By: Patricia Ann Talley, Editor.
Each year on October 12, the world celebrates Columbus Day, his “discovery” of the Americas, and how he claimed these lands for the spread of Christianity. Undoubtedly, Europeans contributed greatly to the development of the “New World.” But, this date, and the arrival of Columbus has a very different meaning to the indigenous people in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, who lost their lands, who died from foreign diseases, who were enslaved, and whose “non-Christian” cultures were almost destroyed.
What is this so important to ALL of us today?
First, the story of Columbus and the doctrine of “manifest destiny” is one of the first lessons taught to many children in the Americas. Stories refer to the indigenous, non-Christian cultures as “heathens” and “barbarians,” and the story of “manifest destiny” teaches that some people are superior to others. Is this how we want our future generations to think and to govern?
Secondly, and most shockingly, the law – “The Doctrine of Discovery”- that allowed Christian nations to claim non-Christian lands as their “manifest destiny,” and then dominate their people, continues to be the basis of some national and international laws today! 1
“Decolonizing” our beliefs about history and how we teach our children will make the difference in the future of a world that grows more and more diverse in race, languages, and religions. “Re-thinking” the Columbus myth will make a difference in how we approach this future – whether with bombs and invasion, or with diplomacy and peace negotiations.
Dispelling the Myth of “Discovery”
Due to the European cultural dominance, people generally do not have a vision of the original native lands of the Americas. People, with organized cultures and cities, had inhabited these lands for thousands and thousands of years.
A map of the lands before Columbus and some of the principles of the “Founding Fathers.”
Christian Law – The Doctrine of Discovery
During the Middle Ages the Christian states of Europe began to unite and to acknowledge the obligation of an international law common for all who professed the same religious faith. This “Law of Christendom,” also known as the “Doctrine of Discovery” provided that, by law and divine intention, European Christian countries gained power and legal rights over indigenous non-Christian peoples and their lands immediately upon their “discovery” by Europeans.
The “Doctrine of Discovery” gave Christian European nations the “legal right” to dominate the indigenous and claim their lands in the Americas.
To benefit their own countries, various European monarchs and their legal systems developed this principle and “conquered” the lands of the Americas.
European Colonies in the Americas – 1763. Source: TranspacificProject.com
The Doctrine of Discovery is the Basis of International Law Today
In May 2009, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 2 conducted a study of the impact on indigenous peoples of the international legal construct known as the “Doctrine of Discovery,” which has served as the foundation of the violation of their human rights. ( See: UN Fact Sheet_Doctrine Discovery.) This study reports:
“This preliminary study establishes that the Doctrine of Discovery has been institutionalized in law and policy, on national and international levels, and lies at the root of the violations of indigenous peoples’ human rights, both individual and collective. This has resulted in State claims to and the mass appropriation of the lands, territories and resources of indigenous peoples.
Both the Doctrine of Discovery, and a holistic structure that we term the ‘Framework of Dominance’ have resulted in centuries of virtually unlimited resource extraction from the traditional territories of indigenous people. This, in turn, has resulted in the dispossession and impoverishment of indigenous peoples, and the host of problems that they face today on a daily basis.”
“We maintain, that the principle declared in the fifteenth century as the law of Christendom, that discovery gave title to assume sovereignty over, and to govern the unconverted natives of Africa, Asia, and North and South America, has been recognized as a part of the national law [Law of Nations], for nearly four centuries, and that it is now so recognized by every Christian power, in its political department and its judicial.”
CHART OF RACIAL INCARCERATION IN THE USA
Rethinking Schools: Rethinking Columbus — Expanded Second Edition!
The Howard Zinn Educational Project: Teaching a People’s History http://zinnedproject.org/about/howard-zinn/
1 United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous People: http://unpfip.blogspot.ca/p/framework-of-dominance-preliminary_03.html. What is now called “international law” was previously known as the Law of Nations. In the late nineteenth century, for example, the international law scholar Thomas Erskine Holland referred to the law of nations as “the law of Christendom; as little applicable to infidels as was the ‘common law’ of the Greek cities … to societies of barbarians”. In 1835, Judge John Catron (1786-1865), while seated on the Supreme Court of the State of Tennessee (United States),(6) officially identified “a principle” as part of “the law of Christendom”, specifically, “that discovery gave title to assume sovereignty over, and to govern the unconverted [non-Christian] peoples of Africa, Asia, and North and South America”. Catron declared that this principle had been recognized as a part of the Law of Nations “for nearly four centuries, and that it is now so recognized by every Christian power, in its political department and its judicial.”
2 United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous People: http://unpfip.blogspot.ca/p/framework-of-dominance-preliminary_03.html
3 www.news.yahoo.com – Statistics Show White Supremacy Bigger Threat to the US Than Radical Muslims http://news.yahoo.com/statistics-show-white-supremacy-bigger-004327404.html