It’s just come to my attention that the $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline has been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, a U.S. military institution traced back to the Society of the Cincinnati which was founded in 1783 for “the future dignity of the AMERICAN EMPIRE.” The Army Corps has given Energy Transfer Partners approval to complete the pipeline at Standing Rock through Oceti Sakowin Nation territory. Once the oil pipeline is completed, the likelihood of a rupture of the oil pipeline will threaten the drinking water of millions of people who rely on Missouri River, not to mention the water that feeds ecosystems throughout the region.
This is perfectly in keeping with the American empire’s dominating imperial trajectory against our original nations and peoples. George Washington called the United States “a rising empire.” He and other white power brokers of his era had in mind the development of a grand system. Historian Richard Van Alstyne termed it “an imperium—a dominion, state or sovereignty that would expand in population and territory, and increase in strength in power.”
What’s in play at Standing Rock is the life-destroying economics of the American Empire’s imperialism, asserted on the basis of a divine right of domination as revealed in the Bible. This way of thinking led to the 1823 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Johnson v. M’Intosh, a decision which Francis Lieber called the “jus divinum” (“divine law”) of the United States.
In 1954 the U.S. Justice Department, in the U.S. legal brief for Tee-Hit-Indians v. United States, openly avowed the main religious conceptual root of the U.S. federal Indian law and policy system. That conceptual pattern identifies the Christian religious rationale of domination behind the U.S. approval of projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline.
What pattern of concepts was used by the Justice Department in 1954? The Justice Department used the argument that the “Christian nations of Europe” had “acquired jurisdiction” over the lands of “heathens and infidels.” In other words, the year before I was born, the United States, by means of the Johnson v. M’Intosh ruling, claimed to be the political successor to the assertion of Christian jurisdiction in relation to the lands of heathens and infidels!
This means that the tacit Christian claim of jurisdiction over the lands of heathens and infidels is the basis upon which Congress, in 1958, purported to grant permission to the Army Corps of Engineers to “take,” a section of the Oceti Sakowin Nation territory for the Oahe Dam project. That is the land currently under dispute with regard to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Why is the Army Corps of engineers, rather than the Oceti Sakowin Nation, considered by the U.S. to have the ultimate power of decision-making in relation to treaty-recognized Oceti Sakowin lands? Because of the argument embedded in the Johnson v. M’Intosh ruling, that the Christian nations of Europe acquired jurisdiction over the lands of heathens and infidels during Christendom’s Age of Discovery and Domination.
Justice Stanley Reed, who authored the 1955 decision Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States, openly expressed in 1946 what he called the “theory…that discovery by Christian nations, gave them sovereignty [domination] over, and title to the [non-Christian] lands discovered. Johnson v. McIntosh, 8 Wheat. 543, 572-586…” Reed continued: “It is not for the courts of the conqueror [dominator] to question the propriety or validity of such an assertion of power.”
What Pope Alexander VI called “the Christian Empire” has resulted in the United States’ dehumanizing claim of a right of property in the traditional territory of the Oceti Sakowin Nation (the Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation). That religious tradition of the Christian Empire, which in part morphed into the American Empire, is the religious tradition of domination that President Donald Trump and the Army Corps of Engineers are upholding by approving the Dakota Access Pipeline in the Oceti Sakowin Nation territory.
As a response to any naysayers, let’s now take a closer look at the Old Testament religious basis for the U.S. claim of a right of property in the treaty-recognized territory of the Oceti Sakowin Nation. In his second book, Chapter I. “Of Property in General,” William Blackstone states:
There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination and engages the affections of mankind as the right of property [Blackstone’s bold emphasis], or that sole and despotic dominion which one man [or one nation] claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual [or nation] in the universe.” (p. 137)
What is the religious basis of the U.S.’s claim of property in the territory of the Oceti Sakowin Nation? Here’s the connection made by William Blackstone between the Old Testament of the Bible and his previous statement about property being a “sole and despotic dominion” in relation to “external things”:
In the beginning of the world, we are informed by Holy Writ [the Bible], the All-bountiful Creator gave to man “dominion over all the earth, and over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. This is the only true and solid foundation of man’s dominion over all external things. (ibid.)
The Christian colonization of the territories of our nations on this continent has followed and still follows an Old Testament Chosen People/Promised Land patterning of thought and behavior. Take, for example, the Old Testament biblical context of the colonial Virginia Charter of 1606, which was explained by a minister named William Simonds in 1609, in Whitehall Chapel. Simonds invoked the Chosen People/Promised Land model at the opening of his sermon:
“Genesis 12: 1. 2. 3. For the Lord had said to Abram, get thee out of thy Countrey, and from thy Kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will shew thee. And I will make thee a great nation, and will blesse thee, and make thy name great, and thou shalt be a blessing.
For those who have the eyes to see, in the text above the biblical God of the Old Testament is telling Abram (who will become “Abraham”) to enter “the land I will shew thee,” which is the inhabited land that “God” “promises” to Abram and to his descendants, “His” so-called “Chosen People,” “as an everlasting inheritance.”
Simonds’ sermon is pointing out the connection between that Old Testament biblical narrative, the Virginia charter, and the enterprise to colonize the lands of our nations. When looked at from within that narrative, the Oceti Sakowin Nation, and the rest of our original nations, are analogous to the Canaanites of the Old Testament, who are to be enslaved, uprooted, and exterminated, or, these days, have oil pipelines and other destructive projects imposed on us and forced through our territories without our consent.
This Chosen People/Promised Land narrative is the biblical starting point for the Johnson v. M’Intosh ruling. It’s the origin of the belief that the American Empire, as one of “God’s chosen” nations, has the divine right to overrun and overtake the territories of our original nations, such as the territory of the Oceti Sakowin Nation. It’s expressed as the claim of a divine right of “despotic dominion,” which Chief Justice John Marshall termed “ultimate dominion” and “absolute title.”
This Judeo-Christian religio-political tradition has been used to displace condemned Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota spiritual laws (Mni Wiconi, Water is Life!), and relegated them to a position of irrelevance from the viewpoint of the United States. By rejecting the Oceti Sakowin Nation interpretation of the 1851 and 1868 Treaties of Fort Laramie in favor of the Old-Testament-premised framework of the Chosen People/Promised Land, the greed-laden economic forces of the American Empire are now insisting on saying “full speed ahead” to putting the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe in the Oceti Sakowin Nation territory.
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.