The history U.S. federal Indian law and policy makes one thing abundantly clear: The United States’ view of reality is premised on an assumed right to dominate our Native nations, our lands, and our lives, and to expropriate our water and resources. Alvin Toffler, in his book The Third Wave (1980), titled his fourth chapter, “Breaking the Code.” In the opening sentence of that chapter, Toffler states: “Every civilization has a hidden code—a set of rules or principles that run through all its activities like a repeated design.” History reveals that both “Western civilization” and what has been called “American civilization” do have a hidden code; it operates as a recurring pattern of domination.
One meaning of “civilization” is forcing a particular cultural pattern on a population to which that pattern is foreign. One nation forcing a cultural, linguistic, and political pattern of domination on another nation is obviously accomplished by a process of domination. William Brandon, in The American Heritage Book of Indians, quotes a U.S. government inspector from the 1850s who mentioned “the great cause of civilization, which, in the natural course of things, must exterminate Indians.”
That sentence could just as easily be worded in terms of “the great cause of domination, which, in the natural course of things, must exterminate Indians.” The little noticed connection between “civilization” and “domination” demonstrates that we are able to bring the hidden code into focus when we take the time to carefully examine the words and ideas that make up the English language and the language of United States federal Indian law.
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Given that a hidden code—a repeated design—has been used by the United States in a concerted effort to destroy our original nations, as nations (e.g., Colonel Richard H. Pratt: “all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian, save the man”), how is it that most of us as Native people are still oblivious to the existence of the domination code?
The answer is rather simple. The assumed right and reality system of domination remains disguised. It stays out of focus through the use of ordinary sounding words that people seldom associate with domination, words such as “tribe(s),” “tribal,” “colonial,” “state,” “federal,” “U.S. federal Indian law,” “kingdom,” “lord,” “sovereign,” “sovereignty,” “jurisdiction,” “civil,” “civilization,” “jurisdiction,” “government,” “Christian,” “dominion,” “title,” “aboriginal,” “occupancy,” “possession,” “conquest,” “conquer,” “subjugation,” “subjection,” “ascendancy,” “government,” “plenary power,” and so forth.
Anyone who takes the time to dig deep will find that these and many other words are secret or tacit metaphorical carriers of the domination code. They are words that carry different aspects of the system of domination.
What is called United States federal Indian law is first and foremost a system of ideas premised on an assumed right of domination which is mastered by each new generation of U.S. government officials, and passed on to the next. The ideas that make up U.S. federal Indian law began as concepts created in the white man’s mind and language system. A prime example is a statement made by Chief Justice John Marshall in the Johnson v. M’Intosh ruling from 1823. Marshall said that the “character and religion” of the continent’s “inhabitants afforded an apology [a rationale] for considering them [the Indians] as a people over whom the superior genius of Europe might claim an ascendancy.” Webster’s defines the word “ascendancy” as, “controlling influence: governing power: DOMINATION” (capital letters in the original text).
The system of ideas called U.S. federal Indian law is also predicated on the assumption that “Christian people” (italics are the U.S. Supreme Court’s emphasis) had the right to assert and establish Christian domination over “heathens” and “infidels.” This was manifested by overrunning the lands and economically profiting from the valuable resources wherever non-Christians were living. This assumption of a divine right of domination is maintained to this day by a number of techniques, such as designating our nations as “U.S. tribes,” and by imposing the concept and designation “federal lands,” “mere occupancy,” and “aboriginal interest” on the territories of our nations.
U.S. Federal Indian law is traced back to a tradition of Christian crusade which had been ongoing for centuries before the voyages undertaken by Columbus and other Christian colonizers. As the Spanish historian Francisco López de Gómara put the matter, “The Conquest [domination] of the Indies began when that of the Moors was over for the Spanish have always fought against infidels.” The word “conquest” is simply another word for domination.
Those who traveled by ship from Christendom to other parts of the planet in the name of a spirit of “crusade” or a “mission,” carried with them the unquestioned assumption that the Christian world had the perfect right to establish a reign of domination over any non-Christian nations that the Christian voyagers were able to locate. They called Christian domination “conquest” to create a sense of “triumph” or “victory” for Christendom.
Given the connection between Christianity and U.S. federal Indian law, it ought to come as no surprise that U.S. federal Indian law is premised on the wording of domination found in Genesis 1:28 of the Bible: “Subdue the earth and dominate all living things” (Richard Friedman’s The Bible With Sources Revealed, 2005). U.S. federal Indian law is premised in part on a biblical mandate to subdue and dominate our free and independent nations.
As a result of the domination system of Christendom, and all the violence and dehumanization inflicted for centuries on our ancestors, it is now widely assumed that our ancestors became obligated, and that we their descendants are now obligated, to passively accept the words and ideas of domination that the United States continues to use against our nations and peoples against our will. This has resulted in the idea being accepted without question that the rights of our nations to complete sovereignty, and independence were diminished, and thus ended, by Christian domination, and by the propagation of the Christian empire. On the basis of that claimed right of Christian domination over non-Christian nations and their soil, the United States now claims that Congress has “plenary power” in relation to our nations. It is accurate to call it, Congress’ assumed plenary power of domination over our nations and our territories.
As a result of the U.S. government’s claim of the right to dominate our existence, we as Native nations and peoples have been conditioned to believe that whenever the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision about our nations, by mentally and linguistically projecting particular words, ideas, and arguments onto our nations, then we are obligated to conform to and abide by the U.S. Supreme Court’s domination-oriented view of reality. The United States government would have us believe we are fully obligated to passively concede without objection to the U.S.’s assumption of a right of domination over our nations, our lands and our lives.
Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to believe we have no right to challenge the United States’ assumed right to dominate our nations. As Richard Harvey Brown has stated, “The thing itself” (whatever “the thing” happens to be) “becomes emergent in the process of being named.” Once we have learned how to “see” the hidden code of domination, it seems noticeable everywhere because the dominating society’s entire reality system is predicated on it.
In conclusion, Claude Lévi Strauss made a statement about the origin of anthropology as part of a global process of domination that is applicable to U.S. federal Indian law. It is, he said, “the outcome of a historical process which has made the larger part of mankind subservient to the other, and during which millions of innocent human beings have had their resources plundered and their institutions and beliefs destroyed, while they themselves were ruthlessly killed, thrown into bondage, and contaminated by diseases they were unable to resist.”
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.