Skip to main content

Colonization Day

The day on which the United States pays tribute to Cristobal Colon (the
colonizer) is just around the corner, and I am once again pondering his
legacy. Every time I think of Columbus' (Colon's) life and the dire and
lasting effects of colonization on indigenous nations and peoples, I also
think of certain Vatican documents that created a context for his first
voyage and subsequent voyages. One key document that I have written about
in the past is the Inter Caetera bull of May 1493. This document called for
the "subjugation" of "barbarous nations" in order to force them to the
Catholic faith and Christian religion.

One important line in the Inter Cetera bull is, "We trust in Him from whom
empires, and governments, and all good things proceed." The capital "H" on
"Him" indicates that this pronoun is referring to the Catholic deity. The
Latin language version of the document reveals that the English word
"governments" is a translation of the Latin word "dominationes," or
dominations. Thus, the document is saying that "empires," "dominations,"
and "all good things" proceed "from" or emerge out of the Catholic deity.

It is logically impossible for the Vatican and the pope to have said that
empires and dominations "proceed from" or emerge from their Catholic deity
without also acknowledging the Catholic deity is a deity of empire and
domination, and without acknowledging that the Vatican is an institution
dedicated to the spread and expanse of empire and domination. Let us not
forget that empires and dominations are rooted in violence and physical,
psychological and spiritual abuse.

Empire has been defined as "a dominion, state, or sovereignty that would
expand in population and territory, and increase in strength and power."
The pope as "the Supreme Head of the Roman Catholic Church," is also the
"Supreme Head of the Roman Catholic Empire." The Vatican just doesn't
advertise this information. Empire might be good for business, but it's not
a good sales tool.

There is other evidence to support what I'm saying. In the papal bull dum
diversas of 1452, for example, Pope Nicholas V. instructed King Alfonso of
Portugal to "invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue, all Saracens, pagans,
and other enemies of Christ, to put them into perpetual slavery, and to
take away all their possessions and property." Here's clear evidence of the
Vatican's responsibility for crimes against humanity, with regard to the
African slave trade, and the bloody and genocidal conquest moves against
the indigenous nations and peoples of the area that would eventually be
known as the Americas. Millions were killed outright, and millions more
died of diseases.

The Vatican documents mentioned above, set Christian Europeans on a path of
colonization and domination, death and destruction, all in the name of
"religious conversion." These church documents helped set the engine of
devastation into motion and gave it fuel. Now we want the Vatican to
acknowledge the role that it played in the annihilation of many indigenous
peoples, and the destruction of tremendous amounts of indigenous knowledge
and wisdom, thereby depriving the world of that vitally important

Do, dom, domo, dominare, dominatio, dominion, domination, dome,
domesticate, are among the concepts that structure the category empire. The
word "domo" is a Latin word that has seven basic meanings: To subjugate, to
subdue, to force into subservience, to tame, to domesticate, to cultivate
and to till. The word in Latin for cultivate is colere, which means both
"to colonize" and "to design." When all these activities are carried out,
the result is a system of empire. From the point of view of the goal of
empire building, and empire maintenance, all these various activities are
regarded as positive and highly effective. They are also in keeping with
the first command of Genesis 1:28 in the Bible: "subdue the Earth, and
exercise dominion [domination] over all living things."

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Celebrating the life of Columbus (Colon) is to unconsciously celebrate of a
global system of domination that emerged during the so-called Age of
Discovery. It is to obfuscate the true story, and place into a positive
light the terror of the genocidal forces unleashed by the Vatican documents
mentioned above, and by other such documents.

To acknowledge what is presented here as truth, however, is difficult if
not impossible for the dominating society. This is so because this kind of
information reveals the actual character of the dominant society, instead
of allowing that character to be hidden behind a mask of positive and
benign sounding words.

We as contemporary indigenous peoples are the present-day voice descended
from our ancestors. The spirits of our ancestors are with us. It is time
for the age of subjugation to come to a close. It is time for a much-needed
transition into an age of healing, revitalization, resurgence and renewal.
Healing can only come about by means of a healing mind (a medicine mind)
and healing activities. The same is true of revitalization, resurgence and
renewal. This is natural law.

Speaking of natural laws, I have learned much about the Seven Laws of the
Oceti Sakowin from my friend and colleague Birgil Kills Straight. These are
laws of the Oglala Lakota and other allied nations of the Nakota and
Dakota. According to Birgil, indigenous laws are concepts, values and
principles that open a path of truth, beauty and goodness. These are laws
to be lived each and every day of our lives.

These laws teach us to honor and respect all forms of life, and to have
compassion and pity for others. They instruct us to share with and care for
others. The Seven Laws direct us to exhibit patience and fortitude, as well
as humbleness and humility. The laws tell us we must be courageous and
brave, and to demonstrate patience and fortitude in our lives, while also
seeking wisdom and understanding in our lives. When these laws are lived as
a way of life, they result in Wolakota, or a life of peace and friendship.

When a person lives in keeping with these concepts and the activities that
go with them, that person will find peace. The same is true for a family or
extended family, for a community or for a nation. Speaking of peace, the
great Oglala spiritual leader Black Elk once said (as found in Joseph Epes
Brown's book, "The Sacred Pipe."): "The first peace, which is the most
important, is that which comes within the souls of men when they realize
their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its Powers,
and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwell Wakan Tanka,
and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.

The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the
third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should
understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is
first known that true peace which, as I have often said, is within the
souls of men."

Steven Newcomb is Indigenous Law Research Coordinator at Kumeyaay Community
College, co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, and a
columnist for Indian Country Today.