Time to Acknowledge Original Independence of Our Nations

Steven Newcomb

Let us acknowledge that our nations were living entirely free and independent of Western Christendom prior to Columbus’s first invasive arrival to our part of Mother Earth. Let us also acknowledge that our nations were then existing free and independent of the ideas and behaviors of Western Christendom (the Christian world).

The original free and independent existence of our nations is irrefutable. It has, therefore, been available as a potential argument for us to use against the overriding system of domination that has been imposed on our nations by the United States. In 1823, Chief Justice John Marshall, on behalf of a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court, used manipulative storytelling in an effort to undermine our ability to use the original independence of our nations as a basis for developing powerful arguments in favor of our nations.

As a result of Marshall’s success, these days the vast majority of our Native people never focus on the original independence of our nations and use that as a standard for evaluating how far from that original independence as nations we are today. Most Native people these days seem willing to simply accept the U.S. Supreme Court ‘s use of the phrase “domestic dependent nations” to draw attention away from the original free existence of our nations.

Attend a local pow wow and you’re definitely going to hear quite a bit of patriotic fervor expressed toward the United States. This patriotism is being expressed toward the very same country that has imposed a well designed system of domination on our nations, and thereby deprived us of the use of the vast majority of our traditional territories, massacred our ancestors, stolen Native children from our families, our communities, and our nations, worked to destroy our languages, cultures, and spiritual traditions, etc. After all that mistreatment, oppression, and destruction, how sad that most of our own people never focus on the original independence of our nations.

 That colonized peoples end up feeling deeply patriotic toward the empire that colonized them is, unfortunately, a fairly typical result of the psychological damage inflicted by colonialism. It is doubtful that those expressing that patriotism are particularly aware of or care that it was an American empire that George Washington, John Marshall and other elite white men of their time were envisioning and creating. That empire has been used in a successful effort to overrun the lands and territories of our nations (See Richard Van Alstyne’s The Rising American Empire, 1962).

I never hear the original independence of our original nations acknowledged or recognized at pow wows. Perhaps this is because the American empire has worked so hard to rub out and expunge our original independence from our own hearts and minds. To expunge is “to treat or cause to be treated as nonexistent.” How did Chief Justice John Marshall and the rest of the U.S. Supreme Court start treating the original independence of our nations as nonexistent?

Marshall said in Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823) that our “rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations, were necessarily diminished by the original fundamental principle that discovery gave title to those who made it.” Why “necessarily?” Because creating this idea of “diminishment” was “necessary” for the success of the American empire, in order for it to expand onto and overrun the lands and territories of our nations.

Marshall accomplished something else by writing in this manner. He thereby worked to displace the idea that our nations are original and fundamental to the continent by claiming that Christian European “discovery” was “original and fundamental” to the continent. Marshall added that the “right of discovery” that was “given” by England’s King Henry VII to John Cabot was limited “to countries then unknown to Christian people.”

Lands that Christian people knew nothing about were obviously non-Christian lands. This means that the principle which Marshall said “has been mentioned” by the Supreme Court, could only be applied by Christians to the lands of non-Christians. By means of the John Cabot charter, Marshall continued, England’s King Henry VII was “[t]hus asserting a right to take possession” of any non-Christian lands that were located, regardless of the fact that so-called “heathens” were already living there.

Marshall’s use of the Bible-premised words “Christian” and “heathen” (“a word of Christian origin,” says The Oxford English Dictionary) that are found in the Cabot charter reveals a key point: Marshall and the entire Supreme Court was using Bible-premised imagery and ideas to argue that our “rights to complete sovereignty as independent nations were” ended by the supposed Christian “discovery” of already inhabited non-Christian lands.

If we were to design a counter argument to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bible-premised and Christian-premised claim against our nations what would that counter argument look like? If we want to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s argument that the independence of our nations was ended (“diminished”) by Christian discovery what would that challenge look like?

What words would we use in an attempt to effectively challenge the claim that Christians sailing here to our part of the planet somehow ended our “rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations,” or, in other words, ended our right to exist free from domination?

Here’s one simple argument: Our right to live free from the domination of the ideas of the white man has never ended. We are still rightfully free of the idea that Christian people claiming to have “discovered” lands where our non-Christian nations and ancestors were already living ended our right to live free from Christian domination. Our nations are to this day still rightfully free and independent of any claim of a right of domination by the ideas of the United States, whether expressed in Johnson v. M’Intosh or elsewhere.

In 1976, John A. Boyd, an attorney in the Office of the Legal Adviser for the U.S. Department of State, discussed the 1831 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Cherokee Nation v. Georgia. Boyd wrote that “Marshall's reasoning focused on the sovereignty and dominion of the United States over the Indians” (emphasis added). Given that the words “sovereignty” and “dominion” are both words of domination, we can see something behind Boyd’s argument: It is the tacit claim that the Supreme Court’s reasoning focused on the claim that the United States has the right to assert a power of domination over the Indians and the Indian nations.

The philosopher John Locke said “the right of possession” is “dominion.” It ought to be obvious that asserting a right to take or acquire possession of the lands already in the possession of other nations is the same as asserting “a right of possession” to those lands. In other words, Christian people asserting a right of possession to the non-Christian territories of our nations on the continent amounted to Christian people asserting a right of domination in relation to all non-Christian lands.

Elsewhere in the Johnson ruling Marshall said that the potentates of Europe had “asserted the “ultimate dominion” to be in themselves. Along these lines, John Boyd for the U.S. State Department quoted John Marshall as follows from U.S. Supreme Court ruling Cherokee Nation v. Georgia:

They and their country are considered by foreign nations, as well as ourselves, as being so completely under the sovereignty and dominion of the United States, that any attempt to acquire their lands, or to form a political connection with them, would be considered by all as an invasion of our territory, and an act of hostility…(emphasis added)

The idea that the Indians and their country are considered as being “so completely under the sovereignty and dominion of the United States” is accurately re-expressed as “the Indians and their country are considered so completely under the domination of the United States...” This stems from U.S.’s claimed right of domination over original free nations, based on “Christian people” having claimed a right of domination over (“a right of possession to”) all non-Christian lands. We have barely begun to develop our most powerful counterarguments opposing the claimed right of domination based on the original free and independent existence of our nations.

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 a co-producer of the documentary movie, “The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code,” directed and produced by Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota), with narration by Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree).The movie can be ordered from 38Plus2Productions.com.

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rainbow's picture
Good article Mr. Newcomb! You expressed that the reason why most colonized Americans today have feelings of deep patriotism toward this country is a result of the psychological damage inflicted on them by ruthless white Christian colonialism. There are influential white people and large contemporary Christian movements working to resolve this problem. Reverend Matthew Fox is an influential white activist working to resolve this problem. When talking about the current pope, Fox recently said that the previous two popes called his work "dangerous and devious," but that Pope Francis "is plagiarizing it," suggesting that the Catholic Church is now indirectly following his lead. Two pontifical councils have jointly stated that Fox is a "New Age" spiritual theologian. When referring primarily to the hippie spiritual revolution that began in the 1960s, a revolution that was an expression of New Age spirituality and highly influenced by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the Beatles, Peter R. Jones, an internationally renowned Christian theologian, lecturer and author, wrote: Indeed, the Sixties was a spiritual revolution that has now morphed into a worldview that promises to alter how we all believe and act in the planetary era. A Caryl Production 2012 youtube.com video is about a large contemporary New Age spirituality "Christian" movement that is portrayed as a new expression of the New Age hippie spiritual revolution of the 1960s. The video is entitled WIDE IS THE GATE - The Emerging New Christianity. My website, located at http://www.towahkon.org/Tomssite.html, presents new information about Fox's work as well as contemporary "Christian" movements working to decolonize America and other colonized nations.