Sacred Apache Lands, Metaphors, and Senator McCain

Steven Newcomb

On the basis of Christian bigotry, racism, and dominium from earlier generations, the United States have given themselves permission and are still giving themselves permission to take for themselves, and for corporations, the lands, territories, and resources of our original nations and peoples. We see this playing out in the case of Sacred Apache Lands in Arizona, sacred lands which the United States has designated as “the Tonto National Forest,” part of which, in Oak Flat, is now slated for a massive copper mining project. This example demonstrates yet again the name of the game for the domination-premised society of the United States: Creatively use metaphors to expand the control of territory, in order to access and profit from the vital and valuable resources located in the territories of our original nations.

Metaphors involves calling one thing by a name that belongs to something else, or thinking of one thing in terms of another. Legal philosopher Steven L. Winter has said that for us as humans, “metaphors are our way of having a reality.” My former professor C. A. Bowers has pointed out that metaphors carry forward and maintain in our time the problematic ideas (misconceptions) of the past. The United States has used and continues to use metaphors to create a present-day reality within which our original nations are now expected to live in “containment” (which itself a metaphor).

The people of the United States have yet to come to terms with the reality of domination that the U.S. has constructed as a way of holding our original nations in a form of semantic captivity, in the name of political and legal precedent.

An example of the manipulations made possible by metaphors and such semantic captivity is a shady deal struck last December by Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) and some of his congressional colleagues. They snuck a legislative rider, Section 3003, into the National Defense Authorization Act at the last minute in the dead of night. The rider permits a land swap giving Sacred Apache Lands in Arizona to a huge foreign mining corporation known as Rio Tinto, and to its subsidiary, Resolution Copper. Focusing on such “colonizing” corporate bodies leads to the root term “colon,” which can be thought of as the digestive tract of an invasive body (corpo) that intends to devour, assimilate, and digest (profit from) the territories of the original nations of the continent.

The word colon breaks down to “colo,” which leads to a metaphorical imagery “to filter out impurities in the process of mining (digesting).” Metaphorically speaking, a “digestive” process of mining—the extraction of minerals from the soil for the accumulation of wealth and power—is the background context and purpose of colonizing operations engaged in by corporations such as Rio Tinto and Resolution Copper.

Regarding the sacred lands at Oak Flat, which Resolution Copper mining will destroy and “digest” for profit, it comes down to who has the right to control (subdue and dominate) the soil, and extract wealth from it. Tracing the political and legal systems of the United States and Arizona back to the Spanish empire reveals the extent to which dominating and dehumanizing metaphors from centuries ago continue to be maintained by the United States against original nations in the present. Ancient ideas about the relations between “the soil” and original nations continue to be deeply influential in our time, especially in terms of judicial, congressional, executive, and corporate attitudes and behaviors toward our original nations.

Some of those past colonizing ideas and attitudes about the relations between “the soil” and free and independent (“wild and wandering”) Native nations were expressed in a 1849 report written by William Carey Jones. Mr. Jones was commissioned by the U.S. Secretary of State and the Secretary of Interior to investigate and report on the nature of land titles in the vast area of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, an area which includes what is now called “Arizona.”

At one point in his report, Jones said: “In the wild or wandering tribes the Spanish law recognizes no title whatever to the soil.” This is a metaphorical attitude from centuries ago that Jones was applying to Native nations, including the Apache Nation, in 1849. That attitude is still being carried forward and maintained today by Senator McCain and other members of the U.S. Congress with regard to the sacred lands of the Apache at Oak Flat. The doctrine that Spanish law does not recognize any title to the soil as existing in “wild or wandering” free and independent original nations, is traced to at least two ancient sources of fundamental law that the United States still relies upon today.

1) The royal prerogatives granted to Cristobal Colón by Queen Isabela and King Ferdinand, and 2) The Vatican papal bulls issued by Alexander VI in 1493.

Those two documents are found in American Charters Constitutions and Organic Laws 1492-1908, by Francis Newton Thorpe, “Compiled and Edited under the Act of Congress of June 30, 1906.” The two documents are also found in Federal and State Constitutions Colonial Charters and Other Organic Laws of the United States, first published in 1877, by order of Senator McCain’s predecessors in the U.S. Senate. Both books were published in Washington, D.C., by the Government Printing Office, and both books trace U.S. organic law to the prerogatives to Columbus (“to discover and conquer”), and to a Latin version of one of the Vatican papal decrees from 1493.

The legislative maneuvers pulled off by Senator McCain on the basis of the aforementioned publications, demonstrate how the United States continue to apply, within the area of the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo, the fundamental law of the United States, namely, the prerogatives issued to Columbus and the papal bulls of 1493. Those documents, with their language of domination, serve as the covert context for the congressional rider regarding the Apache Nation’s Sacred Place. Those documents served as the basis for the view that Spanish law recognized no original independence for the Apache Nation with a perfect title to the soil. The United States are the successors to that view of what are termed “savage tribes” in the area of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The two books mentioned above, published by Congress through the U.S. Government Printing Office, are there to remind everyone of the documents that form the basis for the fundamental laws of the United States. Those sources enable us to see that the idea-patterns of domination found in the prerogatives issued to Columbus, and in the papal bulls of the fifteenth century, are still being maintained by the United States today as a basis for existing reality for our original nations in U.S. law and politics.

C. A. Bowers’ insightful comment about metaphors of the past carrying forward and maintaining the ideas and attitudes of earlier times, enables us to focus our attention on a key point: Dominating and dehumanizing conceptions from the fifteenth century, interwoven in existing U.S. law, are still being used today to create a subjecting form of reality for our original nations of this continent. Those conceptions are being applied to the Apache Nation in 2015 in regard to their sacred places at Oak Flat. It is on that basis that Sacred Apache Lands are being called “public lands” of the United States.

Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute and author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum, 2008). He is co-producer of the soon-to-be-released documentary movie, The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code, directed by Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota), with narration by Buffy Saint-Marie (Cree).

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