Proposed By Ruben B Botello, JD
Immigration is a major issue in the United States today. U.S. Latinos often express interest in this issue because of its direct impact on their families, schools, jobs, communities and governmental affairs.
Latinos are Indigenous Americans whose ancestors suffered for centuries under European invaders and occupiers intent on stealing their lands and freedoms. Their native roots tie Latinos to Native Americans throughout the Western Hemisphere, traditionally, culturally and genetically. They remain attached, to their ancestral lands and freedoms, even though robbed of them by the foreign occupiers and their offspring.
Latino “immigrants” bring their languages, cultures and traditions with them from their native lands, and this adds to the sense of kinship or affinity many U.S. Latinos have with new arrivals, many who are refugees. This natural phenomena makes it difficult to separate the two distinct groups of Latinos in the U.S. — immigrants and non-immigrants — when discussing the immigration issue even though most U.S. Latinos are not “immigrants,” nor do they consider themselves to be foreigners anywhere in their Americas or Caribbean Islands, like Euro-Americans are.
There are an estimated 942 million people in the Americas and Caribbean Islands: 346 million in NorthAmerica, 200 million in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean Islands, and 396 million in South America (see http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/america.htm). Spanish-speaking Latinos are thus the majority population of the Western Hemisphere (see http://www.state.gov/p/wha/ci/), and the majority of immigrants in North America, while Spanish is their dominant language.
Latinos are not a singular race, color or nationality. Latinos include multilingual people from all the races, colors, nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, religions and creeds in the world. Because most U.S. Latinos are bicultural and bilingual (Spanish/English), they have helped build bridges of understanding and cooperation between the U.S. and the rest of the Western Hemisphere.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are around 52 million Latinos in the U.S. today. About 37 million of these Latinos speak Spanish, and over half of those fluent in Spanish also speak English.
The total population is expected to grow to about 132 million U.S. Latinos by 2050. An estimated 63% of U.S. Latinos are of Mexican ancestry, 9.2% Puerto Rican, 3.5% Cuban, 3.3% Salvadoran, 2.8% Dominican and 18.2% Others. (See
http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/ cb12-ff19.html )
Over 50% of the total U.S. Latino population lives in California, Texas and Florida (see
http://www.census.gov/popest/data/state/asrh/2011/index.html). Almost five million Latinos live in Los Angeles alone (see a href=”http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-04.pdf”>http://www.census.go v/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-04.pdf). While most Latinos in California and Texas are of Mexican descent, most Latinos in Florida are of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent (see
The time has come for the U.S. government to go far beyond short-term solutions to immigration problems, especially as they relate to Latino immigrants. Instead of clashing over these problems from election-to-election, all the good citizens of the U.S., and of the rest of the Western Hemisphere, should be able to live, work, study, travel and conduct business and commerce freely throughout this region like European Union (EU) citizens do within their member states.
The Americas and Caribbean Islands need an international union (like EU) to tackle their major problems including human trafficking, drug cartels, community, business, economic, commercial and industrial development, terrorism, poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, hunger, homelessness, sickness, disease, natural disasters and unsustainable environments. Regarding immigration, law-abiding citizens in this proposed new union would be able to live, work, study, travel and conduct business and commerce freely throughout the Western Hemisphere, as EU citizens do over there.
THE EUROPEAN UNION
EU has proven multilingual people from diverse cultures and traditions are able to move freely from nation-to-nation, while living and working together to protect, preserve and promote their peaceful, civil and prosperous lifestyles. EU was established to end the frequent wars between neighboring European nations that resulted in World War II. It is now composed of 27 member states: Austria (1995), Belgium (1952), Bulgaria (2007), Cyprus (2004), Czech Republic (2004), Denmark (1973), Estonia (2004), Finland (1995), France (1952), Germany (1952), Greece (1981), Hungary (2004), Ireland (1973), Italy (1952), Latvia (2004), Lithuania (2004), Luxembourg (1952), Malta (2004), Netherlands (1952), Poland (2004), Portugal (1986), Romania (2007), Slovakia (2004), Slovenia (2004), Spain (1986), Sweden (1995) and United Kingdom (1973).
AMERICAS AND CARIBBEAN ISLANDS UNION (ACIU) PROPOSAL
Several Latin American countries are working, as a bloc (CELAC) with EU, today. The Rio Group stands out as the most active and promising international alliance of sovereign states in the Americas and Caribbean Islands that includes: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela. Also known as the “Community of Latin American and Caribbean States” (CELAC), the Rio Group meets with the European Union every two years on a ministerial level.
CELAC, the U.S. and Canada are not working together well, at this time. CELAC was established as an alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS), the regional body organized largely by Washington DC, in 1948 that has focused primarily on U.S. interests.
The following blocs have worked to integrate much of Latin America for economic and political purposes without an overall union:
– Latin American Integration Association (known as ALADI or, occasionally, by the English acronym LAIA)
– Central American Integration System (Spanish: Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana SICA)
– Mercosur or Mercosul (Spanish: Mercado Común del Sur, Portuguese: Mercado Comum do Sul,
Guaraní: Ñemby Ñemuha, English: Common Southern Market)
– Organization of American States (OAS)
– Union of South American Nations (Dutch: Unie van Zuid-Amerikaanse Naties – UZAN, Portuguese:
União de Nações Sul-Americanas – UNASUL, Spanish: Unión de Naciones Suramericanas – UNASUR)
– Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Spanish: Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos
y Caribeños, CELAC, Portuguese: Comunidade de Estados Latino-Americanos e Caribenhos, French:
Communauté des États Latino-Américains et Caribéens)
– Andean Community (Spanish: Comunidad Andina – CAN)
The Caribbean Community at http://caricom.org/ (CARICOM) brings together 15 states in the Caribbean, including Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Haiti, Jamaica, Grenada, Guyana, Montserrat, St. Lucia, Suriname, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. There is also discussion about a more exclusive North American Union (NAU) between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
All the above blocs, organizations and initiatives aimed at uniting various states in the Americas and Caribbean Islands lack overall unity, coordination, commonality and cohesion. Some even work against each other, to the detriment of their own citizens. Clearly, a more perfect union is needed to bring all nations of the Western Hemisphere together, as one Union, so they can work out their differences in a stable, peaceful and civil setting, and tackle the major problems they each and together face in strategic, coordinated and effective ways.
LATINOS SHOULD PROMOTE FORMATION OF THE AMERICAS AND CARIBBEAN ISLANDS UNION (ACIU)
Millions of U.S. Latinos raised the consciousness of America with a resounding vote in support of immigration reform, in the 2012 Presidential Election. This mass pro-immigration movement forced the major political parties, to become more responsive to U.S. Latinos by promising immigration reform during President Barack Obama’s final term in office.
To most Americans, immigration reform does not even remotely include establishing an international union where people from all the races, colors, nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, religions and creeds in the Western Hemisphere can live, work, study, travel and conduct business and commerce freely, as do the good citizens of the European Union within their own member states. A major paradigm shift is needed, not only to tackle immigration problems, as we know and understand them today. U.S. Latinos need to promote unification of all the Americas and Caribbean Islands, in order to improve international relations and raise their own living standards along with the almost one billion men, women and children in this region.
In the front lines of the pro-immigration movement that helped defeat the anti-immigrant forces during the 2012 U.S. Election were “DREAMers,” young Americans born in the U.S. whose parents were undocumented immigrants when they were born (see http://dreamact.info/). Millions of other U.S. Latinos supported the DREAMers and all immigrants working hard to feed their families because, as mentioned above, U.S. Latinos have a sense of kinship or affinity with Latino immigrants and their
Latino students are in a good position, to educate, advocate and work toward an international union like ACIU, in order to help improve the quality of life for all the people of the Americas and Caribbean Islands. This new union could create millions of new jobs, as well, and promote peace and prosperity throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Beyond immigration, several U.S. policies toward Latin America and the Caribbean seem to be in preparation for war and other armed hostilities against Latinos, the type of conflicts Europe was experiencing, as its nations were dragged into World War II over there. An ACIU modelled after EU could bring all the nations, states and territories of the Western Hemisphere under one umbrella, to work out their differences in a peaceful, stable and civil manner, in order to tackle their major problems together instead of resorting to more warfare and other hostilities.
As with immigration reform, U.S. Latinos need to encourage the U.S. government to work with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and with the other blocs mentioned above, to establish an integrated and democratic international union composed of all the nations, states and territories of the Western Hemisphere that choose to join. It may take decades to convince the U.S. government to join the rest of the Western Hemisphere, as a Union, but millions throughout the region would welcome and benefit from this positive change in hemispheric relations.
U.S. Latinos who want to work toward an Americas and Caribbean Islands Union should begin by contacting the President of the United States in support of this innovative proposal (see
http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact). They should follow-up by contacting their U.S. senators (see
http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm) and congressional
representatives (see http://www.house.gov/representatives/).
The National League of Latino Elected Officials should also be contacted (see http://www.naleo.org/) along with prominent Latino organizations like the National Council of La Raza (see
http://www.nclr.org/) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (see http://www.lulac.org/). Government officials, agencies and organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean Islands, including those mentioned above, should be contacted and encouraged to work toward such a Union.
Today’s Latino students are the future leaders of our thriving communities, and they must be prepared to help meet the growing demands Latinos are placing on our U.S. society and government in a more diverse, responsive, productive and functional way. Opening doors for Latinos and other Americans, to lawfully experience life, liberty and happiness throughout the Western Hemisphere is a need best met by those who already appreciate all the rich nationalities, cultures and traditions of this diverse region.
All students are encouraged to do extensive research, and to critically analyze and expand on this proposal’s innumerable possibilities in their classrooms, workshops, conferences, mass media and other publications, to educate themselves, their communities and society-at-large about the Americas and Caribbean Islands Union approach to international, hemispheric and world affairs. If European nations can come together, as one Union after all their centuries of conflicts, wars and hostilities, the Americas and Caribbean Islands can, too.
– U.S. Census Bureau. American FactFinder, Retrieved March 10, 2013, from
– Nations Online. The Americas and the Caribbean, Retrieved March 10,2013, from
– U.S. Department of State. Countries and Other Areas of the Western Hemisphere, Retrieved March 10, 2013, from http://www.state.gov/p/wha/ci/
– U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanic Heritage Month 2012, Retrieved March 10, 2013, from
– U.S. Census Bureau. State Characteristics: Vintage 2011, Retrieved March 10, 2013, from
– U.S. Census Bureau. The Hispanic Population: 2010, Retrieved March 10, 2013, from
– South Bend Tribune. Graphic: Latinos in Florida, Retrieved March 10, 2013, from
– Europa –EU. Official Website of the European Union, Retrieved March 10, 2013, from http://europa.eu/
– Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Retrieved March 10, 2013, from
– Latin American Integration Association Retrieved March 11, 2013, from
– Central American Integration System Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://www.sica.int/
– Mercosur or Mercosul Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://www.mercosur.int/
– Organization of American States Retrieved March 11, 2013, from
– Union of South American Nations Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://www.unasursg.org/
– Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from
– Andean Community. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://www.comunidadandina.org/endex.htm
– Caribbean Community. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://caricom.org/
– North American Union. Obama Supports North American Union Agenda, Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://www.rususa.com/news/news.asp-nid-34448-catid-3
– 2012 Presidential Election. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from
– DREAMers. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/who-and-wheredreamers-are – DREAM Act. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://dreamact.info/
– The White House. Corresponding with the White House, Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact
– U.S. Senate. Senators Home, Retrieved March 11, 2013, from
– U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from
– National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Empowering Latinos from citizenship to public service, Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://www.naleo.org/
– National Council of La Raza. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://www.nclr.org/
– League of United Latin American Citizens. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://www.lulac.org/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ruben Barrera Botello has been an ardent human rights advocate since 1970. Born and raised in Texas, he moved to California in 1965, and joined the Marines. After Vietnam, he earned an associate degree in journalism, a baccalaureate degree in political science and a doctorate degree in jurisprudence on the GI Bill.
Nuevo Plan de Aztlan
WHEREAS, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the
United States of America honor Our Native
American heritage with all Our hearts and
WHEREAS, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the
United States of America honor the sacred call
of Our Native American ancestors for Peace
and Justice throughout Our Americas; and
WHEREAS, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the
United States of America recognize La Raza has
been struggling with a new wave of racial
harassment, discrimination and persecution in
and outside Our Americas since September 11,
NOW THEREFORE, We the Chicanos y Chicanos of the United States of America resolve as follows:
SECTION 1. TITLE
This resolution may be cited as NUEVO PLAN DE AZTLAN.
SECTION 2. TERMINOLOGY
Nuevo Plan de Aztlan is based on the following terms:
a) Abya Yala (Our Americas)
“Abya Yala” means “Continent of Life” in the language of the Kuna peoples of Panama and Colombia. The Aymara leader Takir Mamani suggested the selection of this name (which the Kuna use to denominate the American continents in their entirety), and proposed that all Indigenous peoples in the Americas utilize it in their documents and oral declarations. “Placing foreign names on our cities, towns and continents,” he argued, “is equal to subjecting our identity to the will of our invaders and to that of their heirs.” The proposal of Takir Mamani has found a favorable reception in various sectors.
b) Americanas y Americanos
Americanas y Americanos are ALL AMERICANS in and from throughout Our Americas regardless of Our mixed and diverse races, colors, languages, cultures, nationalities, traditions, ethnicities, religions and creeds.
Our Americas includes all the Americas including the Caribbean Islands.
The concept of Aztlan is derived from the Nahua history of the Mexicas before their southern migration from Norte America into Centro Mexico during the 11th Century. Aztlan today is Indigenas of Mexican-American and(or) Mexican descent who consider Ourselves Chicanas y Chicanos regardless of where We were born, live or die.
Carnalismo is the love and compassion Chicanas y Chicanos have for each other, as carnalas y carnales. Carnalismo is what unites and strengthens Chicanas y Chicanos as We struggle for Peace and Justice.
f) Chicanas y Chicanos
Chicanas y Chicanos are U.S. born Indigenas of Mexican-American and(or) Mexican descent who consider Ourselves Chicanas y Chicanos based on Our Native American heritage.
g) El Movimiento Chicano
El Movimiento is Our Chicana y Chicano Movement for Peace and Justice. El Movimiento is comprised of numerous academic, athletic, artistic, business, commercial, cultural, professional, educational, political, recreational, social, spiritual, wholistic and other Chicana y Chicano organizations and individuals working for Peace and Justice throughout Aztlan, Our Americas and the world.
Our Native American heritage or inheritance
includes Our ancestral lands and freedoms,
and all the histories, cultures, traditions and
mores of Our Native American ancestors that
have been stolen from Us along with Our
Often called Native Americans or American Indians, Indigenas are all the indigenous peoples of Our Americas including those of mixed-race heritage like La Raza.
j) La Causa
La Causa is for Peace and Justice, the eternal cause of Chicanas y Chicanos who recognize there can be no true Peace without true Justice, i.e., the abolition of poverty, racism, sexism and all other Injusticias in Our Americas.
k) La Raza
Chicanas y Chicanos can be Black, White, Brown, Red, Yellow and(or) any other “skin color” like the rest of La Raza and the human race. The concept of La Raza was derived from a 1925 essay published by Jose Vasconcelos, a Mexican educator who called the millions of mixed-race Indigenas with Latin-American and(or) Latin-European ancestors “La Raza Cosmica.”
La Raza is comprised of every race, color, nationality, ethnicity, culture, language, religion and creed in the world. This rich diversity is the unifying power, force and strength of Chicanas y Chicanos, and of all La Raza as We grow to know, understand and honor Our great heritage.
l) Latinas y Latinos
Latinas y Latinos of Our Americas are Indigenas with a Latin-American and(or) Latin-European heritage. Millions of Latinas y Latinos also have African, Asian and other Non-Latino ancestors.
* Racial categories are crude labels based on parentage, genetics and(or) physical traits, not religious or scientific proof of one’s superior or inferior nature like racists believe.
* Racism is the belief one or more “races” are inherently “superior” to one or more other races. [Example: Many Americans believe “White people” are inherently superior to “Non-White people” and that “Black people” are inherently inferior to all other people.]
* Racism includes the belief “mixed-race” people like La Raza are inferior to those with birth parents of the same race. “Race-mixing” is still condemned by racists today. Indigenas were considered savages (less-than-human) when Europeans first invaded and occupied our Americas. “Christianized” and(or) otherwise assimilated Indigenas are still considered inferior by today’s racists.
* Racists are not just poor or poorly educated citizens, there are wealthy and highly educated racists throughout government and society who strive to protect and preserve their privileged status via institutional, industrial and commercial racism. Racists are not just White, either; there are Brown, Black, Red, Asian and other racists, too.
* The racist imposition of the colonial English language on Indigenas continues to cause horrendous problems for Chicanas y Chicanos in education, employment and virtually all other aspects of life in the U.S. Laws, rules and regulations are selectively enforced by local, state and federal institutions against La Raza, as English is used as a weapon to deprive Chicanas y Chicanos of liberty, equality and justice throughout Our lives.
* Private industry (“free enterprise”) also causes havoc for Chicanas y Chicanos by perpetuating racist stereotypes and beliefs about La Raza for profit and gain. [Example: Mass media and the “entertainment” industries commercialize racist stereotypes and beliefs about Latinas y Latinos throughout the world, while pretending to be “spreading freedom and democracy” alongside the Pentagon and other governmental institutions.]
Terrorists are human beings in and outside governments who kill, rob, rape, torture, imprison or otherwise impose their will on other human beings for no good or justifiable reasons.
SECTION 3. STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
Nuevo Plan de Aztlan addresses the alarming attacks orchestrated against Indigenas throughout Norte America since September 11, 2001 (9/11). U.S. officials are using La Raza as a scapegoat or smokescreen to distract or divert attention away from their heinous wars in the Middle East.
According to their domestic propaganda, the “real problem” and therefore actual enemy or threat to national security is Mexicans and other Indigenas “invading” Norte America, not the Pentagon killing, torturing, maiming, imprisoning and destroying other indigenous peoples’ lives in faraway lands.
Thousands of racist media, vigilante, “homeland security” and other hostile actions have been executed against Indigenas since 9/11, as tens of thousands of these men, women and children have been rounded up and herded out of Norte America like cattle.
SECTION 4. HISTORICAL ANALYSIS
Indigenas have suffered centuries of injusticias including genocide, rape, torture, mayhem, kidnapping, slavery, peonage, poverty, homelessness and groundless imprisonment at the hands of the original European invaders and occupiers of Our Americas.
The offspring of these European terrorists expect today’s Chicanas y Chicanos to ignore or forget this true account of their ancestorsâ€™ horrendous atrocities against Ours, as if these abominations never occurred or mattered.
Anglo-Saxon imperialists in the U.S. government are striving to conquer the entire world, and are using La Raza as scapegoats, to justify increasingly racist policies and practices, especially since 9/11.
The offspring of the European terrorists who originally stole Our ancestral lands are guilty of receiving this stolen property, and receiving stolen property is no less a crime than stealing it. These alien offspring remain in denial about their own culpability, as they continue to exploit, oppress and otherwise deprive Us of Our ancestral lands and freedoms from generation-to-generation.
U.S. racists are now working to outlaw MEChA and other Movimiento organizations by blaming them for “too many Mexicans” and other Indigenas in Norte America today. Local, state and federal government agencies have also made it extremely difficult for the Partido de La Raza Unida to rise up politically against this institutionalized harassment, discrimination and persecution to any significant extent.
These same racists oppose Chicana y Chicano Studies, affirmative action, financial aid, bilingual and multicultural education, ethnic studies, fair housing, equal employment opportunities and all other ways and means of attempting to create level playing fields for La Raza, as if the U.S. only belongs to Anglo-Americans and everyone else is a second-class citizen, at best.
SECTION 5. MEXICO, CENTRO Y SUR AMERICA
The 21st Century campaign against Mexicans in the U.S. is also aimed at Chicanas y Chicanos since We are all Una Gran Familia. Chicanas y Chicanos have a natural, inherent, innate and everlasting kinship with Mexicanas y Mexicanos, as with all Our other indigenous brothers and sisters of Our Americas because of Our common Native American heritage.
We are all being treated, as a threat or potential threat to national security by the racist U.S. government for no good or just cause whatsoever.
SECTION 6. GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
a) We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America must reach beyond nationalism, to unite with other Indigenas around Our common diversity throughout Our Americas and outlying islands.
b) Our Movimiento calls for Chicanas y Chicanos, to join forces with all La Raza against Our common exploiters and oppressors because We cannot be free unless and until all La Raza is free.
c) La Raza must unite, as an international union of Indigenas (Abya Yala), to struggle for Peace and Justice throughout Our Americas, as opposed to permitting racists to continue to divide, exploit and oppress La Raza from generation-to-generation without resistance.
d) This international union of Indigenas must establish Peace and Justice for all Americanas y Americanos, so We can live, work and travel freely throughout Our Americas for so long as the rivers flow.
e) The first priority of Our international union is to abolish poverty, racism and sexism throughout Abya Yala.
f) This Union must ensure all workers in Our Americas receive good jobs and compensation so that all Americanas y Americanos can have nice homes in safe and secure communities. People unable to work will also have nice homes in these communities because poverty will be abolished in Our Americas.
g) We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America must ensure Our children learn about Our indigenous ancestors, at home and in all the schools, colleges and universities of Our Americas so they and future generations will know, understand and honor Our great Native American heritage.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America will live Our daily lives in accordance with Nuevo Plan de Aztlan to the best of Our abilities.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America will encourage Chicana y Chicano organizations everywhere to review, adopt and incorporate Nuevo Plan de Aztlan into their own missions, goals and objectives so We can stand united against the new wave of racial harassment, discrimination and persecution La Raza faces in the 21st Century.
Copyright 2008 Ruben Barrera Botello. Nuevo Plan de Aztlan may be reproduced, republished and disseminated freely.
Five Hundred Years of Injustice: The
Legacy of Fifteenth Century Religious
by Steve Newcomb
When Christopher Columbus first set foot on the white sands of Guanahani island, he performed a ceremony to “take possession” of the land for the king and queen of Spain, acting under the international laws of Western Christendom. Although the story of Columbus’ “discovery” has taken on mythological proportions in most of the Western world, few people are aware that his act of “possession” was based on a religious doctrine now known in history as the Doctrine of Discovery. Even fewer people realize that today – five centuries later – the United States government still uses this archaic Judeo-Christian doctrine to deny the rights of Native American Indians.
Origins of the Doctrine of Discovery
To understand the connection between Christendom’s principle of discovery and the laws of the United States, we need to begin by examining a papal document issued 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.
Under various theological and legal doctrines formulated during and after the Crusades, non-Christians were considered enemies of the Catholic faith 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.” [Davenport: 20-26] Acting on this papal privilege, Portugal continued to traffic in African slaves, and expanded its royal dominions by making “discoveries” along the western coast of Africa, claiming those lands as Portuguese territory.
Thus, when Columbus sailed west across the Sea of Darkness in 1492 – with the express understanding that he was authorized to “take possession” of any lands he “discovered” that were “not under the dominion of any Christian rulers” – he and the Spanish sovereigns of Aragon and Castile were following an already well-established tradition of “discovery” and conquest. [Thacher:96] Indeed, after 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.
In the Inter Cetera document, Pope Alexander stated his desire that the “discovered” people be “subjugated and brought to the faith itself.” [Davenport:61] By this means, said the pope, the “Christian Empire” would be propagated. [Thacher:127] When Portugal protested this concession to Spain, Pope Alexander stipulated in a subsequent bull – issued May 4, 1493 – that Spain must not attempt to establish its dominion over lands which had already “come into the possession of any Christian lords.” [Davenport:68] Then, to placate the two rival monarchs, the pope drew a line of demarcation between the two poles, giving Spain rights of conquest and dominion over one side of the globe, and Portugal over the other.
During this quincentennial of Columbus’ journey to the Americas, it is important to recognize that the grim acts of genocide and conquest committed by Columbus and his men against the peaceful Native people of the Caribbean were sanctioned by the abovementioned documents of the Catholic Church. Indeed, these papal documents were frequently used by Christian European conquerors in the Americas to justify an incredibly brutal system of colonization – which dehumanized the indigenous people by regarding their territories as being “inhabited only by brute animals.” [Story:135-6]
The lesson to be learned is that the papal bulls of 1452 and 1493 are but two clear examples of how the “Christian Powers,” or “different States of Christendom,” viewed indigenous peoples as “the lawful spoil and prey of their civilized conquerors.” [Wheaton:270-1] In fact, the Christian “Law of Nations” asserted that Christian nations had a divine right, based on the Bible, to claim absolute title to and ultimate authority over any newly “discovered” Non-Christian inhabitants and their lands. Over the next several centuries, these beliefs gave rise to the Doctrine of Discovery used by Spain, Portugal, England, France, and Holland – all Christian nations.
The Doctrine of Discovery in U.S. Law
In 1823, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery was quietly adopted into U.S. law by the Supreme Court in the celebrated case, Johnson v. McIntosh (8 Wheat., 543). Writing for a unanimous court, 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 “their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations,” and only retained a right of “occupancy” in their lands. In other words, Indians nations were subject to the ultimate authority of the first nation of Christendom to claim possession of a given region of Indian lands. [Johnson:574; Wheaton:270-1]
According to Marshall, the United States – upon winning its independence in 1776 – became a successor nation to the right of “discovery” and acquired the power of “dominion” from Great Britain. [Johnson:587-9] Of course, when Marshall first defined the principle of “discovery,” he used language phrased in such a way that it drew attention away from its religious bias, stating that “discovery gave title to the government, by whose subject, or by whose authority, the discovery was made, against all other European governments.” [Johnson:573-4] However, when discussing legal precedent to support the court’s findings, Marshall specifically cited the English charter issued to the explorer John Cabot, in order to document England’s “complete recognition” of the Doctrine of Discovery. [Johnson:576] Then, paraphrasing the language of the charter, Marshall noted that Cabot was authorized to take possession of lands, “notwithstanding the occupancy of the natives, who were heathens, and, at the same time, admitting the prior title of any Christian people who may have made a previous discovery.” [Johnson:577]
In other words, the Court affirmed that United States law was based on a fundamental rule of the “Law of Nations” – that it was permissible to virtually ignore the most basic rights of indigenous “heathens,” and to claim that the “unoccupied lands” of America rightfully belonged to discovering Christian European nations. Of course, it’s important to understand that, as Benjamin Munn Ziegler pointed out in The International Law of John Marshall, the term “unoccupied lands” referred to “the lands in America which, when discovered, were ‘occupied by Indians’ but ‘unoccupied’ by Christians.” [Ziegler:46]
Ironically, the same year that the Johnson v. McIntosh decision was handed down, founding father James Madison wrote: “Religion is not in the purview of human government. Religion is essentially distinct from civil government, and exempt from its cognizance; a connection between them is injurious to both.”
Most of us have been brought up to believe that the United States Constitution was designed to keep church and state apart. Unfortunately, with the Johnson decision, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery was not only written into U.S. law but also became the cornerstone of U.S. Indian policy over the next century.
From Doctrine of Discovery
to Domestic Dependent Nations
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.” [Cherokee Nation v. Georgia] The federal government took this to mean that treaties made with Indian nations did not recognize Indian nations as free of U.S. control. According to the U.S. government, Indian nations were “domestic dependent nations” subject to the federal government’s absolute legislative authority – known in the law as “plenary power.” Thus, the ancient doctrine of Christian discovery and its subjugation of “heathen” Indians were extended by the federal government into a mythical doctrine that the U.S. Constitution allows for governmental authority over Indian nations and their lands. [Savage:59-60]
The myth of U.S. “plenary power” over Indians – a power, by the way, that was never intended by the authors of the Constitution [Savage:115-17] – has been used by the United States to:
- Circumvent the terms of solemn treaties that the U.S. entered into with Indian nations, despite the fact that all such treaties are “supreme Law of the Land, anything in the Constitution notwithstanding.”
- Steal the homelands of Indian peoples living east of the Mississippi River, by removing them from their traditional ancestral homelands through the Indian Removal Act of 1835.
- Use a congressional statute, known as the General Allotment Act of 1887, to divest Indian people of some 90 million acres of their lands. This act, explained John Collier (Commissioner of Indian Affairs) was “an indirect method – peacefully under the forms of law – of taking away the land that we were determined to take away but did not want to take it openly by breaking the treaties.”
- Steal the sacred Black Hills from the Great Sioux nation in violation of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie which recognized the Sioux Nation’s exclusive and absolute possession of their lands.
- Pay the Secretary of the Interior $26 million for 24 million acres of Western Shoshone lands, because the Western Shoshone people have steadfastly refused to sell the land and refused to accept the money. Although the Western Shoshone Nation’s sovereignty and territorial boundaries were clearly recognized by the federal government in the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty, the government now claims that paying itself on behalf of the Western Shoshone has extinguished the Western Shoshone’s title to their lands.
The above cases are just a few examples of how the United States government has used the Johnson v. McIntosh and Cherokee Nation v. Georgia decisions to callously disregard the human rights of Native peoples. Indeed, countless U.S. Indian policies have been based on the underlying, hidden rationale of “Christian discovery” – a rationale which holds that the “heathen” indigenous peoples of the Americas are “subordinate to the first Christian discoverer,” or its successor. [Wheaton:271]
As Thomas Jefferson once observed, when the state uses church doctrine as a coercive tool, the result is “hypocrisy and meanness.” Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court’s use of the ancient Christian Doctrine of Discovery – to circumvent the Constitution as a means of taking Indian lands and placing Indian nations under U.S. control – has proven Madison and Jefferson right.
Bringing an End to Five Hundred Years of Injustice
to Indigenous Peoples
In a country set up to maintain a strict separation of church and state, the Doctrine of Discovery should have long ago been declared unconstitutional because it is based on a prejudicial treatment of Native American people simply because they were not Christians at the time of European arrival. By penalizing Native people on the basis of their non-Christian religious beliefs and ceremonial practices, stripping them of most of their lands and most of their sovereignty, the Johnson v. McIntosh ruling stands as a monumental violation of the “natural rights” of humankind, as well as the most fundamental human rights of indigenous peoples.
As we move beyond the quincentennial of Columbus’ invasion of the Americas, it is high time to formally renounce and put an end to the religious prejudice that was written into U.S. law by Chief Justice John Marshall. Whether or not the American people – especially the Christian right – prove willing to assist Native people in getting the Johnson ruling overturned will say a lot to the world community about just how seriously the United States takes its own foundational principles of liberty, justice, and religious freedom.
As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Inter Cetera bulls on May 3 and 4 of 1993, it is important to keep in mind that the Doctrine of Discovery is still being used by countries throughout the Americas to deny the rights of indigenous peoples, and to perpetuate colonization throughout the Western Hemisphere. To begin to bring that system of colonization to an end, and to move away from a cultural and spiritual tradition of subjugation, we must overturn the doctrine at its roots. Therefore, I propose that non-Native people – especially Christians – unite in solidarity with indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere to impress upon Pope John Paul II how important it is for him to revoke, in a formal ceremony with indigenous people, the Inter Cetera bulls of 1493.
Revoking those papal documents and overturning the Johnson v. McIntosh decision are two important first steps toward correcting the injustices that have been inflicted on indigenous peoples over the past five hundred years. They are also spiritually significant steps toward creating a way of life that is no longer based on greed and subjugation. Perhaps then we will be able to use our newfound solidarity to begin to create a lifestyle based on the first indigenous principle: “Respect the Earth and have a Sacred Regard for All Living Things.”
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia 30 U.S. (5 Pet.) 1, 8 L.Ed. 25 (1831).
Davenport, Frances Gardiner, 19l7, European Treaties bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, Vol. 1, Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Johnson and Graham’s Lessee V McIntosh 21 U.S. (8 Wheat.) 543, 5 L.Ed. 681(1823).
Rivera-Pagan, Luis N., 1991, “Cross Preceded Sword in ‘Discovery’ of the Americas,” in Yakima Nation Review, 1991, Oct. 4.
Story, Joseph, 1833, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States Vol. 1 Boston: Little, Brown & Co.
Thacher, John Boyd, 1903, Christopher Columbus Vol. 11, New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons.
Williamson, James A., 1962, The Cabot Voyages And Bristol Discovery Under Henry VII, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wheaton, Henry, 1855, Elements of International Law, Sixth Edition, Boston: Little Brown, and Co.
Ziegler, Benjamin Munn, 1939, The International Law of John Marshall, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
Steve Newcomb is an American Indian of Shawnee & Lenape ancestry. For over a decade, he has studied the origins of United States federal Indian law and international law dating back to the early days of Christendom. He is currently completing a book on his findings titled, Pagans In the Promised Land: Religion, Law, and the American Indian.
DOCUMENT SOURCE: Newcomb, Steve. “Five Hundred Years of Injustice.” Shaman’s Drum. Fall 1992, p. 18-20.Cross-Cultural Shamanism Network
P.O. Box 430
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