Steven Newcomb

White Supremacy (‘Ascendancy’) Is the Basis of US Federal Indian Law

As long as we keep calling an idea system of domination ‘the law,’ we will continue to be controlled and dominated by the system of white supremacy

The Trump Era has given rise to a new wave of white supremacy in the United States. In response, a number of statues dedicated to Confederate figures and slave owners have been removed or torn down recently because of the backlash against what is perceived to be the history of racism in the United States and the racist atmosphere of white nationalism that has arisen in U.S. society since the beginning of the Trump presidency. A statue dedicated to General Robert E. Lee, for example, has been removed, in part because Lee commanded the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.

Yet those who have recently decried statues dedicated to a number of racist figures in the history of the United States have been rather selective in their indignation toward other white men who were slave owners and who believed in “white supremacy.” Ironically, President Trump pointed this out when he wondered, rhetorically, whether the statue-opponents thought that statues dedicated to two other slave owners, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, ought to be taken down as well. My answer would be “definitely.”

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An example of an attitude of supremacy is evident when a ruling class of people considers itself to be better than all other classes and holds the power. A white supremacist has been defined as “a person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.” Claiming “ascendancy” is another way to claim supremacy.

To claim white “ascendancy” is to assume that white people are supreme and ought to be seated in the highest position in U.S. society, above all others. In the 1823 U.S. Supreme Court decision Johnson & Graham’s Lessee v. M’Intosh, Chief Justice John Marshall, another slave owner, said that the character and religion of the Native inhabitants of North America provided “an apology for considering” them to be a people “over whom the superior genius of Europe might claim an ascendancy.” The Webster’s dictionary definition of “ascendancy” is “controlling or governing power: domination.” Thus, “white supremacy” is simply a euphemism for white domination.

A statue dedicated to Chief Justice John Marshall currently sits in the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. Even if that statue were removed, the racist mental patterns (patterns of thought) that Marshall wrote into the Johnson decision would still remain in the building in the form of the Johnson v. M’Intosh ruling and other racist and religiously bigoted U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Statue or no statue, the Supreme Court will continue using the racist and dominating patterns which that institution has used against our nations and peoples for nearly two centuries now. (The year 2023 will be the two century mark since the Johnson ruling was issued).

After people have watched our documentary movie about the Johnson decision, The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code, they often ask, “What can we do?” or, “So, what’s the solution?” Reflect on those questions for a moment. The men and women seated on the U.S. Supreme Court fully intend to continue using as “legal precedent” the racist and religiously bigoted precedent of the Johnson ruling, and the resulting system of white domination (“supremacy,” “ascendancy”). No legislation is going to stop the Supreme Court from using that decision. And, besides, Congress would have no reason to pass legislation contradicting the Johnson ruling.

Given the dominating nature and temperament of the Trump administration, the current make-up of the Executive Branch of the United States government is not likely to try and end the patterns of white supremacy and domination found in the Johnson ruling and in U.S. federal Indian law and policy generally. We can be certain that the United States does not want to discard the ideas of the Johnson ruling which also serve as the cornerstone of the property law system of the United States.

Chief Justice Marshall wrote the Johnson ruling to make certain that our Native nations would not be recognized as our own countries in the world such as England, France, Spain, Portugal and so forth. The Johnson ruling was written to make certain that the national boundaries of our nations were only regarded as dotted porous lines, which the U.S. could easily transgress with impunity, and not hard lines capable of keeping the United States and other countries out.

One unique feature of nations called “Indigenous” is that their oppressors, such as the United States, are able to unilaterally define them in a subordinating manner. Indigenous nations have no effective means of preventing their oppressors from unilaterally imposing those definitions upon them. It seems to me that so long as we keep calling an idea system of domination “the law,” we will continue to be controlled and dominated by the system of white Christian supremacy which is well exemplified by the Johnson v. M’Intosh ruling.

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

  • Thomas D.

    American Was Founded As A White Racist And Christian Religious Bigoted Nation. When Obama was President he said, during a National prayer breakfast: “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” Today, Confederate monuments are coming down across the U.S.A. . What’s next? What I would like to see next are statues of Christopher Columbus and Christian crosses coming down all across the U.S.A..

    When Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and first set foot on a Native occupied and owned island in the Western Hemisphere he performed a ceremony to take possession of (or steal) these Native people’s land for the Spanish Monarchy, acting under the international laws of Western Christendom.

    A growing number of people are becoming aware that his act of “taking possession” of these Native people’s land was based on a Christian doctrine that had been transformed into an international legal construct, now known as the Doctrine of Discovery, a Doctrine used to “justify” the founding of the U.S.A. . And more and more people are also realizing that today – five centuries later – the United States government still uses this evil Christian doctrine to deny the rights of this land’s Native peoples.

    Forty years before Columbus’ historic voyage in 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued to King Alfonso V of Portugal the bull Romanus Pontifex, declaring war against all non-Christians throughout the world, and specifically sanctioning and promoting the conquest, colonization, and exploitation of non-Christian nations and their territories. I believe that the Bible scripture Psalms 79:6 was used to “justify” this Papal Bull. It reads: “Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name.

    Pope Nicholas V directed King Alfonso V to “capture, vanquish, and subdue the saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ,” to “put them into perpetual slavery,” and “to take all their possessions and property.”

    Old and New Testament Bible scriptures condone slavery. The Bible is full of hate speech. And modern-day scientific discoveries have proven that the Garden of Eden story in the Bible is a myth. Evidence of one of these discoveries can be found in a National Geographic YouTube video entitled Scientific Adam and Eve .

    Some first century people mistakenly took the Garden of Eden story literally and then used it to establish the Christian religion’s central foundational doctrine on. I believe that Christianity is a false, hateful and anti-science religion and that it needs to quickly come to an end.

    My name is Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer. This article, including reference links, is located at:

    Related News: An August 25, 2017, article in the U.S. The Telegraph is entitled New York mayor considers removing Christopher Columbus statue amid Confederate-era soul-searching . Two excerpt from the article read: “It has been suggested by local government officials in several US cities that monuments to Columbus should be taken down because of the explorer’s brutal treatment of indigenous communities.” … “New York’s Columbus statue, which is a tourist attraction, is one of scores of monuments in the city currently being reviewed as part of an effort to remove “symbols of hate.” An August 19, 2017, Detroit Free Press article is entitled “Dozens demonstrate in Detroit against white supremacy, Christopher Columbus. An Aug, 23, 2017, article in The Mercury News is entitled San Jose organizers push to remove Christopher Columbus statue from City Hall .

    Related article: An Jan. 25, 2015, article in the Daily Kos is entitled Empty Churches Go On Sale in Europe as Christian Faith Declines . Here is an excerpt from this article: European countries in general have seen substantial declines, but it is the Netherlands leading the way. The Catholic Church predicts that two-thirds of its churches will be retired from holy service within a decade and 700 Protestant churches are expected to be decommissioned within four years. While the U.S. has avoided a similar wave of church closings for now, recent trends lead religious researchers to say the country could face the same problem in coming years.

  • Theodore K.

    White supremacy why do you continue to create hate and infect the minds of our young natives how do you expect them to feel they can advance our people if you are the beginning of them feeling unwanted in a society other than on the reservation i hrew up on my reservation with a drunk dad today our children are affected by there parents being hooked on pills and meth and heroin and when they need a posative place to look you tell tbem the white supremacist will get you the white supremacist do not listen to this guys narrow mind as you our young can advance play the game of them and advance into the white house but

  • Matthew M.

    Ironic that the question is about Statues of Southern generals put with “White supremacy” as the Confederacy was supportive of Native Nations give the 5 Nations the same representation as the states. I communally use the Cherokee Declaration of Cause to explain the cause of the South as Lincoln was against both the Southern and the Native American peoples as “Whatever causes the Cherokee people may have had in the past, to complain of some of the Southern States, they cannot but feel that their interests and their destiny are inseparably connected with those of the South.” in other word the Lee monuments should left alone but the Lincoln Monument should be removed.

  • Yeah. No kidding… Talk about offensive? Time for the Mt. Rushmore park to be imploded I would guess? The more research I do it seems as though Harrison was the real tyrant with Native relations- I do not know of one memorial dedicated to him or else I would recommend its removal. Oddly enough, people think removing a statue removes the history-I would suggest letting them stay and realize the importance of history – otherwise, we keep repeating mistakes, instead of learning from them.

  • Once again, you find the words to explain that we can all together decide to break with the deadly cycle of colonialism. Native, non-native, white, black, yellow, green, believers or not…
    Remains that we must conceive and want it and in a peaceful way.
    In France, still too little, I am one of those who are at your side and who relay and amplify the indigenous anti-colonial voices.
    In my French style, here is the relay of your publication ►
    At pleasure to read you soon ; Mrs. Jo Busta Lally

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White Supremacy (‘Ascendancy’) Is the Basis of US Federal Indian Law