Steven Newcomb

We are not conquered and subdued

Were our ancestors required by the invaders’ ideas to obey the invaders’ ideas? Based on what standard of judgment might we answer? On the basis of the invaders’ standards? Or shall we answer on the basis of our own standards? Given that our ancestors and our nations were living beyond the jurisdiction of Christendom prior to Christian invasion, it follows that our ancestors and our nations were also living rightfully free of the invaders’ jurisdiction, standards, ideas, and arguments.

Because our ancestors were living beyond the jurisdiction of Christendom, they were not subject to the ideas and arguments of the Christian invaders. Yet the original free status of our nations is not typically brought into focus because most of us have spent a lifetime internalizing the invaders’ ideas, perspective, and arguments without a desire to launch a direct challenge.

Given that our ancestors were unable to write their un-colonized ideas and arguments in the invaders’ language, the early written record primarily contains accounts, arguments, and narratives from the perspective of the Christian invaders. Rather than being able to read the record of a debate between our ancestors and the invaders, we are now pretty much restricted to reading the invaders’ documents, such as dominating society court rulings that have been written from the viewpoint of colonizers.

Given our present day ability to write our thoughts in the invaders’ language, we have the opportunity to critique and directly challenge the invaders’ arguments from long ago. We are now able to challenge and reject in writing the invaders’ ideas and arguments in a manner that ought to have happened in writing generations ago if our ancestors had had that capability. (Admittedly, there are a few examples).

One challenge we face has made it very difficult to attack the invaders’ arguments: Our minds have been captured by the invaders’ language and ideas to such an extent that most of us have yet to realize we have the ability and the obligation to challenge the invaders’ foundational arguments and assumptions, while using the invaders’ own language to do so.

Here’s an argument we can make today: Because the Christian invaders had no jurisdiction over our nations and our ancestors, they also had no right to mentally project their invasive words, ideas, and arguments of domination onto our ancestors, our nations, and our territories. Because their mental projections were wrongful and unacceptable back then, they are still wrongful and unacceptable today.

Take the United States Supreme Court’s wrongful statement from 1823 (Johnson v. M’Intosh), which stated that our ancestors’ “rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations were necessarily diminished” by Christian discovery. Combine that with Justice Joseph Story’s statement about our ancestors: “As infidels, heathen, and savages, they were not allowed [by Christians] to possess the prerogatives belonging to absolute, sovereign, and independent nations.”

Since our ancestors and our nations were not fluent in English and did not read U.S. court rulings, they probably did not even know that the U.S. Supreme Court had made those arguments. They had no opportunity at that time to reject those arguments in writing. Today, we have the ability to respond to the dominating society by stating, “Your arguments against our nations began as a bunch of papal bull premised on papal bulls. We still retain our right to remain free from your false claim of a right of domination. We reject the assumption that the U.S. Supreme Court has ever had the right to mentally project its ideas onto our existence and onto our nations in our own territories.”

As the saying goes, “There’s no time like the present.” Today we are able to explicitly reject the argument that our nations’ right to complete sovereignty as independent of domination was ever “diminished” by a so-called Christian “discovery.” We’re able to respond, “You can’t ‘discover’ another nation’s home, with permission from a pope in Rome, and rightfully impose your capitol dome, as a symbol of your claim of a right of domination over our lands and our lives.”

The federal Indian domination system (typically called “federal Indian law”) is premised on the invaders’ claim to have a right to oppress our rightfully free and independent nations. We continue to be rightfully free of the invaders’ claimed right of domination. The United States’ response could be, “We do have a right of domination over you and your nations because you are conquered and subdued.”

We are able to say: “Your response is a feeble attempt to reframe your claim of a right of domination. Your argument is an attempt to validate your ancestors’ claim that Christian nations from Christendom had a right to use their ideas to control the existence of our non-Christian nations. Based on Vatican papal bulls and royal charters you have continually used that claim against our nations. The idea-system of oppression which you have been using against our nations and peoples for more than 200 years is unacceptable and we reject it, just as we reject the false claim that we are conquered and subdued.”

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 co-produced 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