By Steven Newcomb
A Speech given to some 8,000 people at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Salt Lake City, Utah, October 19, 2015.
Good Morning Everyone,
I want to pay my respects to the Original Nations on whose territory this building now stands. I want to acknowledge the ancestors who have loved this land with prayerful and ceremonial conduct, based on their insight about the need for sacred relations with Mother Earth, with pristine Waters, and with Life in all its forms and manifestations. I want to acknowledge the original free and independent existence of our nations and peoples extending back to the beginning of time through our oral histories and our oral traditions.
Yesterday I listened with interest to the plenary session on climate change. It occurred to me that working on climate change without working on Paradigm Change would be a grave mistake. We need a mental and behavioral shift away from the prevailing paradigm of domination, dehumanization, and greed, the symptoms of which are everywhere on planet earth, our Mother.
More than five centuries ago, various popes in Rome, on behalf of Christendom, unleashed the paradigm I’m talking about. It may surprise you to learn that the Empire Domination Model of Christianity has been interwoven into the laws and policies of the United States, and into the laws and policies of many other countries, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. That hidden code of Christian Empire has worked for more than five centuries toward the dissolution of our Original Nations of Great Turtle Island and Abya Yala to the south.
The idea patterns of domination and so-called Christian Discovery have been written by jurists into U.S. federal Indian law, where they remain to this day. Those ideas are traced to papal documents of the fifteenth century and to royal charters of England which claimed a right of domination as against non-Christian lands, “which before this time have been unknown to all Christian people.” In 1823, the U.S. Supreme Court enshrined the pattern of Christian discovery and domination in U.S. case law in Johnson & Graham’s Lessee versus M’Intosh.
We can trace the pattern to 1452, when Pope Nicolas V, in the papal document Dum Diversas, directed the King of Portugal to go to the Western coast of Africa, and to non-Christian lands anywhere, and “to invade, capture, vanquish, subdue,” “all Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ,” “to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery,” and “to take away all their possessions and property.” Several Papal bulls or decrees of 1493, were issued by Pope Alexander VI, which called for the propagation of the Christian empire, imperii Christiani in Latin, and called for “barbarous nations” be reduced and subjected to the Catholic faith and Christian religion. As an aside, on May 4, 2013, five hundred and twenty years to the day from the issuance of the papal bulls of May 1493, I and two friends of mine (Dr. Debra Harry, of the Paiute Nation, and attorney Sharon Venne, Cree nation) were given permission to see two of the original velum parchment papal documents at the General Archives of the Indies, in Seville, Spain. The Royal Secretary had made a notation on the back of one of them stating that the document was a concession from Pope Alexander VI, “ganaran y conquistaron de las Indias.” In English, “To win and to conquer the Indies.” In other words, it was a concession to dominate.
Our documentary The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code, based on my book Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, brings into focus the dehumanizing patterns premised on a claimed right of Christian discovery and domination over the lands of so-called infidels, heathens, pagans, and unbaptized peoples. It is a focus that we began more than twenty years ago, with the Indigenous Law Institute.
My friend and mentor Birgil Kills Straight is a traditional headman and spiritual leader of the Oglala Lakota Nation. In 1992, he and I founded the Indigenous Law Institute. In 1993, we attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. Birgil spoke about the Seven Spiritual Laws of the Oceti Sakowin, and we spoke about the papal bulls and told the world community about our campaign to call upon Pope John Paul II to formally revoke the Inter Caetera papal decree. Our campaign against the paradigm of domination and dehumanization, and its institutionalization in laws and policies, continues today with the papacy of Pope Francis.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish I had more time to go into detail. Given my time constraint, I will leave you with this: In 1954 the U.S. Justice Department sent a legal brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, in which it argued that the Tee Hit Indians in Alaska did not deserve monetary compensation for a taking of their timber because “the Christian nations of Europe had discovered the lands of heathens and infidels.” In 1955, the year I was born, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with that argument, referencing Henry Wheaton’s Elements of International Law, in which Wheaton said: “The heathen nations of the other quarters of the world, were the lawful spoil and prey of their civilized conquerors.” That pattern of Christian domination was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005, in the case City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York.
I want to conclude by saying that it is time for the Christians and the Churches that are are doing so to stop lying about our ceremonies. They need to stop telling our young people and others that our ceremonies are satanic or the work of the devil. This is killing many our young people who, deprived of their cultural and spiritual identity, in the traumatic wake of the boarding schools and residential schools of domination, are ending their lives prematurely.
Additionally, the governments and the churches need to begin putting as much time, effort, energy, and money into assisting with the revitalization of our languages, cultures, and spiritual traditions as they put into attempting to destroy them and our Sacred Places to begin with. Our Original Nations don’t need reconciliation, we need decolonization! We and the planet need healing from the trauma brought on by ongoing and chronic patterns of domination and greed.
Thank you to all the Christian churches and Christians who have expressed support for our efforts. We deeply appreciate it. We invite you to walk with us on the Sacred Path, in honor of the first principle of our Original Nations: “Respect the Earth as our Mother and have a Sacred Regard for All Living Things.” End the domination. All Our Relations. Wanishi.
Steven Newcomb (Shawnee-Lenape) is a legal scholar and advocate for Indigenous nations who has carried on a global campaign since 1992. That is when he and Birgil Kills Straight, a Traditional Headman and Elder of the Oglala Lakota Nation founded the Indigenous Law Institute and began challenging imperial Vatican documents from the fifteenth century. Those documents resulted in the decimation and domination of the Original Nations and Peoples of Mother Earth and thereby deprived the planet of life-ways, sustainable ecosystems, and Sacred Teachings. Newcomb’s book Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery was published in 2008, and it provides a powerful context for the documentary “The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code,” Directed by Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota), and Co-Produced by Newcomb. The movie also features Mr. Birgil Kills Straight discussing the Seven Sacred Laws of the Oceti Sakowin.
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This article appears in:
2015 Catalyst, Issue 22: Global Indigenous Wisdom