A Better Way to Conceive of Our Being and Existence

Steven Newcomb

Prior to invasion and colonization by the Christian monarchies and nations of Europe, our cultural and spiritual worlds were intact. Our free and independent ancestors had a definite spiritual understanding of their own identities, as distinct nations and peoples.

When the invaders arrived, they worked for centuries to destroy our original languages, cultures, and traditions. They worked to replace our original free existence with their own European languages and traditions that were Christian based. To this day we live with the aftermath of that imposed domination, from which some of us believe we have the perfect right to free our nations and peoples.

Christian evangelism in those days was violently directed at all non-Christian peoples, with the insistence that everyone, and especially every infant, be baptized into what Christians deemed to be “the one true faith.” Non-Christians were at that time deemed “outlaws” and enemies of the state who needed to be either killed off, or “reduced” to Christian “civilization,” often by enslavement and forced conversion. Those who were unbaptized could be killed with impunity, or worked to death, cheated and stolen from, and collectively shoved off the land to make way for a Christian life.

When I look at what we’ve been through at the hands of the invaders and of the governments that emerged from those invading patterns, it has clearly been an effort to eradicate us as distinct nations. It’s as if the invaders all along have been saying: “You are required to accept our Domination.”

What is today called “federal Indian law” in the United States is nothing other than the metaphorical construct of a Christo-European reality system. Even though we are the original nations of this continent and this hemisphere, we have been living for generations under the hypnotic effect of that Christian European belief system with its underlying presumption that it’s the one true reality. It’s as if the dominators have been saying: “You must willingly accept the system of metaphors we have mentally created for your containment; it’s the only Reality, and it’s the Law.”

If we keep replicating and maintaining “federal Indian law dominance” for ourselves, we have only ourselves to blame. Repeating the same dysfunctional, unhealthy reality over and over again and expecting a functional, healthy reality to emerge from that replication is simply another form of craziness. If we consciously embrace the concepts, ideas and behaviors we know result in the same problems we say we want to solve, then how can we blame anyone else for the outcome?

Additionally, the dominating society has devised particular words and phrases for our political integration into its system. Whenever we think, talk, and write about ourselves in terms of the ideas that the dominating society has devised for that purpose, we are working against our own interests. We do this whenever we talk about ourselves in terms of the names and phrases that construct a dominating form of reality for us: “tribes,” “tribal nations,” “domestic dependent nations,” “quasi-sovereign,” “proud to be an American,” “our founding fathers,” “we need to accept the plenary power of the United States,” and so forth.

The more we use such self-diminishing words and phrases, and the longer we refuse to devise alternatives, the more rapidly we are destroying our political distinctiveness as the Original Nations and Peoples of this continent and this hemisphere. Political self-integration works by naming ourselves in terms of the very words the dominating political system has devised as its means of blending our nations and peoples into its predatory body politic.

Every time we unquestioningly use self-dominating vocabulary, we are assisting the predatory body politic to digest (incorporate) our nations and peoples. The only way to stop that process is by refusing to identify ourselves in terms of their dominating reality system. The issue of “discovery” has been a means of getting us to focus on a much deeper issue: The unceasing effort by the dominating society to eliminate our identity as the original free and independent nations of this continent and this hemisphere.

Getting us to identify ourselves with the very system that has worked so hard to destroy our existence has been a goal of the dominating society for generations. That was the purpose of our relatives being programmed and abused in the indoctrination-centers called “boarding schools” and “residential schools.”

Now a new and troubling trend is developing. It is the effort by some to convince us that, in the name of a “belated nation-building process,” we ought to willingly incorporate ourselves into the system of domination imposed on us. It is being falsely suggested that the subjugation and destruction visited upon our nations and peoples will be magically transformed into something beneficial through a process of “incorporation” that is being termed “healing” and “reconciliation.” We are being told this will be accomplished by “incorporating” ourselves into the political system of “the state” that has worked so diligently to destroy us. All we have to do is give that dominating system our free and informed consent. My suggestion: Don’t believe it for even a second.

Steven Newcomb is the co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, and author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (2008, Fulcrum).

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Anonymous's picture
you on the right trail kola!
Anonymous's picture
hesutu's picture
Thank you for continuing to speak the truth. Thank you for not being silent.
Anonymous's picture
I can't believe that you would group all Christians into this category. It's like all Indians still scalp people. There were Christians who hid and protected their Indian friends from harm and danger. The same way Indians protected them from starvation and sickness. I know personally the great character of Christian men and woman who helped others without saying they had to convert. Just as there were "war crimes" committed by Indian peoples, there were "crimes against humanity" committed by some Christians. Do not lump all of those people together. I am the granddaughter of Creek Medicine Man, I have seen both sides and neither side is completely without wrong doing. I sincerely hope your motives aren't about spreading hate, but honestly it doesn't sound like you're leaving anything but that in the column here.
Anonymous's picture
To everyone who has posted, thank you for your comments. To "Anonymous" who has a concern about me using the term "Christian" in the column, couldn't a similar criticism could be directed at me if I had used the term "European"? Wouldn't it seem that I had lumped all Europeans together, even though some Europeans had treated Indian people well? "As infidels, heathens, and savages," wrote U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, "they [the Indians] were not allowed to possess the prerogatives belonging to absolute, sovereign, and independent nations." Who didn't allow them to possess those prerogatives? Given that the terms used are "Infidels" and "heathens" the answer within that religious framework is, Christians. "Christians" wouldn't allow non-Christian Indians to possess full independence is what Story was saying. Story also said that "in respect to Christians" the Indians were regarded as "brute animals." He didn't split hairs and point out that perhaps there were some he did not subscribe to that view. "In respect to" means "from the viewpoint of" Christians, the Indians, meaning the "unbaptized" Indians, were considered to be brute animals. Francis Lieber, the first political scientist of the United States during the nineteenth century said the following: "Discovery in what we will call for brevity's sake the Spanish sense of the word, meant the first visit of a Catholic to an island or country not peopled at all or peopled by non-Christians, whom it was perfectly fair to conquer or subdue [dominate] by any means, in which not even the lowest animal sympathy had play." This meant that the Christians considered themselves to have no obligation to feel any sympathy whatsoever with those who had never been baptized. As Lieber put the matter: "The idea that Christianity formed a part of humanity, and that paganism or the fact of not being baptized,...established a non-jural state [a non-legal state], or an existence sine juribus [without rights], led to the conception of the Right of Discovery. I should not be accused of spreading hate by publicizing the accurate basis of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, and the hatred spread against our nations and peoples on the basis of the idea that our ancestors had never been baptized. It was a law of Christendom that Christians were in a state of war with all infidels, meaning with all unbaptized nations and peoples. This is the basis of the Johnson v. M'Intosh ruling of 1823, which Francis Lieber called "the jus divinum" [divine right] "of civilization, expounded at a later period by our great Judge [John] Marshall." The paradigm of domination, on the basis of Christianity, and a lack of baptism, is at the root of the U.S. federal Indian law and policy system. That's the amazing thing about the domination system; if you name it and directly oppose it, then you get accused of spreading hate of Christians. That's what you read into the column. It's not what I wrote.
Anonymous's picture
This Article will Be a topic of todays (Tuesday Nov. 18, 2013) Discussion on Tribal Voices Radio from 5:00 - 6:00 PM (Pacific Time) on KPFZ 88.1 FM in Northern California. Streaming at WWW.Live365.com (type in kpfz) Live Call in Line (707) 263-3435. I have been trying to get another radio interview with Mr Newcomb. I interviewed him on few years ago when his book Pagans in the Promised land was released! "All My Relations" James Browneagle
Anonymous's picture
Thats a bit of a fairy tale you have there, but its OK to dream. The other reality, is that Indian Nations were warring against one another for centuries, for about the same things, that nations war for now. Then there was slavery and all that warring entails. It is true, the spoils go to the victor, so there are really no pure bloods for that matter. Take a look at a room full of Indians or at a pow wow in the southwest and you can physically see many different peoples. It does not work east of the rockies though, since they are mostly european blood due to warring with their ancestors, but never the less, warring has been going on since the dawn of time, the world over. No use continuing a stereotype, no matter what kind. Peace.