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Newcomb: John Locke and Indian country

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    Newcomb: John Locke and Indian country

    (javascript:PrintWindow();) Posted: October 27, 2005 by: _Steven Newcomb_
    ( / Indigenous Law Institute

    When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he relied
    heavily on the writings of John Locke. One of Locke's most famous works is his
    ''Second Treatise of Government,'' published in 1689. In his essay ''Of the
    State of Nature,'' Locke wrote that ''all men are naturally in ... a state of
    perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and
    persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the laws of nature, without
    asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.''

    Jefferson, in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, was
    influenced by Locke when he wrote: ''We hold these truths to be sacred &
    undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent.'' Benjamin Franklin
    replaced ''sacred and undeniable'' with ''self-evident,'' and a congressional
    committee later struck the word ''independent.'' Evidently, Congress didn't
    want the revolution to be too revolutionary or liberating.

    Nonetheless, Locke's focus on concepts such as ''a state of liberty'' can
    help us focus on the fact that American Indian nations were originally free and
    independent prior to the Christian European invasion of this indigenous
    hemisphere west of Europe. Today, however, we as Indians are expected to forget
    the original free and independent political existence that our ancestors
    experienced. Who expects this of us? Why, the United States, of course.

    A question arises: Given that the United States places such a high value on
    its independence, which it obtained in 1776 or 1783 (depending upon the date
    one chooses), why should our respective indigenous nations place any less
    value on the historic free and independent existence of our nations?

    Our ancestors experienced and lived a natural liberty, and that liberty was
    expressed through our respective languages, our cultures, our spiritual
    traditions and our economic systems. The United States, as a self-avowed empire,
    worked hard to destroy our natural indigenous liberty, while taking over and
    economically enriching itself on our ancestral lands, waters and resources.

    Instead of developing powerful arguments advocating a restoration of our
    natural indigenous liberty by openly contesting and challenging the plenary
    power doctrine and the doctrine of discovery, we tend to allow the presumption to
    go unchallenged that we as Native peoples are obligated to forever live our
    lives in subjection to whatever concepts and ideas U.S. government officials
    choose to impose on us.

    The most powerful weapon that the United States has used against us is the
    power of the human mind, and the mental ability to produce oppressive
    concepts and ideas, which have been euphemistically called ''laws'' and
    ''policies.'' Rather than challenge the presumption that the United States has the right
    to unilaterally impose its ideas on us without our free consent, we tend to
    cave in and go along to get along. We shall continue to do so at our own

    We would be well-advised to be forewarned by the experiences of our
    ancestors, and by the decades-long anti-Indian trend of the U.S. Supreme Court. No
    people should willingly allow themselves to be subjected to the mental control
    of other people, particularly if those other people have demonstrated a
    willingness and a capability of doing them great harm.

    Plainly, we have no clear idea how the Roberts Supreme Court is likely to
    rule on Indian issues. Given what Indian Country Today Associate Editor Jim
    Adams uncovered regarding John Roberts' willingness as an attorney to twist and
    spin the words of the court in the 1886 United States v. Kagama decision -
    giving words the opposite of the meaning the court clearly intended - the
    future does not bode well for Indian country (''Roberts' 'dishonesty' concerns
    Indian country,'' Vol. 25, Iss. 15).

    Our ancestors were free and independent for thousands of years before the
    United States was ever formed as a political entity. When the leadership of the
    13 British colonies declared those colonies to be ''thirteen free and
    independent states,'' those states aspired to the free existence that our ancestors
    had already experienced for countless generations.

    In point of fact, our indigenous nations were already free and independent
    at the time the 13 states became free and independent, entered into a
    confederation and later formed an imperial republic. And when our respective nations
    made treaties with the United States, they did so as free and independent
    nations. Our nations did not cease to be free and independent by making those

    Thus the question arises: How did our respective nations become subject to
    the mental control of U.S. government officials? One possible answer would be
    that because our indigenous nations were located inside the boundaries of the
    United States, our nations were therefore subject to the mental control of
    U.S. government officials. This response is false, however, because the
    treaties document the right of our nations to maintain their independence, despite
    the territories of our nations being circumscribed and surrounded by
    non-Indian held lands. The territory of every Indian nation was naturally entitled to
    continue being in what John Locke called ''a state of perfect freedom,'' a
    continuing Indian domain of independence.

    Some people might feel that such talk smacks of being ''secessionist.'' But
    this, of course, is not only sloppy thinking: it is also the wrong use of
    language. The opposite of secession is accession. Political accession means ''to
    willingly agree to become part of, or join, a political order,'' such as
    when a new state is admitted into the union of the United States. An effort by
    Indian nations to maintain their sacred ancestral birthright as originally
    free and independent nations, against the efforts of the United States to force
    them into subjection, is not ''secession.'' It is liberation from, and
    resistance to, oppression.

    That which the United States had no legitimate right to do to begin with, it
    has no more right to do now simply because of the long passage of time.
    Thus, because the United States had no legitimate right to force Indian nations
    under its mental control in the past, it has no more legitimate right to do so
    today than it did before. It is our responsibility to vigilantly sharpen and
    maintain the arguments that point out and advocate our sacred birthright of
    liberty, while refusing to submit ourselves to the efforts by the United
    States to wear down and crush our spirit of resistance to the designs of what
    George Washington's Society of the Cincinnati referred to as ''The American

    Steven Newcomb is the Indigenous Law Research Coordinator at Kumeyaay
    Community College, a research fellow of the American Indian Policy and Media
    Initiative at Buffalo State College and a columnist for Indian Country Today.
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic

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