These days, the word “reconciliation” has taken deep root in the contemporary discourse between the government of Canada and many of the First Nations of that part of Great Turtle Island. At the same time, in an apparent contradiction, the government of Canada continues to maintain its assumption of “Crown sovereignty and “Crown title” in relation to that part of the vast geographical area of Turtle Island, now commonly known as “North America.”
Notably, the word “crown” means “the very highest position,” such as in the expression “a crowning achievement.” This being the case, it would seem there is one central way for First Nations to “reconcile” themselves with the crown’s dominating claim of superiority. They must freely agree with the view that “the British crown” sits in the highest or ascendant (dominant) position in relation to the First Nations. By agreeing to this view, the First Nations can “reconcile” themselves with the crown’s assumption of “crown sovereignty,” which translates as “the most high” or “the highest of the highest.”
By agreeing with that framework, the First Nations will have then become reconciled with “the crown” and with the society of Canada. They will be viewed as having freely agreed that they are lower than, or subordinate to, “the most high” British Crown. They will have then reconciled themselves with “the Crown’s” system of domination.
However, there is a different and much more accurate way to approach this issue: The Original Nations now have the opportunity to acknowledge that the entire idea of “reconciliation” is wrongheaded. Why? There was never a starting point of friendship or good relations between the British Crown and the Original Nations. When we think about it, the British crown’s claims to “North America” begins with the royal Charter which King Henry VII issued to John Cabot and his sons in 1496, which was premised on the idea of a state of war between Christians and non-Christians.
Eminent scholar James A. Williamson had this to say of the Cabot Charter, “It was at that time accepted as a fundamental law of Christendom that all Christians were in a state of war with all infidels [non-Christians].” Williamson said that this presumed state of war was “justification” for the terms of the charter, giving the Cabots “permission to ‘conquer, occupy and possess’ any non-Christian territories that might be found.” The Cabot Charter was premised on a claim of the right to go forth and dominate non-Christian lands wherever they could be located.
To this day, the context for any discussion of “reconciliation” is found in early royal charters, which were premised on Christendom’s idea that a perpetual state of war was existing between Christians and non-Christians when the representatives of the English crown first laid claim to lands in “North America.” In my view, this religiously premised claim is fatal to the idea that friendship and good relations were initially existing between the British crown and the Original Nations of the Continent, which later fell apart, and need to be “restored” in a process of “reconciliation.”
The royal charters provide more evidence that no framework of friendship or good relations initially existed between the British Crown and the Original Free Nations of the continent. Eighty two years after the Cabot Charter, Queen Elizabeth I issued a royal charter to Sir Humphrey Gilbert to dominate (“Subjugare” in the original Latin) “such remote, heathen and barbarous lands, countries and territories not actually possessed by any Christian prince or people.”
The language of this document led historian Frederick Turner to observe in his book Beyond Geography (1980): “The cultural assumption is plain: such remote lands belong by right of the True Faith to such Christian princes as should first discover them and not to the native inhabitants.” Clearly, this view of the “True Faith” resulted in Christian monarchs claiming a right to dominate non-Christians and their lands, and this resulted in the effort to “discover, seek out and finde” the location of nonbelievers in distant places.
Shortly after Gilbert’s death, Queen Elizabeth I issued another patent to Sir Walter Raleigh which repeated the above terms of the Gilbert charter. Did the queen’s patent acknowledge or recognize the existence and prerogatives of the non-Christian nations already existing there? No. Her letters patent entirely ignored those nations as nations. She stipulated that Raleigh
. . . shall have . . . all the soile of such lands, territories, and Countries, so to bee discovered and possessed as aforesaid, and of all such Cities, castles, townes, villages, and places in the same, with the right, royalties, franchises, and jurisdictions . . .
The final draft of the first charter of Virginia was written by then Attorney General Sir Edward Coke (pronounced “Cook”), and by Solicitor-General Sir John Dodderidge. The charter was issued by King James on April 10, 1606. The document authorized Sir Thomas Gates and others of the Virginia Company to create a colony in those places “not now actually possessed by any Christian Prince or People.”
If the lands located were already possessed by a “Christian Prince or People” then the Virginia Company had no authorization to lay claim to those lands. But if the lands were merely in the possession of a non-Christian nation or people then the Virginia Company was authorized by the British crown to colonize and dominate those lands.
The religious nature of the colonial mindset that led to the drafting of the Virginia charter is found in language that speaks of “propagating of Christian religion to such People as yet live in miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God, and may in time bring the Infidels and Savages, living in those Parts to human Civility, and to a settled and quiet Government…”
The dehumanization of the Original Free Nations is evident in such key phrases as “Infidels and Savages” and “human civility.” The domination of the Original Free Nations is found in the plan to “bring” the less than human Infidels and Savages “to a settled and quiet Government,” which, according to the Latin translation of the one of Pope Alexander VI’s 1493 papal bulls, is accurately stated as to “subject” and “reduce” them to a settled and quiet “Domination” under the “Christian empire.”
Two years after Sir Edward Coke helped finalize the First Virginia Charter, he was presiding as Lord Chief Justice over Calvin’s Case (1608), in which the court discussed the idea of “alien” under English Crown law. Aliens were of two types, and the second was an enemy at war with the Crown. Enemy aliens were either temporary or perpetual. Of this latter type, Lord Coke declared:
All infidels are in law perpetui inimici, perpetual enemies (for the law presumes not that they will be converted, that being remota potentia, a remote possibility), for between them, as with the devil, whose subjects they be, and the Christian, there is perpetual hostility, and can be no peace.
The idea of a state of war existing between Christians and non-Christians everywhere on earth provided and still provides the context for the Doctrine of Christian Domination, and for the treaties between Original Nations and the crown system. Specifically, when the representatives of a Christian power such as England (later Great Britain) were able to locate lands where “infidels” (perpetual enemies of the Crown) were living, the act of locating that place was considered to “give” the locating power the right to invoke the prerogatives of Christian empire to dominate and colonize all the lands and waters where non-Christian nations were living.
Christendom’s “state of perpetual war with all infidels” is why the crown calls the treaties with Original Nations of Turtle Island “Treaties of Surrender.” There is no initial history of good relations or friendship that one can point to as a basis for invoking the word “reconciliation” when it comes to Canada’s claim of crown sovereignty and crown title in relation to the Original Free Nations of Turtle Island. It is time to reset that relationship based on true honor and respect for the Original Free 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.