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The Delaware Nation and the Doctrine of Christian Domination

In 2004, the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma, in Anadarko, filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Delaware Nation based its lawsuit on “the doctrine of discovery,” and the royal charter that King Charles II of England issued to William Penn in 1681.

In that charter, Charles II says that William Penn came to him and “humbley besought Leave of Us to transport an ample Colonie [of people] unto a certaine Country hereinafter described.” There is a critical point that the charter does not make: the “Country” that the king purported to grant to Penn was the territory of our Lenape Nation, sometimes also known as the Delaware Nation. The charter says that the lands were in the parts of “America not yet cultivated and planted.” In other words, our Lenape Nation territory had not yet been colonized and dominated by Christendom.

The royal charter further explained that Penn had requested the grant from Charles II “out of a commendable Desire to enlarge our English Empire, and [to] promote such useful commodities as may bee of Benefit to us and Our Dominions.” But the king said there was another part of Penn’s desire, which was “to reduce the savage Natives by gentle and just manners to the Love of Civil Socieitie and Christian Religion.”

The use of the word “Love,” and the phrase “gentle and just manners,” skillfully deflects attention away from Penn’s dehumanizing intention to “reduce” “savage Natives.” The word “reduce” means “to make less,” or “to diminish.” The question arises: To make less than what? To diminish downward from what to what? The answer is this: It was Penn’s intention to reduce us from our original free and independent existence as a distinct Lenape Nation down toa form of subjection under a “Civil Society” based on the “Christian religion.”

On reflection, the transition from a land of “savage Natives” to a land of “Civil Society” and the Christian religion is a movement from free and independent “savagism” to “civilization.” Civilization is defined as “the act of civilizing,” and “the forcing of a particular cultural pattern on a population to which it is foreign.”

To have the means of reducing our Lenape Nation down to Civil Society and Christian Religion, Charles II said that “[Penn] hath likewise humbley besought Our Royal Majestie to Give, Grant, and Confirm all the said Countrey, with certaine Privileges and Jurisdictions, requisite for the good Government and Safetie of the said Countrey and Colonie, to him and his Heirs forever.”

Charles II used the royal “we” to say that he, the king, was “favouring the Petition and good Purpose of the said William Penn.” He went on to say that he had “Given and Granted, and by this our present Charter…Do give and Grant unto the said William Penn, his Heires and Assignes, all that Tract or Parte of Land in America, with all the islands therein” contained. The king continued by getting specific about all the waterways, places, and things of value in our Lenape Nation territory that he, Charles II, was giving to William Penn:

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WE do also give and grant unto the said Willaim Penn, his heires and assignee, the free and undisturbed use and continuance in, and passage into and out of all and singuler Ports, Harbours, Bays, Waters, Rivers, Isles, and Inletts, belonging unto, or leading to and from the Countrey or Islands aforesaid, And all the Soyle, lands, fields, woods, underwoods, mountaines, hills, fenns, Isles, Lakes, Rivers, waters, Rivuletts, Bays, and Inletts, scituate or being within, or belonging unto the Limitts and Bounds aforesaid, togeather with the fishing of all sortes of fish, whales, Sturgeons, and all Royall and other Fishes, in the Sea, Bayes, Inletts, waters, or Rivers within the premisses, and the Fish therein taken; And also all Veines, Mines, and Quarries as well discovered as not discovered, of Gold, Silver, Gemms, and Pretious Stones, and all other whatsoever, be it Stones, Mettals, or of any other thing or matter whatsoever, found or to bee found within the Countrey, Isles, or Limitts aforesaid; AND him, the said William Penn, his heires and assignee,

Charles II further declared the power to “make, created, and constitute” William Penn “the true and absolute Proprietarie of the Countrey aforesaid,” and of all other premises. He thereby declared Penn to be the Absolute Owner of that part of our Lenape Nation’s territory, with all the valuables therein.

On May 4, 2006, United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, delivered its decision against the Delaware Nation based on the doctrine of Christian discovery and the Penn Charter of 1681. The Court opened its decision as follows:

The doctrine of discovery, which governs the relationship between the European colonial powers and the Indians, holds that the discovering nation takes fee title to the land, subject to the aboriginals' right of occupancy and use. ?County of Oneida v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York State, 470 U.S. 226, 234, 105 S.Ct. 1245, 84 L.Ed.2d 169 (1985); ?Johnson v. M'Intosh, 8 Wheat. 543, 21 U.S. 543, 588, 5 L.Ed. 681 (1823) ( “All our institutions recognise the absolute title of the crown, subject only to the Indian right of occupancy, and recognise the absolute title of the crown to extinguish that right.”). ? The Indians' right of occupancy and use (aboriginal title) could only be extinguished with the consent of the sovereign. County of Oneida, 470 U.S. at 234, 105 S.Ct. 1245.

Predictably, the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma lost its lawsuit. What has happened to our Lenape (“Delaware”) Nation with regard to our vast territory in lower New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and eastern Pennsylvania, is prototypical of the Doctrine of Christian Domination and Dehumanization. Unfortunately, the Delaware Nation agreed with rather than challenged the premise of the domination “doctrine.” How? Their lawyers agreed to the senseless premise that the Delaware Nation only had a right of “occupancy and use” in our own territory because some Christian monarch had granted to a slick attorney named William Penn a major part of our Lenape Nation’s territory, along with all the wealth of the valuables within our territory.

William Penn and Charles II envisioned a future for our Lenape Nation in which we had been “reduced” by being stripped of our own nationhood, and of our free existence in our own Lenape/Delaware territory, broken apart and rendered down and melded into an imposed and dominating Civil Society, adhering to the Christian Religion. This was the vision of Pope Alexander VI in the papal bulls of 1493, and William Penn and Charles II simply imitated that pattern and that vision nearly two centuries later.

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 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).