History

March 20, 2014
By:
Peter d'Errico

Professor Joshua Jeffers, a History Ph.D. candidate and instructor at Purdue University, authored an important study of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, published in the Maryland Historical Magazine (Spring 2013). Jeffers began his scholarly review with a discussion of the 1823 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Johnson v. M'Intosh, which made the Doctrine "the fundamental legal principle on which United States land title was based…with devastating consequences for Native Americans."

After a thorough analysis of the trajectory of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery from its origins in 15th century papal decrees, Jeffers explores the ways in which this once-obscure religious-legal doctrine has emerged into open discussion in our time. He describes the current situation as "increasing ferment over this issue." Readers of Indian Country Today are witnesses to this ferment, as columnists and news articles report the growing movement to focus United Nations attention on Christian Discovery as a colonial and imperial doctrine.

In a provocative conclusion, Jeffers suggests that Native Peoples' 21st century challenge to the doctrine are as significant as the 16th century debates that examined theological and legal underpinnings of Spanish colonialism. He points out that the current reexamination of Johnson v. McIntosh, calling into question its legitimacy as a precedent, also echoes arguments among 17th century British land speculators and 18th and 19th century American legal theorists.

Jeffers's conclusion about the historical significance of the present moment seems amply supported by the facts. As he notes, "in the past two decades more than 750 articles and several books, from scholars as varied as political scientists, legal theorists, and colonial historians, have critically evaluated the Johnson ruling."

Not only has there been an explosion of scholarship and commentary, the critique has broken out of the academic arena and into the regular press and the international political arena.

The 11th session (2012) of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues examined the Doctrine of Christian Discovery as a "special theme." The session involved a panel of international experts, preparation of a conference paper, and statements from indigenous peoples around the globe. The Report of the session recommended that a formal study be undertaken on behalf of the Permanent Forum itself.

The study recommended by the special session was prepared by Mr. Edward John, a member of the Forum, and is now in final editing stage. It will be presented at the 13th session of the Forum, scheduled for 12-23 May 2014. Mr. John investigates not only the "impacts" of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, but also "mechanisms, processes and instruments of redress."

The Study will indeed reach the level of historical significance suggested by Prof. Jeffers: it portends a worldwide examination of the notion of Christian Discovery, with implications for law, politics, and economics, as well as for the proper place of religion in the activities of government. The question is whether the discussion will focus on "redress" as the verb meaning "put on new clothes," or "redress" as the noun and verb meaning "put back into a stable, upright position."

For starters, it is significant to refer to the doctrine by its full and proper name—Doctrine of Christian Discovery—and not by the common phrase used by most writers, even those who are critical—Doctrine of Discovery. This emphasizes that the doctrine is rooted in religion. It is not a secular rule, but a rule of religious discrimination.

We owe it to Steven Newcomb for laying the scholarly groundwork demonstrating the historical and documentary record of "discovery" as a religious doctrine. It was Newcomb who hammered on "Christian Discovery," at a time when most writers were simply referring to "European Discovery."

The historical record that "European Discovery" is "Christian Discovery" is clear all the way back to the initial colonial intrusion, when Christopher Columbus planted the Spanish flag in the "New World" in 1492.

In the 1493 Bull "Inter Caetera," Pope Alexander VI praised "our beloved son, Christopher Columbus"; and, for the Spanish Crown that financed Columbus, the Pope did "give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, …all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances, all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered." The only limit to the Pope's grant was if the lands were already "in the actual possession of any Christian king or prince." Columbus' name bears witness to the doctrine: As the Oxford English Dictionary states, "Christopher" means "Christ-bearing."

March 13, 2014
By:
Steven Newcomb

For nations and peoples typically called “Indigenous,” 2014 will be an important year in the international arena. This coming September, the United Nations General Assembly is scheduled to convene a High Level Plenary Meeting (HLPM) regarding the U.N.

March 08, 2014
By:
Alex Ewen

Recently newspapers have trumpeted new scientific discoveries that lead some scientists to conclude that early American Indians lived in the area of the Bering Strait, known as Beringia, for more than 10,000 years before colonizing the Americas around about 15,000 years ago.

March 04, 2014
By:
Steven Newcomb

In A Legacy of Genocide: The San Salvador, (SanDiegoFreePress.org, February 14, 2014) Will Falk, an attorney and poet, precisely pinpoints what is wrong with the nearly

February 25, 2014
By:
Steven Newcomb

While President Barack Obama was recently hosting French President Françoise Hollande, they took a tour of Monticello, the slave plantation home of President Thomas Jefferson.

February 01, 2014
By:
Winona LaDuke

These are two fundamental, and essential emotions which allow us to live well. I could say function in society, but that seems too clinical. Remorse—to feel sorry, to express regret; (minjinawezid- he is regretful). And, gratitude, migwechiwendam, to be thankful.

January 03, 2014
By:
Jacqueline Keeler

There are always things happening in Indian country that never make it into the mainstream news, and we Indian people are accustomed to it. We never expect the issues near and dear to our hearts to be covered 24 hours on CNN or to trend on Twitter or on Buzzfeed.

December 31, 2013
By:
Julianne Jennings

A recent article written by Daphne R, "DNA Evidence Proves That The First People In China Were Black," confirms what black historians have been arguing for many years, th

December 26, 2013
By:
Nancy Omaha Boy
December 09, 2013
By:
Shannon Speed & Rosalva Aída Hernández Castillo

On October 31, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto utilized new presidential powers of pardon on the very day that they went into effect to free Mayan school teacher Alberto Patishtán Gómez. We hope that President Obama was paying attention.

December 08, 2013
By:
Ruth Hopkins

Since the passing of fellow Indigenous tribesman Madiba Nelson Mandela, much of mainstream media has attempted to paint him in their own colonial image, once again revising history to make the Federal Government and it’s allies look good, and thereby use him to suit their own purposes.

December 03, 2013
By:
Barry Brandon

When the course of human events mandates a new forming of political bands between one people and another, that challenge has often been met. This was the foundation of our more perfect union.

So it was when the United States saw its tumultuous start.

December 02, 2013
By:
Steven Newcomb

During the papacy of Pope Alexander VI, the Holy See at the Vatican used the papal bull of May 4, 1493 to call for “barbarous nations” to be “subjugated” or “overthrown.” The Latin word employed in the document is “deprimantur,” which generally is translated “to reduce.” Reduction is ano

December 01, 2013
By:
Peter d'Errico

Pirates are a fascinating topic, and pirate stories have long been part of popular culture. Their daring exploits, coupled with their anarchic—and democratic—organization, provide fodder for books, movies, poems, and paintings.

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