Let’s be clear about something. Before the invasive arrival of Christian Europeans to our part of the world (i.e., Great Turtle Island), our nations were living free and independent of Christian European domination (being forced to submit to the arbitrary will of another). Our ancestors had their own languages, their own ideas, their own systems of law, and their own understandings of how to relate to other life forms in the traditional territories of our different nations. Our ancestors were unaware of the existence of the various Christo-European nations, or their idea-systems, over in Europe that were located several thousand miles to the east in a place sometimes known as Western Christendom. Our ancestors were not subject to Western European people, languages, ideas, or law systems they knew nothing about.
Flash forward to the Christo-European voyages of colonization and the invasion of the territories of our original nations. In their effort to develop narratives about those events, Euro-American scholars developed a short hand method for explaining away our ancestors’ original and free way of life, free from the Christo-European idea-systems and systems of law. A perfect example of this technique is provided by the Lesley Byrd Simpson, when he uses “the conquest” to quietly assume out of focus the original independence of our nations:
The Spaniards who carried out the conquest brought with them the accumulated social habits of centuries and never relaxed in their long effort to impose them upon the indigenous population of America. (emphasis added) (The Encomienda in New Spain, 1966, p. vii).
Simpson’s phrase “the conquest” serves as a linguistic technique that negates and puts out of focus the fact that our ancestors were originally existing free and independent from Christo-European idea-systems. The typical connotation of “conquest” calls to mind something valid and legitimate. There was a war. One side won; one side lost; and “conquest” was the result.
The word “conquest” creates a connotation that the free and independent existence of our nations was permanently ended, as well as our right to ever again be able to live free and independent as our ancestors lived. That imagery conveniently prevents the consideration of any possibility that our nations continue to this day to be rightfully free, and that the dominating society uses a system of thought accurately termed anti-Indian U.S. “law” to prevent us from experiencing a way of life as nations rightfully existing free from domination.
The dominating society uses “the conquest” as a phrase to explain how our ancestors went from being free and independent of Christian European domination to living a way of life subject to Christo-European idea-systems. The claim of “conquest” requires no proof that our ancestors were actually “conquered.” Simply making the claim is treated as proof enough of the veracity of the claim, while conveniently ignoring arguments on our part that our nations are being wrongfully dominated by the society of the United States, and that we have a perfect right to free ourselves from a wrongful U.S. domination.
As part of the process of colonization, the dominating society eventually forced our relatives, as children, into boarding schools of domination. While they were children, our ancestors were forced to undergo a form of indoctrination (behavioral and mind control). Part of that indoctrination and attempt at forced assimilation was designed to teach our ancestors to identify themselves as “Americans” and not as citizens of our own nations. The time, effort, energy, and money that the U.S. government and the Christian churches put into the boarding schools was an attempt to end our existence as nations through a process of genocide. This was done by attacking our languages, cultures, and spiritual traditions. Simultaneously, the United States was busy expropriating the vast majority of our traditional territories.
As previously mentioned, the dominating society did all this in an effort to destroy our nations, but, most importantly, to destroy our political consciousnessas nations with an existence separate and independent of the wrongfully imposed idea system of the United States. By means of the places of captivity and domination euphemistically called “boarding schools,” our ancestors were, during their most formative years, kept away from our families, communities, and nations. In short, the United States government subjected our ancestors to both behavioral control and mind control by being forcibly socialized into the English language.
After our ancestors were forced to speak the colonizers’ English, that language gradually became predominant in our own families, communities, and nations. Our peoples became mentally conditioned to think in terms of the Western European categories that were customary for the dominating society. The elite sector of the dominating society of the United States worked hard to mentally condition our ancestors to think about our own lives along the lines developed by key thinkers of the dominating society.
Gradually, our ancestors were taught to think in terms of the higher/lower structure of ideas which the dominating society had developed as a way to construct a top/down relationship between our nations and peoples and the United States. Some of the thinkers who developed those ideas were men such as Chief Justice John Marshall and Justice Joseph Story. They and many other intellectual giants of the United States spent a great deal of time developing ideas and arguments about what they considered to be the correct way of characterizing the relationship between our original nations and the what they considered a “superior sovereign,” i.e., the United States. They did so in a manner that would most benefit the United States, and most disadvantage our nations pursuant to the ideas called “U.S. law.”
The above explanation is a long introduction to the main subject of this article: “What happens when our own Native people attend non-Native law schools in the United States?” For at least the past forty years or so, Native students have been attending law schools in the United States. They have worked hard to learn the ideas and arguments that comprise the non-Indian system of law, a system of law which has been imposed on and used against our original nations. U.S. law schools spend virtually no time teaching Native students to reflect on the original free existence of our ancestors. Nor do the Native law students learn the most effective means of challenging of the non-Native anti-Indian system of “law” on behalf of our original nations.
Native Students who attend U.S. law schools end up having their minds deeply influenced, and, to a great extent, controlled by ideas and arguments that non-Native lawyers, jurists, and scholars have developed for the specific purpose of controlling the very existence of our nations and peoples. It is sad to say, but the law schools mentally condition Native law students to simply accept rather than contest the foundational assumptions, metaphors, and tenets of a system of anti-Indian ideas developed by non-Native intellectuals and judges of the past. These concepts include “plenary power” over Indian nations, the claim of “ultimate dominion” on the part of the United States, and a claimed U.S. right of domination based on fallacious claim that Christians “discovered” lands where non-Christian nations were existing.
When a Native person masters the U.S. federal Indian law system, that person ends up under a form of mind control. The student proudly graduates, only to become, nine times out of ten, a Native practitioner of an anti-Indian system of ideas which, inevitably, ends up being used against our nations and peoples. The resulting mind control hinders not only the ability but the inclination of Native practitioners of anti-Indian U.S. law to spend any time at all contesting or challenging the main non-Native ideas that have been and continue to be used to control the existence of our nations. There are exceptions, but they are merely exceptions to the rule. The question arises: What are we to do about this dilemma?
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 the 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).