The title of this column is taken from a letter sent by Christopher Columbus to Ferdinand and Isabella, explaining how he had found “many islands filled with people innumerable, and of them all I have taken possession for their highnesses, by proclamation made and with royal standard unfurled and no opposition was offered to me.” (emphasis added)
Recently, a non-Native writer named Jay Taber accused me on a website of having “attacked” Dina Gilio-Whitaker in my March 23 critique of her March 10 column, “Moving from Sovereignty to Autonomy.” While I usually dismiss such unsupportable claims, my failure to do so in this case might result in my accuser blustering, like Columbus before him, “and no opposition was offered to me.”
Ms. Gilio-Whitaker and I have been acquaintances for years, and she cordially responded to my critique of her article, writing, “Good research requires the ability to consider all points of view and we do this through vigorous debate. Thank you, Steven Newcomb, for the challenge.” That is hardly the response of someone who believes that she has been “attacked.”
Importantly, my non-Indian accuser conveniently failed to quote me directly, anywhere in his article. In my experience, when strongly disagreeing with someone, it is most compelling to quote that person’s own words. His substitution of his words for mine indicates a fear of engaging in exactly the kind of debate that Ms. Gilio Whitaker welcomes. His is the height of sexism, pretending to come to the aid of his ‘damsel’, when she is neither in distress, nor needs his assistance in intelligently defending her position.
My friend Glenn Morris (Shawnee) was also accused in the same article of having “attacked” a female Indian elected official, and we were therefore both equally guilty of “attacking” Indian women. Again, the specific nature of our “attacks” were never specified. The fact that Glenn didn’t “attack” anyone, male or female, should not have deterred our accuser from making a minimal effort to specify his allegation, which was publicly available information that the Indian leader in question had once admittedly worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The Indian official in question was nominated, during the 2013 North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus on the Sycuan Reservation, an event that our detractor did not bother to attend, but asserted the privilege to comment on, as if he had been in attendance. The Indian official was nominated to be head of the delegation for the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus to the Global Coordinating Group (GCG). The (GCG) would be working to coordinate the United Nations High Level Plenary Meeting (HLPM) “to be known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.”
At the NAIPC meeting, Glenn Morris asked the Indian official to comment on her admitted past employment with the CIA, because he knew that if she were appointed to the GCG, and indigenous peoples from other regions of the world discovered her past CIA connection, such a revelation could be extremely harmful to the entire North American region. How would it appear, for example, if Indigenous peoples in other regions that have been harmed by the CIA (e.g., Guatemala or Chile or Kenya) found out that the North American Indigenous Peoples’ GCG representative had previously worked for the C.I.A.? To her credit, the Indian official admitted her C.I.A. employment; she explained that she was young at the time, and it somehow made sense to her back then. Eventually, she withdrew her nomination from consideration.
The fact that Glenn honestly, openly, and non-confrontationally raised the very understandable and grave concerns shared by many at the NAIPC meeting, is now being falsely labeled “an attack” on that Indian official. Morris’ accuser self-selects his facts because he fears revealing the identity of the Indian official in close proximity to the letters “C.I.A.” No doubt this is out of concern that people might misconstrue the significance of that connection. If that’s the case, and other regions of the world also might “misconstrue,” or negatively interpret, the significance of that connection, then why wasn’t her CIA past openly and publicly disclosed to everyone at the NAIPC gathering at Sycuan, so that the problematic relationship could be factored into the decision about her candidacy for the GCG spot?
Our privileged, non-Native critic has also alleged that “Newcomb and Morris would have us think the self-appointed NAIPC talking heads, unaccountable to any constituency, should be at the center of international negotiations.” Again, not be confused by actual facts, he failed to substantiate, or to demonstrate that either of us holds such a view, but let’s think about this for a moment. This year’s North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus gathering in Kamloops decided to call for cancellation of the HLPM, in part to prevent a “negotiation” with states of our fundamental rights. At the NAIPC gathering at Sycuan last year I expressed my grave concerns with the very idea of such a “negotiation.”
At Sycuan I specifically called into question the sensibility of appointing any one Indigenous person, to “negotiate” our fundamental rights. The word “negotiation” typically implies “compromise” and, all too often for indigenous peoples, the something to be relinquished in the “spirit of compromise” is our fundamental rights. So, what part of our fundamental rights are to be surrendered in these negotiations? Why is the word “negotiate” even used in relation to our fundamental rights,” I asked.
Our uniformed crusading “critic, having attended neither the Sycuan or Kamloops meetings, did not hear a word I spoke. Yet, his privilege shields him psychologically from any sense of shame in falsely attributing to me a position I have never held, and would consider to be the height of folly for our Original Nations and Peoples.
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 has been studying U.S. federal Indian law and international law since the early 1980s.