Discovering America Again
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Once upon a time, in place not far away. a sea captain sailing under the Spanish flag came ashore on the little island that its inhabitants called Guanahani.
The official Spanish narrative written by that sea captain reads;
“Shortly after landing, many of the island’s inhabitants assembled on the beach and Columbus gave them gifts of red hats and beads. The natives reciprocated with gifts of parrots, cotton and other goods.”
They go as naked as when their mothers bore them, and so do the women, although I did not see more than one girl. They are very well made, with very handsome bodies, and very good countenances.”
Columbus then observed that they would make great slaves.
After taking gifts from the native Taino, the Spanish performed a ceremony to “take possession” of the land for the king and queen of Spain.
Central to the ceremony was a reading in Spanish, which the natives did not understand.
This instructed the Tianos that they were subjects of Isabel and Ferdinand and were required to submit to the one true Church.
Resistance would be rebellion, rebellion would mean war, and in a war Spain be “required” too subdue them, confiscate their property and enslave them.
That was the law, Columbus proclaimed in Spanish, to the Tianos speaking Islanders.
European law. Imposed on the Original People of this hemisphere.
There were at least 90 million people in the Western Hemisphere in 1492. That was more people than Europe had at the time.
90 million people who had developed complex civilization, advanced sciences including horticulture, Much of the food we eat was first cultivated in this Hemisphere before Columbus.
Astronomy was developed and predictive.
The original people understood the healing power of herbs
had insights into mathematics and astronomy
In other words Western Hemisphere science rivaled Europe at the time.
Except Gun Powder, Armor, Ships with rudders,
So many people ask how could America Be Discovered when people were already here?
Not many people are aware that his act of “discovery” and “possession” is based on a legal doctrine now known as the Doctrine of Discovery.
Even fewer people realize that today – five centuries later – US laws especially in regards to the Native peoples are based on this doctrine.The Doctrine of Discovery is the basis of laws that deny the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands.
In 2012 in preparation for the General Assembly our partners
among the human rights organizations in Arizona as well as Native Americans in the US asked Unitarian Universalists to examine this
Doctrine of Discovery.
They believed that through such an examination that Unitarian Universalists will better understand how genocide and slavery was justified by Europeans and how that justification gave rise to racism.
Let us begin by examining a papal document issued forty years before Columbus 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 instructing the conquest, colonization,
and enslavement of non-Christian Africa.
In 1452 European Christendom had been launching crusades for four hundred years at this point, crusades against Moslems, crusades against Jews, and crusades against those who followed the indigenous religions of Europe – the people called Pagans.
Based on these four centuries of wars non-Christians were considered enemies of the Church and, as such, less than human.
Accordingly, in the bull of 1452, Pope Nicholas directed King Alfonso 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.”
Given this commission Portugal began to capture African slaves by making “discoveries” along the western coast of Africa, claiming those lands as Portuguese territory.
So fast forward Columbus sailed west in 1492 – he was authorized to “take possession” of any lands he “discovered” that were “not under the dominion of any Christian rulers” Thus following an established precedent Christian “discovery” meant that conquest, slavery and genocide followed.
Yes, Columbus sailed with a mandate. His commission did not read find a short cut to India. It was “conqueror somebody., take slaves.”
By now you are getting the plot of the story, Columbus returned to Europe, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal document, the bull Inter Cetera of May 3, 1493, “granting” to Spain – at the request of Ferdinand and Isabella – the right to conquer the lands which Columbus had already found, as well as any lands which Spain might “discover” in the future.
Over the next several centuries this meant Spain, Portugal, England, France, and Holland -and by extension to Canada, the United States, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, the Republic of South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand ——— all Christian nations made the Doctrine part of their laws.
the US Supreme Court in Johnson v. McIntosh Chief Justice John Marshall observed that Christian European nations had assumed
“ultimate dominion” over the lands of America during the “Age of Discovery.” and that – upon “discovery” the Indians had lost any rights to ownership of that land and only retained a right of “occupancy” in their lands.
In other words,
the US Supreme Count declared the original peoples
we’re subject to the United States. The US being a Christian nation.
According to Chief Justice Marshall, the United States – upon winning its independence in 1776 – became a successor nation to this “discovery” and acquired the power of “dominion” from Great Britain.
That is your Supreme Court. And that is still the law of the land.
Using the principle of “discovery” as its premise, the Supreme Court stated in 1831 that the Cherokee Nation (and, by implication, all Indian nations) was not fully sovereign, but “may, perhaps,” be deemed a “domestic dependent nation.”
Congress has taken this to mean that treaties made with Indian nations were subject to U.S. revision. Indian nations were to be considered legally like children subject to the Congressional authority
lawyers call this “plenary power.”
The indigenous people of this Hemisphere call it colonialism. call it domination. call it racist nonsense. The ancient doctrine of Christian discovery and its subjugation of “heathen” Indian is the law of this land, right now, today.
Empowered by the Doctrine of Discovery
Native Children have been taken away,
Land has been taken.
Whole peoples rounded up and moved to some place
Out of sight, out of mind,
But these are not the stories that are taught in our public schools.
Children learn a story of discovery and settlement, a story about how this land came to be white and Christian. And this the official story has had a huge impact on the mentality of the people of the United States.
Our children are learning, through the story
that white, Christian men have the right to rule over non white, presumably inferior women and men.
We say Church and State are separate, but the laws have reflected the values of white Christian since 1620.
By telling that story of Columbus sticking that flag on that beach, we become accomplices in teaching our children that the Earth is a thing, a thing to be owned, to be used, to be exploited.
The people who greeted Columbus on that beach, knew that they belonged to the earth. They knew that anything that they did to earth, they did to themselves, thus they understood that they were relational beings.
Living in relationship with the earth and her creatures was life giving and sustaining. and trying to own the earth, to control the earth would lead to brokenness and ruin.
At our Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Phoenix our delegates repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery,
and promised that they would tell the true story of this land, they would seek to overcome the legacy of conquest and domination.
May it be so.