Peter d'Errico: Doctrine of Discovery still alive at sacred Oak Flat

Jane Sanders, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, speaks with Wendsler Nosie Sr., a council member for the San Carlos Apache Tribe, at Oak Flat in Arizona on March 14, 2016. Photo from Jane O'Meara Sanders / Twitter

The Doctrine of Christian Discovery justified the taking of land from the Apache people and now it's being used to justify a copper mine at sacred Oak Flat, argues retired professor Peter d'Errico:
In 1802, President Jefferson mused about how to extinguish Indian land title. He wrote, "There is perhaps no method more irresistible of obtaining lands from [Indians] than by letting them get in debt, which when too heavy to be paid, they are always willing to lop off by a cession of land."

With his vision of a republic of small farmers, Jefferson probably couldn't have imagined a global corporatist economy in which most people are wage laborers. If he had, he would have understood the need for "jobs" multiplies the power of debt.

The U.S. didn't wait for the Apache to run into debt. Instead, in December 1872, U.S. Army General George Crook took a more direct approach. Under orders from President Grant, he deployed 'friendly' Apache scouts to lead the Army in an all-out effort to 'remove' resisting Apaches to the San Carlos reservation, "a tract of country …withheld from sale and set apart" for the Apache.

The definition of the reservation shows the Doctrine of Christian Discovery at work. The U.S. presumed to own the land and make it available (or not) for sale, as it saw fit. The Doctrine prescribes that Indians cannot hold title, but can only "occupy" land with "permission" from the government.

With San Carlos, the government not only gave permission for the Apache to occupy, but also mandated they quit occupying the rest of their homelands. Oak Flat, though part of ancestral Apache lands, falls in the U.S. legal category of "public lands" "owned" by the United States.

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Peter d'Errico: Oak Flat Deal Violates Apache Rights, Mining Best Practices (Indian Country Today 3/30)

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