The Dakota Access Pipeline is slated to end up in Illinois which is where the events leading to the Johnson versus M’Intosh ruling of 1823 took place. Colonial land speculators investing in the purchase of Piankashaw and Illinois Nation lands resulted in the Johnson ruling. The Johnson decision combined with present day investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline, $3.7 billion worth, have resulted in the massive standoff and conflict at Standing Rock in the still unrelinquished and unceded territory of the Oceti Sokowin (the “Great Sioux Nation”).
You won’t see those dots being connected in the mainstream news media of the dominating society, especially the information about the part about the Oceti Sakowin (the Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation) not having ceded, relinquished, or surrendered its territory to the United States. We need to take into account the original free and independent existence of the Oceti Sakowin (“the Great Sioux Nation”), as well as the 1787 Northwest Ordinance. That Ordinance says that
the Indians “in their property, rights, and liberty,” “shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just wars declared by Congress.” The prayerful standoff at Standing Rock is taking place in Oceti Sakowin territory and not in “North Dakota.”
The U.S. Dakota territorial act specifies that no Indian land shall become part of the territory of Dakota until the Indians consent in a treaty with the United States. The Oceti Sakowin has not given its consent to the United States for that to happen. This is why Governor Dalrymple of North Dakota is operating unlawfully in the Oceti Sakowin Territory by calling out the National Guard to attack and dehumanize peaceful water protectors at Standing Rock by using so-called rubber bullets, sound canons, mace, and water in sub-zero temperatures thereby putting the lives of the water protectors at risk from hypothermia. One woman may lose her arm as a result of having her arm horribly injured by a concussion grenade that, witnesses said, was thrown by the anti-water protector forces.
What ideas and arguments are behind such brutality and harsh tactics by the state of North Dakota in the Oceti Sakowin territory? A close examination of the Johnson v. M’Intosh ruling reveals the strange Christian religious basis for the Dakota Access Pipeline being forced through the unceded territory of the Oceti Sakowin. Just think of the “subdue and dominion” language of Genesis 1:28. The U.S. Supreme Court’s claimed in the Johnson ruling that the United States is the successor to a claimed right of “ultimate dominion” (domination) by “Christian people” in relation to the lands of “heathens.” Oxford’s English dictionary defines “heathen” as “a word of Christian origin.” Notably, the context for the word “Christian” in the Johnson ruling is the Bible, the source book of Christianity.
Chief Justice John Marshall in the Johnson ruling further said that United States would treat a particular “extravagant pretension” as if it were “the law of the land.” That pretension amounts to pretending that the claim of a “discovery” by “Christian people,” of an already inhabited “heathen” land, is equivalent to the conquest (domination) of the original so-called heathen nations existing there.
Thus, behind the Dakota Pipeline is the bizarre rationale provided in Johnson, based on a premise of “subdue” and “ultimate dominion,” that the self-professed Christians who located non-Christian lands on the continent during the so-called Age of Discovery had a right granted to them by their biblical god, to overrun, dominate, and possess the lands of the non-Christians. So much for the separation of the Bible and state when it comes to U.S. federal Indian law.
The word “access” in the Dakota Access Pipeline, is an “access” to the Oceti Sakowin territory, gained viz-a-viz a biblical doctrine of discovery and domination argument. That Chosen People and the Promised Land argument was recently condemned by more than 520 clergy members at Standing Rock. To emphasize their point they burned copies of a Vatican papal decree from the fifteenth century which expressed that doctrine.
When the clergy people did so, they claimed to be burning “the Doctrine of Discovery,” which strikes me as somewhat odd. The ideas and arguments stemming from the Vatican papal bulls and royal charters that are still used on an everyday basis by the United States in its federal Indian law system are not flammable. You can, however, burn copies of the documents which express those ideas and arguments.
Yet even if you were to physically burn ten thousand of those kind of documents, the damnable ideas and arguments, which are products of the white man’s mentality of Christian dominionism and supremacy, would still persist in the U.S. judiciary and U.S. Supreme Court precedents.
The Christian dominionism that was used against our ancestors, which is still being against pre-American Original Nations, such as the Oceti Sakowin, involves a pattern of argumentation intertwined in the present day institutional structure of the political experiment called the United States. How do we know it is Christian dominionism? Because Chief Justice Marshall said in the Johnson ruling that the potentates (rulers) of Christian Europe “asserted the ultimate dominion to be in themselves,” and “claimed and exercised as a consequence of that ultimate dominion, a right to grant the soil while yet in possession of the natives,” whom he said the Christians regarded as “heathens.”
The character and religion of the continent’s inhabitants (our ancestors), said Marshall in the Johnson decision, provided an apology (an excuse or rationale) for considering them as a people over whom the superior genius of Europe might claim an ascendancy.” Webster’s tells us that “ascendancy” is “a controlling or governing power: Domination.” Marshall is saying that the monarchs of Christendom (which includes that Catholic prince called “the pope”) claimed a superior Christian genius and right of domination in relation to and over our original nations. This claim of a right of domination based on Christian dominionism found in Johnson v. M’Intosh is the basis for Governor Darlymple’s heartless actions against Standing Rock in his efforts to support the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The rationale of Christian dominationism found in Johnson v. M’Intosh, with its claimed right of Christian domination against Native people “who were heathens,” in the language of the Supreme Court, is being used against the Oceti Sakowin to push that pipeline through their territory. Why is the Oceti Sakowin not being treated as a fully sovereign and rightfully free nation? In the Johnson ruling Chief Justice Marshall stated of Native nations generally, “Their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations were necessarily diminished, by the original fundamental principle, that discovery gave title to those who made it.”
In his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833), Justice Joseph Story explained the relationship between the Johnson v. M’Intosh ruling and a 1493 papal bull. Quoting Latin language from the Vatican papal bull of 1493, Story wrote in a footnote: ‘Ut fides Catholica, et Christiana Religio nostris praesertim temporibus exaltetur, etc., ac barbarae nationes deprimantur, et ad fidem ipsam reducantur,’ is the language of the Bull. 1 Haz.” The translation is, “and barbarous nations be reduced or diminished.” This Latin phrase corresponds to Chief Justice John Marshall’s claim that the independence of our Original Nations had been “diminished” as a result of an assertion of “ultimate dominion” by “Christian people.”
The Dakota Access Pipeline being forced through Oceti Sakowin territory, and the abuse heaped on directed at those attempting to stop it, are a direct result of the United States working for more than two centuries to “diminish” or “reduce” our Original Nations. That those U.S. actions have been based on Vatican documents and royal charters from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is something we’re not likely to see in the mainstream news.
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). The movie can be ordered from 38Plus2Productions.com.