U. S. Anti-Indian Law: A Question of Legitimacy

A column by Steven Newcomb about anti-American Indian law in the United States.

Let me be crystal clear: The anti-Indian, federal Indian law idea-system has no legitimacy when viewed from the perspective of our original existence as the free and independent nations and peoples of this part of the world. Our peoples long predate the dominating Christian European invasion of this continent and hemisphere, an invasion that produced the system of federal Indian law.

Food for thought: The word “civilization” is a synonym for “domination.” Some months ago, I turned to my massive Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (unabridged) and looked up the word “civilization.” I found: “The act of civilizing” “esp[ecially] the forcing of a particular cultural pattern on a population to whom it is foreign.”

Hundreds of years of evidence show that “a destructive pattern of domination” was forced upon us. Thus, we are able to further clarify Webster’s by slightly modifying the above definition: “the forcing of a cultural pattern of domination on free nations and peoples to whom that domination is foreign.” Over a period of many generations, most often without noticing, we, the original nations and peoples of this part of Mother Earth, have been conditioned into a habit of obedience to the domination. It has gotten to the point that many of us no longer resist the patterns imposed on us by the dominating society of the United States.

Whenever we treat the anti-Indian law system of the United States as if it were legitimate, meaning “valid” and “acceptable,” we are thereby demonstrating our unwillingness to resist its dominating patterns of thought and behavior. Back in 1973, Claus Mueller wrote: “Legitimacy confers authority on a system of domination” (Political Communication, Oxford University Press).

When originally free nations and peoples learn to treat a system of domination as if it is acceptable and rightful (i.e., legitimate in the larger sense), and when they no longer resist its effort to dominate them, this will make it seem as if they are voluntarily submitting themselves to that system’s dominance. They begin to silently behave as if they believe that the domination is legitimate and therefore deserves their obedience, even if that is not their belief.

Historically, since the invasion, new children born to the original nations and peoples were reared in the social, cultural, and linguistic context of the domination. The domination system, through its schools and its churches, molded the minds of those children during their most formative years. The children learned patterns of speech, thought, and behavior that reinforced the unquestioned belief that the domination is legitimate. Even worse, they were conditioned so as to be incapable of recognizing the domination. It was given many other names to mask it (“United States” “America” etc.).

To fully assimilate them into the domination, the children of the originally free nations and peoples were forcibly taken away from their families and loved ones, put into indoctrination centers and taught to identify themselves with the symbols and historical personalities of the domination. The goal was to kill the consciousness of their original free existence by making them identify themselves with the domination more than with their own people and their ancestors. They were never taught the insight that their ancestors had lived and thrived for many thousands of years free and independent of any foreign domination.

Eventually, some of those students entered into the colleges and universities of the domination. Some attended domination law schools, where they learned the history of patterns of domination called “law.” While in domination law schools, the children of original nations and peoples, who were now adults, began to learn the history of what important domination society personalities (called “judges”) thought, wrote, and decided about “Indians.” Such topics included their “political status,” their “land titles,” their “jurisdiction,” their “trust relationship” with the domination, and so forth, but only from the perspective of the dominating society.

They were taught a domination origin story: According to domination law, the first Christians to locate or “discover” non-Christians and their lands had the right to assume ultimate domination to be in themselves, and, as a natural consequence, to dominate the lands and lives of the originally free and independent nations of this continent and this hemisphere.

In short, the students were conditioned to think and write about “Indians” only from a domination-law viewpoint. They learned to emulate what domination-law personalities in the distant past, and more recent times, had thought, written, and decided about “Indians,” and about domination-law legal issues.

Eventually, many such students graduated and went on to become domination-law attorneys; they swore to uphold the constitution of the domination society. They began to refer to our originally free and independent nations and peoples as being “under” the constitution of the dominating society. They began to call the domination system “our” system. This further reinforced the erroneous view that the domination of our nations and peoples is legitimate. Bottom line: It is not, and never will be legitimate, and we need to awaken and begin saying so loud and clear.

Steven Newcomb (Shawnee,Lenape) is the co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, and the Indigenous and Kumeyaay Research Coordinator for the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.