a larger system of domination. In fact, the history of relations between the invading societies of Western Christendom and our original nations and peoples of this part of the planet is nothing but a history of domination.

This becomes immediately evident when we realize that words such as “conquest” and “invasion” are synonyms for domination. Conquest is domination; to conquer is to dominate; to invade is to forcibly enter or “penetrate” someone else’s country in an effort to dominate. What could be clearer?

We have countless books written about the domination of the Americas, but this is seldom noticed because they tend to be titled in the language of “conquest”: i.e., The Conquest of America (1984) by Tzvetan Todorov and The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest (1975) by Francis Jennings.” These and many other titles could be accurately rewritten in terms of “The Domination of America.”

Federal Indian law and policy is predicated on the rationales and arguments that brilliant non-Indian minds dreamed up in previous generations. Brilliant non-Indian judges and lawyers are the present day successors whose job it is to maintain the rationales and arguments used to justify the continuing domination of our nations and peoples. We are the generation with the responsibility of working toward ending the dominating conceptual and behavioral patterns still being used against our nations and peoples.

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 the Indigenous and Kumeyaay research coordinator for the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.

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softbreeze's picture
It's true that the Original North Americans and people of the Western Civilization culture have completely different world views. It's also true that folks in Western culture are unconsciously acting out the belief paradigms of their culture. They take these unspoken, unwritten beliefs and rules as essentially a given for everyone. It's not their fault, really. It's all they've been exposed to. And, just given the dynamics of Western culture, independent thought and behavior is not exactly encouraged. Actually, it seems to be frowned upon, and especially since it is a hiearchal society, people are socialized to not question those in positions of authority over them. Being different generally is accompanied by costs to social status. I think it's fine if people want to work within the system of Federal Indian Law in order to work for change for the better, as long as they understand the big picture that you are continually reminding everyone of, which is it being in the context of one culture controlling another. I think keeping that perspective in mind is very important, for many reasons. One of the most important reasons is it gives Native People the ability to create their own definition of themselves, which you provide great examples for us to think about and choose from. People giving themselves permission to create their own images of themselves, rather than allowing a currently dominant culture to do it for them, is very empowering. Giving oneself the gift of freedom of thought, completely independent of the thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes of others, is true sovereignty.
dinagw's picture
I wouldn't let members of the dominant society off the hook so easily just because they are unconscious of the dominant paradigm which they were born into. I don't think most of them are all that unconscious of it anyway because everybody knows that the United States came to be as a result of the domination of our native ancestors. Perhaps it is true that there is a disconnect between then and now, but is a disconnect that the dominant culture and its individual members are heavily invested in maintaining because of the ways they continue to benefit from it. Even if some are sympathetic toward Native American history, how many of them are ready to give up their lands which were originally stolen? How many of them believe that Native Americans should have total legal sovereignty like France or Venezuela? Better to just acknowledge that there were problems in American history but that's the past and we all have to get over it. That is the attitude of today's average American.