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Sunday, October 03, 2004

Steve Newcomb-Colonization Day

This column was written by Steve Newcomb and has yet to be posted on the internet so we are printing it in its entirety. It was written in honor of Tecumsehs' death (october 5) and also to address the upcoming celebration of christopher columbus and his legacy.

Colonization Day

By Steven Newcomb

The day on which the United States pays tribute to Cristobal Colon (the colonizer) is just around the corner, and I am once again pondering his legacy. Every time I think of Columbus’s (Colon’s) life and the dire and lasting effects of colonization on Indigenous nations and peoples, I also think of certain Vatican documents that created a context for his first voyage and subsequent voyages. One key document that I have written about in the past is the Inter Caetera bull of May 1493. This document called for the “subjugation” of “barbarous nations” in order to force them to the Catholic faith and Christian religion.  

One important line in the Inter Cetera bull is, “We trust in Him from whom empires, and governments, and all good things proceed.” The capital “H” on “Him” indicates that this pronoun is referring to the Catholic deity. The Latin language version of the document reveals that the English word “governments” is a translation of the Latin word “dominationes,” or dominations. Thus, the document is saying that “empires,” “dominations,” and “all good things” proceed “from” or emerge out of the Catholic deity.  

It is logically impossible for the Vatican and the pope to have said that empires and dominations (“dominationes”) “proceed from” or emerge from their Catholic deity without also acknowledging the Catholic deity is a deity of empire and domination, and without acknowledging that the Vatican is an institution dedicated to the spread and expanse of empire and domination. Let us not forget that empires and dominations are rooted in violence, and physical, psychological, and spiritual abuse. 

Empire has been defined as “a dominion, state, or sovereignty that would expand in population and territory, and increase in strength and power.” The Pope as “the Supreme Head of the Roman Catholic Church,” is also the “Supreme Head of the Roman Catholic Empire.” The Vatican just doesn’t advertise this information. Empire might be good for business, but it’s not a good sales tool.  

There is other evidence to support what I’m saying. In the papal bull dum diversas of 1452, for example, Pope Nicholas V. instructed King Alfonso of Portugal to “invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue, all Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ, to put them into perpetual slavery, and to take away all their possessions and property.” Here’s clear evidence of the Vatican’s responsibility for crimes against humanity, with regard to the African slave trade, and the bloody and genocidal conquest moves against the Indigenous nations and peoples of the area that would eventually be known as the Americas. Millions were killed outright, and millions more died of diseases.  

The Vatican documents mentioned above, set Christian Europeans on a path of colonization and domination, death and destruction, all in the name of “religious conversion.” These church documents helped set the engine of devastation into motion, and gave it fuel. Now we want the Vatican to acknowledge the role that it played in the annihilation of many Indigenous peoples, and the destruction of tremendous amounts of Indigenous knowledge and wisdom, thereby depriving the world of that vitally important information.  

Do, dom, domo, dominare, dominatio, dominion, domination, dome, domesticate, are among the concepts that structure the category empire. The word “domo” is a Latin word that has seven basic meanings: to subjugate, to subdue, to force into subservience, to tame, to domesticate, to cultivate, and to till. The word in Latin for cultivate is colere, which means both “to colonize” and “to design.” When all these activities are carried out, the result is a system of empire. From the point of view of the goal of empire building, and empire maintenance, all these various activities are regarded as positive and highly effective. They are also in keeping with the first command of Genesis 1:28 in the Bible: “subdue the Earth, and exercise dominion [domination] over all living things.”  

Celebrating the life of Columbus (Colon) is to unconsciously celebrate of a global system of domination that emerged during the so-called Age of Discovery. It is to obfuscate the true story, and place into a positive light the terror of the genocidal forces unleashed by the Vatican documents mentioned above, and by other such documents.  

To acknowledge what is presented here as truth, however, is difficult if not impossible for the dominating society. This is so because this kind of information reveals the actual character of the dominant society, instead of allowing that character to be hidden behind a mask of positive and benign sounding words.  

We as contemporary Indigenous peoples are the present day voice descended from our ancestors. The spirits of our ancestors are with us. It is time for the age of subjugation to come to a close. It is time for a much need transition into an age of healing, revitalization, resurgence, and renewal. Healing can only come about by means of a healing mind (a medicine mind) and healing activities. The same is true of revitalization, resurgence, and renewal. This is natural law.  

Speaking of natural laws, I have learned much about the Seven Laws of the Oceti Sakowin from my friend and colleague Birgil Kills Straight. These are laws of the Oglala Lakota, and other allied nations of the Nakota and Dakota. According to Birgil, Indigenous laws are concepts, values, and principles that open a path of truth, beauty, and goodness. These are laws to be lived each and every day of our lives.  

These laws teach us to honor and respect all forms of life, and to have compassion and pity for others. They instruct us to share with and care for others. The Seven Laws direct us to exhibit patience and fortitude, as well as humbleness and humility. The laws tell us we must be courageous and brave, and to demonstrate patience and fortitude in our lives, while also seeking wisdom and understanding in our lives. When these laws are lived as a way of life, they result in Wolakota, or a life of peace and friendship. 

When person lives in keeping with these concepts and the activities that go with them, that person will find peace. The same is true for a family or extended family, for a community or for a nation. Speaking of peace, the great Oglala spiritual leader Black Elk once said (as found in Joseph Epes Brown’s book, “The Sacred Pipe.”): “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of men when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its Powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwell Wakan Tanka, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.  

The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between to nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.”  

Steven Newcomb is Indigenous Law Research Coordinator at Kumeyaay Community College, co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, and a columnist for Indian Country Today.  


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