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The UN Declaration Is Not a Basis for Ending Domination

“To many men the sense of domination is sweet...” writes Leonard Barnes in his book Empire or Democracy (1939). James Crawford, in his Foreword to Antonie Anghie’s Imperialism, Sovereignty, and the Making of International Law (2005) says that Anghie has argued that the relations between the West and non-Western political orders “possess common features.” Those features have reproduced, through different ages, “an underlying pattern of domination and subordination.”

Crawford explains how Anghie has documented that beyond international law’s concern with the relations between states, was its concern with the “relations between civilizations and peoples.” “Moreover,” Crawford continues, “these were relations of domination.” (original emphasis) This certainly makes sense given a key definition of “civilization,” namely, the forcing of a particular cultural pattern on a population to whom that cultural pattern is foreign. The foreign cultural pattern is imposed by one nation or people on other nations or peoples as a means of imposing a system of domination on them, which the state must constantly and vigilantly defend.

“The ‘advance’ of ‘civilization,’” when applied to efforts to invade and forcibly overtake our original nations and grab our territories, is merely a euphemism for “the advance of domination,” which is sometimes actively camouflaged as “the march of progress.” The resulting pattern of destruction was alluded to by nineteenth century international law scholar Charles Salomon: “No word is more vague and has committed the commission of more crimes than that of civilization.” Efforts to dominate our nations and peoples, by claiming to “civilize” and “christianize” our ancestors, were undertaken in an attempt to force our ancestors, and us as their descendents, into and under the dominating political order of “the civis,” today typically called “civil society.” This process was well encapsulated by J. P. Kinny in the title of his book A Continent Lost—A Civilization Won (1937). The underlying claim is clear: “domination won a continent” and our original nations, as a consequence of the advance of domination, “lost a continent.” Most people fail to recognize that “civilization” is a word that successfully hides domination behind a deceptive veil of positivity.

An extremely varied vocabulary, comprising a distinct Greco-Roman derived language system of domination, has been utilized against our nations and peoples for centuries. What is typically called “the state” is deemed from a state-centric worldview as being “the highest” form of political order, sometimes called “the crown.” What is called “the state” is shorthand for “the state of domination.” According to proponents of increasing the extent of “the state of domination,” the dominance of the state must be maintained above all else. It must be imposed on all other forms of human organization, including our originally and still rightfully free nations.

In the context of the United Nations, the nations and peoples on whom a state of domination (“civilization”) has been imposed are called “indigenous.” When representatives of the original nations of Great Turtle Island traveled to Geneva, Switzerland in 1977, and when the Working Group on Indigenous Populations was first convened in Geneva in 1981 to work on a declaration, the pattern of domination and subjection in international law had not yet been identified as the problem to be solved by liberating colonized nations and peoples that had been forced under a system of domination. At that time, the specific pattern of domination and subjection in U.S. federal Indian law had also not yet been identified as the problem to be solved in the context of the United States and its political and legal system, solved, supposedly, by means of the pattern of domination and subjection in international law that Professor Anghie and Professor Crawford have noted.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the international language (including international law) that states use in relation to peoples called “indigenous” apparently had not yet been understood as a language system of domination. That language system had not yet been understood as the means used by states to maintain state domination on original nations and peoples. The political language system of domination hides itself behind such neutral sounding expressions as “the law” and “the territorial integrity of the state.” Those phrases are merely euphemisms for a state’s system of domination. Indigenous peoples’ advocates in the 1970s and 80s apparently failed to notice that if the draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was written on the basis of the domination language system of states, then the resulting text of the Declaration would, in the name of “human rights,” merely maintain rather than end the imposition of domination on our original nations and peoples. They apparently did not notice that the drafting of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the context of state domination would result in a document that had been written using the very concepts and categories that serve to constitute and maintain state domination over original nations and peoples.

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The U.S. federal Indian law and policy system, as mentioned above, has also been constructed and maintained on the basis of the United States’ language system of domination. The United States government has made clear that it has no interest in ending its domination system called U.S. federal Indian law and policy. It is only interested in maintaining its existing system which it is careful to never acknowledge as a system of domination. Nor does the United States have an interest in using the text of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP) as a means of liberating our original nations and peoples of Great Turtle Island from the domination and subjection system that the United States has imposed and continues to impose on our nations.

The United States and other states—such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—interpret Articles 4 and 46 of the UN Declaration, for example, as authorizing them and other states to maintain their respective systems of domination on peoples termed “indigenous.” As a result of phrases such as “federal Indian law and policy,” “the law,” “the government,” “civil society,” and so forth the average person fails to notice the system of domination. The pattern of domination and dehumanization of our nations and peoples can only become evident in the process of being named. A redundant use of the word domination (as demonstrated in this article), brings the patterning into sharp focus for our human consciousness. A failure to use the word domination leaves the system of domination unnamed and, therefore, out of focus and unnoticed.

When the word “conquest” is used instead of domination, this makes it seem as if the nations and peoples currently being dominated were defeated at some time in the past, and are, therefore, obligated to passively accept defeat as their permanent lot in life. This makes it seem as if we are talking about the rights of defeated nations and peoples. However, when what is being called “conquest” is accurately identified as an unjust domination, this provides our original nations and peoples with a means of challenging the existing political order as being in violation of our innate right to exist free from all forms of domination.

Never once does the text of the UN DRIP name and address domination as an existing and contemporary problem that needs to be solved for nations and peoples termed “indigenous.” The UN Declaration was written in a manner that seems to imply that the nations and peoples termed “indigenous” were “conquered” (defeated) but that despite such a “conquest” peoples called “Indigenous” are still entitled to aspire toward the realization of certain human rights under a given state’s system of domination. The UN Declaration terms this, “the State” and “the territorial integrity of the State”).

Nowhere in the text of the UN DRIP is the counter-argument made that nations and peoples called “indigenous” have not been successfully conquered, but instead have been wrongfully forced to exist for centuries under unjust forms of domination which need to be ended. For the above reasons, an “aspiration” for “human rights” under the domination of the state, on the basis of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, is not a basis for ending the domination of our original and still rightfully free nations and peoples.

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 Co-Producer of the soon to be released documentary movie “The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code,” directed by Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota), with narration by Buffy Saint-Marie (Cree).