C. A. Bowers was one of my brilliant professors when I attended the University of Oregon. A prolific author, Bowers has made an excellent point. Paraphrasing him, “If you want to defeat your opponent, don’t apply your opponent’s arguments to yourself.” So, let’s say we have a political opponent who argues, “You’re not a real nation, you’re a ‘domestic dependent nation’ subject to our plenary power,” or “you’re not even a nation, you’re only a tribe, subject to our authority over you!”
Are we likely to defeat those arguments and terminology by applying them to ourselves? Of course we aren’t. And if we meekly agree with the idea that we are "domestic dependent nations" because our political adversary has said we are, then how will we ever move beyond a political identity seemingly imposed on us? By our failure to challenge and move beyond that political identity, our adversary will all the more easily continue to say, “You don’t have the right to do x because it’s inconsistent with your status.” Those who oppose us will never say honestly and forthrightly, “You don’t have the right do x because it’s inconsistent with the status we have semantically imposed on you.”
Suppose we have been conditioned from a very young age to fully believe we have no right to contradict the “domestic dependent nation” political identity seemingly imposed on us. Let’s say we’ve been conditioned to believe that if we do contradict our adversary, without a doubt something bad will happen to us? If that’s the case, don’t we have to come to terms with the way we have been psychologically conditioned to accept a lesser political status for ourselves out of fear? So, what is our means of freeing ourselves from a position of timidity and acquiescence?
If we continue to use our opponent’s arguments (their definitions of us), when will we ever take the time to develop the counter-arguments that can be used to defeat our opponent’s arguments? When we use his arguments, we make it seem as if we are willing to accept our opponent’s entire sense of reality, as in “we’re all Americans now, so get over it.”
The word metonymy means “the part stands for the whole.” The ‘domestic dependent nationhood’ argument is but one “part” that stands for “the whole” or the entire dominating reality of our opponent. When we make it seem as if we have accepted that “part” this makes it seem as if we have accepted our adversary’s entire dominating reality, especially when we say hardly anything to contradict that reality.
If we accept without question the key narratives and key arguments of the dominating society, then by our failure to develop alternatives we’re making it inevitable that they will continue to be used against us. Those narratives and arguments will be repeated over and over again, just as they have been up until now, generation after generation, with little fundamental opposition on our part.
Through their repetitive retelling, disguised as “the law,” such stories of domination get woven together in the neural mappings of our brains and nervous systems, and contribute to the collective tapestry, so to speak, that works to hold the dominating society together. It all works to reinforce the dominating society’s norms and expectations. From the viewpoint of that society it has become normal and expected for us to simply accept the domestic dependent nationhood political status imposed on us.
Many of us have accepted the false belief that in order “to persuade” the dominating society we have to match and agree with its norms and expectations. Yet, ironically, when we do so we thereby reinforce the very reality of domination that is the source of the problems we want to solve as original nations and peoples of The Great Turtle.
So let’s assume for a moment that we have tremendous potential we have not yet lived up to, potential that enables us to free ourselves of false conditioning. Let’s say we have our own “semantic sovereignty” that enables us to directly challenge the dominating society’s narratives about itself and about our nations and peoples. Suppose we were to assume that we have meaningful and important things to say to the world about those dominating narratives, and about ourselves.
We have the ability to deliver our own unique message from an entirely different cultural, spiritual and ceremonial viewpoint, in keeping with the spiritual laws of the universe. An example is the critical value of water, women, and the ecological systems of the planet, which are being subjected to the destructive patterns that are being perpetrated against life on Mother Earth on a planetary scale.
What if we could deliver our message from a position of spiritual insight about the nature of our existence before deadly regimes of were imposed on our nations and peoples by colonizing empires?
What would we say? Would we affirm that we are not domestic dependent nations, and that we reject the limiting political identity our adversary has worked so hard to impose on us? Would we say, firmly and unequivocally, that we have the spiritual right to live free of all forms of domination in keeping with our original free existence?
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).