“I think of this Western Hemisphere, all of it, as the domain of…Western Christendom” — U.S. Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa), in his speech in the House of Representatives, February 25, 2014.
Regular readers of my columns know that I continuously, some might say obsessively, write about claims of Christian “discovery,” “dominion,” and colonizer “law.” I’m sure some people probably see my writings on this topic and say: “Not again, hasn’t Newcomb realized that happened a long time ago? Hasn’t he realized that way of thinking is all in the past?”
Well, on February 25, 2014, Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) gave a speech on “Judeo-Christian values” in the U.S. House of Representatives. Representative King said he thinks of “this Western Hemisphere, all of it, as the domain of... Western Christendom.” He went on to talk about “the foundation of Western civilization, Judeo-Christianity, the values that come from the Old and New Testament, the values that Christopher Columbus brought here across the ocean.”
King said that Western Christendom “has not been asserted strongly enough in this hemisphere, and certainly not strong enough in other hemispheres.” He advocated that the Obama administration impose such values on what is typically called ‘Latin America.’
By his speech, Congressman King has clearly demonstrated that such Western Christendom-thinking is not “in the past.” Such ideas are still being employed against our Nations and Peoples in the present, from the highest positions of power in the U.S. government. King’s comment reminds me of what Judge John Catron had to say about “the law of Christendom” in the Supreme Court of Tennessee case State v. Foreman (1835). Two years later, Catron was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by the Indian hater President Andrew Jackson. Here’s what Catron wrote in State v. Foreman:
We maintain that the principle declared in the fifteenth century as the law of Christen-dom, that discovery gave title to assert sovereignty over and to govern the unconverted [unbaptized] natives of Africa, Asia and North and South America, has been recognized as a part of the national law [the law of nations], for nearly four centuries, and that it is now so recognized by every Christian power, in its political department and its judicial…That, from Cape Horn to Hudson Bay, it [the law of Christendom] is acted upon as the only known rule of sovereign power by which the native Indian is coerced…Our claim is based on the right to coerce [the natives into] obedience.
Congressman King’s speech nearly 180 years after State v. Foreman, enables us to focus on a little known fact: A tradition of Christian imperialism serves as the cornerstone of the Organic Laws of the United States, and as the cornerstone of U.S. federal Indian law and policy. Those cornerstone ideas are traced to what has been called “the age of discovery” and claims of a right of royal territorial domination, which are well symbolized by Columbus, Cortez, Pizarro, Cabot, Cartier, and many other colonizing agents and carriers of domination and dehumanization.
“Columbus” had another name: “Christ-Carrier Colonizer” (“Christobal Colón”). What representative King calls “the values Columbus brought here across the ocean” is a value system of domination against our Original Nations. Mentally guided by Old and New Testament biblical passages, Colón and other invading voyagers of the fifteenth, sixteenth and later centuries claimed and asserted royal dominion—a right of Christian domination—over the lands, territories, and resources of our Nations and Peoples. Those claims, which were made to benefit, empower, and enrich “Western Christendom,” persist against our Nations to this day. Many international ‘states’ of the world have become the successors of the monarchs of Christendom.
This is because countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as other countries throughout the Western Hemisphere were ceremonially founded on the basis of key religious claims and judgments against non-Christians. Chief Justice John Marshall exemplified this when he said, in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823), that the “right of discovery,” and the assertion of “ultimate dominion,” had been “confined to countries then unknown to Christian people.”
Upon making landfall, Colón would plant the royal standards (flags) that symbolized the dominating claim of jurisdiction, and royal standards of judgment that he and the Christian world used against our original Nations and Peoples. For this purpose, Colón erected two main symbols: a cross symbolizing the religion of Christianity, the source of which is the Bible, and a gallows to symbolize the “Christian justice system,” to be used against “heathens” and “infidels.”
The dominating “values” carried by Columbus (Colón), are well illustrated by a letter he sent to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. In the letter, Colón said of the islands where he had made landfall:
“And of them all [the islands] I have taken possession for their highnesses, by proclamation made and with royal standard unfurled and no opposition was offered me.”
The monarchs of Christendom claimed the right to ceremonially “take possession” of, and exert “territorial domination” over lands, those “discovered, and to be discovered,” anywhere in the world where non-Christian nations and peoples were living. Those Christian-minded monarchs did so on the basis of their judgment that our ancestors were “barbarians” or “beasts” because they had never been baptized as Christians.
This is the basis of the international working definition of the term “indigenous” (‘dominated peoples’), as well as the basis for the claim that our Nations and Peoples have no right to be liberated from the framework of domination.
This is the deadly and genocidal crusading tradition that congressman King invoked when he spoke of “that great footprint of the moral values, and the ethics that emerged as part of our Old Testament values, our New Testament values…” Remember representative King’s speech about “Western Christendom” and Catron’s claim of “the right to coerce obedience” the next time you see a headline about our Original People being arrested, criminalized, and put under surveillance, and declared “adversaries of the state” for protesting the destruction of our lands and territories (e.g., the Northern Gateway pipeline, the Keystone XL pipeline, or the Tar Sands).
Remember King’s speech the next time you think about the poisoning of our once pristine waters, and by extension the poisoning of our future generations with chemical and radioactive pollutants. And, finally, Remember King’s speech the next time you hear talk of how we need to “reconcile ourselves" to “accept” the assumption of “Crown sovereignty,” which is bogusly based on Christendom’s doctrine of Christian discovery and domination.
Steven Newcomb 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 (2008, Fulcrum). He has been studying federal Indian law and international law since the early 1980s.