Doctrine of Discovery – Unmasking the Domination Code

by on May 13, 2015 · 0 comments

in California, Civil Rights, Culture, Environment, History, Politics, San Diego

Columbus discovery A Documentary Film Screening at Sycuan Showcase Theatre

By Rose Davis /Indian Voices

The Kumeyaay bird singers took the stage prior to the screening and set the mood with their rhythmic chants and methodical, hypnotic rattling of seeds in their gourds.  A solemn but vitally important occasion which is why the call and response mood of “Where are our leaders, where are our leaders?” resounded throughout the evening.

Though there were roughly seventy folks of all ages in attendance Paul Cuero’s (Junior) address was laced with disappointment that there weren’t many more because this documentary, directed by Sheldon Wolfchild and told from the viewpoint of the original people rather than the conquerors, sets the record straight.

Co-producer Steven Newcomb, on who’s book“Pagans In The Promised Land” the film is based, patiently and eloquently explained the need for survivors to know what happened in the past.

The film is not for the feint of heart as it navigates through broken treaty after broken treaty, complex legal arguments and massacres of men, women and children. It serves as a clarion call from violated ancestors who keen from their funeral pyres to teach future generations what they were forced to endure and to spur the current generation into active resistance.

Much of the devastation can be traced back to series of papal bulls or decrees beginning in 1491 which encouraged European adventurers to go out and confiscate any land occupied by non-Christians whetherby rape, pillage or enslavement.

This became known as the infamous “Doctrine of Discovery” or what has later been taught in American schools as Manifest Destiny. In 1823 this same doctrine was enshrined in American Law in the case of Johnson vs. M’Intosh presided over by Chief Justice John Marshall who said,“As the white population advanced, that of the Indians necessarily receded…the soil(soon victim of environmental degradation)…was parceled out to the will of the sovereign power.”

The Supreme Court has continued to rule against any claims of indigenous peoples. Under rule of law government confiscation of aboriginal land is lawful in a conquered land in spite of the U.S Constitution’s promise of due process in the fifth amendment of the Bill of Rights.

In 1909 an arm of the United States government, the U.S. Forest Service, without even a treaty, unilaterally seized America’s largest rain forest in Alaska. For ten thousand years this had been the habitat of the Tlingit peoples who peaceably hunted, fished and gathered on the land. As Walter R. Echo-Hawk relates in his book The Courts of the Conqueror,

“the Forest Service simply usurped the forest. It was the mother of all land grabs, accomplished under the turn-of-the-century decree issued by President Theodore Roosevelt at the zenith of the age of imperialism when the United States ruled a far-flung colonial empire.”

The Forest Service agents soon began turning over the rain forest the size of the state of West Virginia to corporate lumber companies for clear-cutting. After forty years of futile resistance the Tlingit peoples took the legal route to protest and their case finally wound its way before the Supreme Court in Tee-Hit-Ton v United States(1955).

This was the same “liberal” court that just months earlier had desegregated schools in Brown vs. Board of Education(1954). The Court explained, “after the coming of the white man” the Indians’ aboriginal land title merely becomes “permission of the whites to occupy.”

Justice Stanley Reed based his opinion on “conquest” yet there had never been a war between the Tlingit people and the United States. The land had simply been confiscated without treaty or compensation. Or, as Senator Hayakawa said tongue-in-cheek in reference to the Panama Canal, “We stole it, fair and square!”

How do a people fight this kind of high-handedness and disregard for the rule of law by the lawmakers themselves?

As late as 2005 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, perhaps the most liberal of Supreme Court justices, was still invoking the doctrine of conquest and discovery in a footnote to her majority opinion opposing indigenous rights in Sherill vs. Oneida.*

Mr. Newcomb, our gracious host for the screening of his film, related how he had once confronted Justice Scalia on this error of legal reasoning but the “learned” Justice claimed, incredibly, not to have heard of the doctrine!

On another front Dr. Joely Proudfit of Cal State San Marcos who teaches, among other courses, “Imagining Indians: American Indians in Media, Film & Society”, told of her encounter in the 1990’s with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she -Joely- managed to break through a virtual phalanx and hand-deliver to Justice O’Connor a copy of “God Is Red”, the seminal work of Vine Deloria, Jr.Sadly, the message has not yet seeped beneath the robes of the team of nine.

There’s an old saying, “The conquerors write the history,the vanquished sing the songs.”

The evening was bookended when Shirley Apple Murphy (Lakota) improvised a rendition of her tribe’s triumphant song which Lakota activist Greg Grey Cloud attempted to sing in Congress after a favorable vote against the Keystone XL Pipeline. An exhilarated Mr. Grey Cloud was singing in praise of lawmakers only to be unceremoniously escorted out of the chambers.Ms. Murphy completed the song a cappella:

“Tunkasila wamayanka yo, le miye ca tehiya nawazin yelo. Unci maka nawacincina wowahwala wa yuha waunwelo,”

(“Grandfather look at me, I am standing here struggling, I am defending grandmother earth and I am chasing peace,”

translation of the lyrics given by Rosebud Sioux tribal member Pat Bad Hand Sr., a hoka wicasa (keeper of songs).**

Shirley Murphy’s relative, Birgil Kills Straight, has partnered with Steven Newcomb in an effort to re-write a sordid history. They have launched an indigenous law institute. Together they lobby the Pope to change the destructive wording of the original papal bulls.

Featured in Steven’s groundbreaking film Birgil recites the seven virtues of the Lakota: praying, respect, caring and compassion, honesty and truth, generosity, humility and wisdom.

If only these virtues would be sincerely embraced today in the political and religious realms, what a world we might live in. Perhaps then the original peoples of North America might finally and justifiably get a seat at the United Nations.

And, just in case you think this is about past cases in the dustbin of history, think again. Today, developers in San Diego County, unaware that we are IDLE NO MORE, are salivating at an opportunity to divvy up what by treaty should belong to the Kumeyaay. The Urban Land Institute holds luncheons charging fifty dollars a ticket to discuss development, leasing and planning on Port, or more accurately, Kumeyaay tidelands. Where are our leaders?

*[1] Under the “doctrine of discovery,” Oneida II, 470 U. S. 226, 234 (1985), “fee title to the lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in thesovereign — first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States,” Oneida I, 414 U. S. 661, 667 (1974).In the original 13 States, “fee title to Indian lands,” or “the pre-emptive right to purchase from the Indians, was in the State.”

**Words and translation thanks to Navajo Times.

The filmmakers, who are in the final stages of completing their film, requested audience feedback. A written guide briefly explaining and citing intricate treaties and law cases mentioned in the film would help the viewer maintain some of the vital information contained within this remarkable documentary.


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