Posted 5 years ago on Oct. 20, 2014, 12:50 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Theodore Roosevelt, Walt Whitman and Andrew Jackson Were Proponents of Native American Genocide
Sunday, 19 October 2014 00:00 By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview
Author Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz speaks about her book on the true history of how the United States became a nation and the Eurocentric racism used to justify it.
The false narrative of Columbus "discovering" the Americas still pervades history books and the Eurocentric mindset of the United States. Learn the true history of what author and Professor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz calls the legacy of Columbus's voyages: the annihilation and conquest of Native-Americans. Read "An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States" now.
"It's essential to remember that the United States had been involved in overseas imperialism from the beginning," author and Professor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes. That policy was forged as the original 13 colonies expanded westward and committed genocide against Native Americans. Many of the empire-building acts of the United States throughout its history - including at the current moment - can be explained by its war on indigenous inhabitants of North America that was justified by Eurocentric racism and "manifest destiny." The following is an extensive interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz on the true history of how the United States became a nation, occupying land it did not own by decimating native residents. It's an eye-opening account that thoroughly debunks jingoistic and false history taught in the vast majority of US schools.
Mark Karlin: Here it is October and the nation celebrated the 13th of this month as Columbus Day, "honoring" Columbus for "discovering" the Western Hemisphere. Many people, at least now, have the alternative of celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day, including those of us at Truthout. Isn't it a bit galling that Columbus Day is still a federal holiday, given that it reinforces a false narrative that resulted in a magnitude of death and barbarity that is almost incompressible? Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Yes. As the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Our nation was born in genocide. . . . We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode." Continuing to celebrate Columbus's first voyage is an example of what Dr. King refers to as elevating genocide to a noble crusade. Columbus' voyage on behalf of the Spanish monarchs, endorsed by the Holy Roman empire, marked the onset of modern colonialism as well as the beginning of the African and Native-American slave trade. And capitalism. Marx aptly described the process of primary accumulation of capital: "The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of prior accumulation." - Karl Marx, from Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist
Following up on Columbus Day, your 11th chapter is entitled "The Doctrine of Discovery." How has this doctrine been used to seize what were indigenous lands by the United States?
From the mid-15th century to the mid-20th century, most of the non-European world was colonized under the Doctrine of Discovery, one of the first principles of international law Christian European monarchies promulgated to legitimize investigating, mapping and claiming lands belonging to peoples outside Europe. It originated in a papal bull issued in 1455 that permitted the Portuguese monarchy to seize West Africa. Following Columbus' voyage, another papal bull extended similar permission to Spain. Disputes between the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies led to the papal-initiated Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), which, besides dividing the globe equally between the two Iberian empires, clarified that only non-Christian lands fell under the discovery doctrine.
This doctrine, on which all European states relied, thus originated with the arbitrary and unilateral establishment of the Iberian monarchies' exclusive rights under Christian canon law to colonize foreign peoples, and this right was later seized by other European monarchical colonizing projects. The French Republic used this legalistic instrument for its 19th- and 20th-century settler colonialist projects, as did the newly independent United States, when it continued the colonization of North America begun by the British. In 1792, not long after the US founding, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson claimed that the Doctrine of Discovery developed by European states was international law applicable to the new US government as well. In 1823, the US Supreme Court issued its decision in Johnson v. McIntosh. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Marshall held that the Doctrine of Discovery had been an established principle of European law and of English law in effect in Britain's North American colonies and was also the law of the United States. The Court defined the exclusive property rights that a European country acquired by dint of discovery: "Discovery gave title to the government, by whose subjects, or by whose authority, it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession." Indigenous rights were, in the court's words, "in no instance, entirely disregarded; but were necessarily, to a considerable extent, impaired." The court further held that indigenous "rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations, were necessarily diminished." Indigenous peoples could continue to live on the land, but title resided with the discovering power, the United States. The decision concluded that native nations were "domestic, dependent nations." This remains the fundamental colonial law under which the United States' government structures its relationship with Native-American nations.
The doctrine of discovery has been used by many colonial powers historically to claim land. After all, most of what is now the United States was first seized in the name of European powers, particularly Britain, Spain and France. Can you elaborate on the related notion of terra nullius (meaning land belonging to no one in Latin) that was used by British explorers, for example, to assert that aborigines and other indigenous populations did not occupy what is now Australia, so therefore they could be slaughtered since they were disposable and not a sovereign nation. Wasn't this doctrine also applied to the lands acquired by the US through "manifest destiny," even though the indigenous populations of North America did have identities that were a variation on nationhood, just different from the European model?
The Doctrine of Discovery does not require terra nullius in order to seize land from the indigenous inhabitants. However, the British settlers of the 13 North American colonies, particularly Massachusetts Bay colony, as well as Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, and carried on the independent US republic as well as by the republics of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay, justified their brutal massacres of Native farmers and fishing people by claiming that the land was sparsely populated, invoking terra nullius. That's why the first chapter in the book, "Follow the Corn," about precolonial North America, is so important. Here I document the large populations that existed, with 99 percent of the indigenous population, agricultural producers, living in towns and cities, with vast irrigation systems, as well as networks of roads for robust trade and travel. The Valley of México was the source of the spread of agriculture all over the temperate, as well as even arid, regions of North America. Along the coasts, fishing villages thrived, with travel and trade around the Pacific, Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean. The nomadic people of the bison in the Plains were also involved in trading - the bison were even imported into upstate New York by the nations of the Iroquois. Rather than hunting, Native peoples built deer parks and practiced game management that brought the animals to them, rather than having to hunt them down.
The other important element has been called the "terminal narrative." In this version of terra nullius, infectious diseases brought by the Europeans wiped out most of the indigenous populations and would have depopulated the continent even if European settlers had never come, due to the trading ships along the Atlantic coast before settlement began. The principal reason the consensus view is wrong and ahistorical is that it erases the effects of settler colonialism with its antecedents in the Spanish "Reconquest" and the English conquest of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. By the time Spain, Portugal and Britain arrived to colonize the Americas, their methods of eradicating peoples or forcing them into dependency and servitude were ingrained, streamlined and effective. If disease could have done the job, it is not clear why the European colonizers in America found it necessary to carry out unrelenting wars against indigenous communities in order to gain every inch of land they took from them - nearly 300 years of colonial warfare, followed by continued wars waged by the independent republics of the hemisphere.