Theresa Braine
Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota), left, and Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape), field questions after a screening of their documentary The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code at the Fordham University School of Law in New York City on September 17, 2015.

‘Unmasking the Domination Code’ Documentary Elicits Gasps, Applause

Theresa Braine

The Western Hemisphere was home to tens of millions of First Peoples when European settlers arrived, but less than a century later the number had dropped by 95 percent—a survival rate of one in 20.

This is just one of the heartbreaking statistics laid out in The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code, a documentary co-produced by ICTMN contributor and legal scholar Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) and directed by Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota).

About 50 people, including editors from Indian Country Today Media Network, gathered at the Fordham University School of Law for the screening of the hourlong film, based on Newcomb’s book Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum Books, 2008). The documentary lays out in graphic detail the religious reasoning behind Christianity’s takeover and subjugation of the original inhabitants of Turtle Island, how that led to political justifications that were at their base economic, and how those themes continue to be played out today.

Muted but unmistakable gasps escaped audience members’ lips as the film’s narrators recited description after description of some of the atrocities that had been wrought in the name of “civilizing” the “savages”—or, as the Spaniards also called them, bestias (beasts)—deeds that would put ISIS to shame.

“Infants were torn from their mother’s breast and hacked to death in the presence of their parents, and the pieces thrown into the fire and in the water,” wrote a Dutch witness to a massacre of Lenape at the south end of Manhattan Island on February 25, 1643. “Other sucklings, being bound to small boards, were cut, stuck and pierced, and miserably massacred in a manner to move a heart of stone. Some were thrown into the river, and when the fathers and mothers endeavored to save them the soldiers would not let them come on land but made both parents and children drown.”

In the morning, he wrote, the soldiers returned triumphant, secure in the belief that they had done good Christian deeds. Today on that site sits the New York City branch of the National Museum of the American Indian.

That followed similar massacres, and hangings, and a long, well-known policy of assimilation and domination. It started with the papal bulls issued in the 1500s, especially the famous Doctrine of Discovery (Domination), the church’s justification for the subjugation of Indians and other non-Christians.

Both Newcomb and Wolfchild were on hand for the screening, which came just a few days before Pope Francis steps on the shores of Turtle Island for the first time, and on the eve of his planned canonization of Junípero Serra, who founded the California mission system.

RELATED: Serra-gate: The Fabrication of a Saint

A lively discussion ensued after the film, with audience members promising to keep in touch and continue to get the word out about the true history of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Longtime journalist and communications consultant Melissa Cornick both organized and moderated the event. Newcomb also acknowledged collaborator Birgil Kills Straight (Oglala Lakota), who was not in attendance but who he said was integral to the making of the film.

Copies of the film were also for sale. The film can be purchased online at 38Plus2 Productions, Wolfchild's production company.

“The key thing about this film is that it is not about discovery, it’s about domination,” Newcomb said, adding that one book in particular, the 1917 work European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States, edited by Frances Gardiner Davenport and published by the Carnegie Institute of Washington (available online at Google books), will make that clear.

"Stay with it and you’ll begin to understand the patterning,” he said. “It’s a road map, a methodology, for doing exactly what they’ve done.”

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talyn's picture
Submitted by talyn on
A thing to elicit tears and nausea, as is only proper. An honest look at the history of 'discovery' everywhere from Australia to Alaska is pretty sickening. Such a documentary needs and deserves a much broader audience. A society that willfully refuses to see its own past has not much hope for change in the future.

WhiteManWanting's picture
Submitted by WhiteManWanting on
I would welcome the opportunity to see it, but ordering it for $50 is beyond my budget. I respect and encourage the right of the film makers to at least recoup their expenses, and even be compensated for their time in producing such a needed documentary. But immediately putting it up for sale to educational institutions and others will significantly restrict distribution and therefore the number of viewers. I wish they'd provide a way, perhaps, to watch through on line PPV, or something. Theater chains are not likely to pick up this film, and even participating educational institutions are unlikely to market it in such a way as to draw large audiences. But on a nominal fee basis for individuals to watch, word-of-mouth could be very powerful - both for the producers, and for potential viewers.

sonnyskyhawk's picture
Submitted by sonnyskyhawk on
It is a total understatement that this DOCU obviously belongs in every classroom in America, but it will never get there, why ? America can't handle the truth. America has been lying to itself for so long, it doesn't know the truth or worse yet, refuses to accept it. Steven Spielberg told the truth about the holocaust and attempted genocide of the Jewish people, but I really doubt America in general is ready for this kind of truth and history. They prefer to retain and re-cycle the romanticized views of the old WESTERN genre. The young people or Millenials of today, could use a dose of historical truism. As Talyn, the person commenting before me and bears repeating, states..... A society that willfully refuses to see its own past has not much hope for change in the future. America continues to willfully keep its head in the sand.