From the January/February 2016 PNL #848

By Sue Eiholzer

Just as terrorism today is often justified by religious principle, our ancestors took the ancestral homelands of people, who had lived here for centuries, based on Papal Bulls of the 15th Century. Commonly referred to as the Doctrine of Discovery, the Papal Bulls gave Christians the right to “capture, vanquish and subdue all … pagan and other enemies of Christ … and take away all their possessions and property.” Charles Mann in his book 1491 shows us the rich legacy of cultural and agricultural development in the western hemisphere. But if you were not Christian, you were considered pagan, primitive and uncultured, so you must be subdued.

A common thread in native cultures is their relationship with Mother Earth, which provides everything needed to sustain them as a part of that environment. Their Ancestral Land is a relative which held their history, ancestors and sacred sites. It was to be shared communally for the benefit of all members of their nation. They were spiritually connected and sustained by their land.

The newcomers had a very different relationship with the land. They did not allow for this difference. For them, their own culture and religion defined what was civilized and had value. And they had inadvertently (and purposefully) brought diseases that wiped out 95% of the native population, according to estimates. Whole communities and cultures were decimated, often making the land appear empty and uncultivated.

This is a classic European representation of the first meeting
between the Natives and the newcomers.The Europeans are
bringing Christianity and “civilization” to the “uncivilized heathens.”



They negotiated at least 400 treaties. But we chose to break them, despite Article VI in our own Constitution stating that “Treaties made … shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” They defended themselves and their ancestral land as best as they could against Clinton’s and Sullivan’s slash and burn expedition sent by George Washington. They fought in the courts and often won but were forcibly removed west of the Mississippi River despite their victories. And because of a belief in “Manifest Destiny,” our ancestors moved west anyway. Buffalo herds were systematically wiped out. First Nations were confined to reservations comprised of poor, undesirable, alien land far from their ancient homelands, their ancestors and their sacred sites to eke out a meager existence as wards of the federal government. And still, they were massacred at Wounded Knee and Sand Creek. Their children were taken to boarding schools, forcibly or because families thought it was their only hope to survive starvation and other deprivations. But they suffered disease, inadequate health care and sexual abuse. The objective was to wipe out all trace of their language, culture and family connection to assimilate them into our ancestor’s culture and “civilize” them. While some “Indians” undoubtedly did at times commit “terrorist” acts on the people invading their lands and terrorizing them, it does not by any means balance with acts committed by the “settlers,” our ancestors.

Is this in the past? You decide. Indian Law to this day is still based on the Doctrine of Discovery, cited as recently as March 29, 2005, by the Supreme Court in the Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation decision. Native Nations must continually fight to preserve what land and resources they still possess, to protect burial grounds and sacred sites, recover stolen artifacts, develop economic independence and defend their Sovereignty. Their governments, whether traditional or elected, must be recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), an agency of the US Department of the Interior that manages America’s vast natural and cultural resources, according to their website. Ours is “a unique legal and political relationship” with “tribes” that are “recognized” by our federal government.

And we enjoy the benefits of legacy. It is only just that we look at the myths and misrepresentations about our mutual history with the original natives of the United States. And that we question the things we were taught in school to justify the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny. Justice would dictate that we recognize first nations peoples as equals worthy of self determination to live as they choose. They have the right to have their economic resources, health needs and legal positions respected.

As we address terrorism today, we must face the atrocities of our ancestors in the past and our current treatment of our indigenous neighbors. We can repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny. We can atone by asking New York State to stop hounding First Nations about cigarette taxes and negotiate on Land Rights Actions. We can support their fair treatment in our courts. We can help them defend and save our shared environment. It’s really the least we can do.

Sue has been a member of the Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON) Steering Committee since 2000. Having worked on a wide variety of initiatives, she currently edits NOON’s monthly electronic newslet