Steven Newcomb: Tracing the origins of federal Indian policy

"In 1942, the renowned legal scholar Felix Cohen famously wrote about the Spanish origin of Indian rights in the federal Indian law conceptual system of the United States. The two concepts of a “trust relationship” and “plenary power” are aspects of that system that find their origin in domination.

Let us begin with the idea of a “trust,” which is typically and habitually invoked by Indian country, usually without developing a deeper understanding of that concept and its origin historically.

When we follow Cohen’s suggestion and trace the concept of “trust” back to the Spanish context of empire and colonization, a strange thing happens. The context of “trust” is revealed to be one of domination. Evidence of this is found in a book written in 1918 by Manuel Serrano y Sanz, Origenes de la Dominación Española en América [“Origins of Spanish Domination in America”]."

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb:: The Dark Side of the ‘Trust’ Relationship and Plenary Power (Indian Country Today 8/23)

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