U.S. Colonialism: The Cornerstone of U.S. Indian Policy

Steven Newcomb

Indian nations have been dealing politically with the imperial momentum of the United States ever since the 13 British colonies along the Atlantic Seaboard of North America declared themselves to be free and independent states in the late eighteenth century. Our original free existence as nations predates the American empire and its colonial system, and that point ought to be the central focus when it comes to advocating for our rights.

Evidence of the colonial system of the United States is found in our traditional Lenape territory in Ohio. In the late 1930s, a stone column was erected on Front Street in Marietta, Ohio. The column stands across the street from “Pioneer Park” on the north bank of the Muskingum River. An inscription on the column reads: “Here with the founding of this Nation’s first colony and establishment of the first American civil government west of the thirteen states, began the march of the United States of America across a continent to the Western sea.” The stone column was erected to commemorate the sesquicentennial (150 years) since the colonial founding of Marietta in April 1788.

That was the year 48 colonists, organized as the Ohio Company of Associates sailed down the Ohio River and made landfall where the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers merge. They were led by Rufus Putnam from Massachusetts, who had become a Brigadier General under General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. In 1783, Washington and Putnam became two of the founding members of the Society of the Cincinnati, which was created by Continental Army officers to work for “the future dignity of the American Empire,” modeled after the Roman Empire.

Marietta (named after Marie Antoinette) was considered to be the American Empire’s very first colonial toehold in the Northwest Territory. The Ohio Company of Associates began their trek in Massachusetts. From there they made their way through the Alleghany Mountains, and then sailed down the Ohio River in a flatboat that they had named “the Mayflower” in memory of their forefathers, the Pilgrims who had landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.

Recalling those events, Congress in 1935 passed H.R. 208, in preparation for the sesquicentennial of the Northwest Ordinance (1787), by which Congress organized the Northwest Territory. That resolution described the Northwest Ordinance as a “complete change in the method of governing new communities formed by colonization.” (Statutes At Large, Vol. XLIX, Part I, p. 511)

In 1937, the Northwest Territory Celebration Commission published a book written by the Federal Writer’s Project. A map in the publication describes the Northwest Territory (out of which Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota were formed) as “The first Colony of the United States.” The book states: “Here with America’s start westward to the other sea, was born a colonial policy unique in all the world; one of America’s contributions to Governmental progress.”

In 1884, an eminent historian named George Bancroft, in his History of the Formation of the Constitution of the United States, devoted chapter six to “The Colonial System of the United States.” The Northwest Ordinance is the only content in that chapter. Bancroft explained that by the terms of that ordinance “the colonization of all the territory then in the possession of the United States was to proceed.” This of course led to the colonization of the lands and territories of our Indian nations. George Washington acknowledged that pattern of colonization when he said of Marietta and the Northwest Territory: “No colony in America was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that which has just commenced at the Muskingum.”

As “the Builders” of Empire, the Freemasons played a major role in the history of American colonization. The Society of the Cincinnati, named after the Roman general Cincinnatus, was founded by Freemasons such as George Washington, Arthur St. Clair, Josiah Harmar, Mad Anthony Wayne, Rufus Putnam, and many others. In 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was a Freemason, gave an address to an estimated 100,000 people in Pioneer Park in Marietta, Ohio in honor of that history of colonization.

Also in 1938 in Marietta, Freemason Gutzon Borglum (who was also a KKK member) erected the statue “Memorial to the Start Westward.” The statue has also been associated with the mural of Manifest Destiny, “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way.” Borglum erected the statue in honor of Rufus Putnam and the Ohio Company of Associates founding Marietta. (Borglum went on to carve Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills, sacred to Titonwan and other Oceti Sakowin Nations, along with their allied Nations).

When U.S. government officials say that the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is to be implemented in a manner “consistent with domestic U.S. law,” they ought to acknowledge that U.S. federal Indian law and policy is an outgrowth of the imperial and colonial system of the United States. When we are advocating in the United Nations and elsewhere on behalf of the original nations that are located within the geo-political boundaries claimed by the United States, we ought to point out what makes such rights advocacy work necessary. It is the legacy of the American Empire’s imperial/colonial system, and the colonization of the traditional lands and territories of our nations.

Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum, 2008), and the Indigenous and Kumeyaay Research Coordinator for the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.


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Anonymous's picture
It seems like a virtual world we live in, as I learn more about the falsehood of the colonial system of the United States concerning territories of our nations. Thank you for this article I appreciate your research on the topic. Kudos to you for defining the core of this situation and working for social change. The colonial system, and eminent domain is hog wash!!! this "Land will always be Indian ", sung by the late Richie Havens...Richie Havens - Indian Prayer from "Mixed Bag II" 1974 .
Anonymous's picture
I agree and found the article very insightful.
Anonymous's picture
Am in the process of writing a book which seeks to illuminate the experience of Indian people in the American Revolution. I sat down to begin the last chapter today which argues that the American Revolution set in motion a struggle that continues to this day between Indigenous People and both the U.S. government and non-native society over land as well as Native identity. Running across your article was an excellent way to get into the right frame of mind. Thanks for this!-Dr. Ethan Schmidt-Texas Tech University
Anonymous's picture
American Colonialism By Thomas Dahlheimer On May 29, 2013 - the Mille Lacs Messenger, a Minnesota county newspaper, published the following letter of mine. It was given the title American Colonialism. An official United Nations document describes the Doctrine of Discovery as a principle of international law that developed in a series of 15th century papal bulls and 16th century charters by European monarchs. The UN document also states that the doctrine was - and is - a racist philosophy that gave white Christian Europeans the green light to go forth and claim the lands and resources of non-Christian peoples and kill or enslave them. And that it sanctioned the genocide of indigenous peoples in the New World and elsewhere. Another UN document states that the Doctrine of Discovery has been institutionalized in law and policy, on national and international levels, and lies at the root of the violations of indigenous peoples' human rights, both individual and collective. This has resulted in State claims to and the mass appropriation of the lands, territories and resources of indigenous peoples. In conclusion I would like to say that European countries, and our country (the United States of America) is owned and operated by and for the benefit of the multinational neo-conservative conglomerates who make their profits off stolen resources and lands, at the expense of oppressed and subjugated Indigenous people worldwide. Their policy is called Colonialism and it is nothing but theft and murder. Our country spends trillions of dollars internationally and domestically carrying out those policies of invading other countries or manipulating assassinations and coups to destabilize governments in order to set up and prop up despot two bit dictator regimes who are bribed to subjugate their people with intimidation, kidnappings, rape and murder, to enable the foreign multinational conglomerates to steal their resources and lands. We have 750-900 bases in 125-235 countries, depending on if Ron Paul or Jesse Ventura is talking, manned by the neocon-owned CIA, military intelligence or mercenaries. We spend trillions to enable million and billion dollar profits for a select few like Halliburton, KBR, Shell, BP or Exxon and their bribed political prostitutes like Obama, Boehner, Pelosi, Feinstein and Cantor, as well as Scalia and Thomas. In return we get the trillion dollar bill and the resulting terrorist attacks by people incensed at seeing their people murdered in order for foreigners to steal their resources. It's called Colonialism and most descendants of the illegal European immigrants refuse to admit that the policies of colonialism are nothing but theft and murder and results in terrorism. To do so they'll be forced to admit to the world that our government is guilty of theft and murder and together with their neo con masters, are guilty of theft and murder and are ultimately responsible for the murder of 3,000 Americans on 9/11.