Opinion | Politics

Steven Newcomb: Bill in California dehumanizes indigenous peoples

A replica of the San Salvador in San Diego, California. Photo: Loren Chipman

A state lawmaker in California wants to designate an "official state ship of discovery" despite its connection to the subjugation of indigenous peoples by European colonizers. Steven Newcomb (Shawnee / Lenape) of the Indigenous Law Institute explains what's wrong with Sen. Benjamin Huseo's legislation:
Notably, not only does Senator Hueso’s bill ignore Spain’s desire to conquer lands inhabited by original nations in a bid for Spanish domination, his legislation it is dehumanizing to Native peoples by not including even one word about the original nations of the geographical area now typically called “California.” Hueso’s senate bill disrespectfully treats the original Native peoples of the region as not worthy of mention.

Additionally, Senator Hueso’s bill is badly worded. It says, for example, that “[o]n September 28, 1542, the original San Salvador [“Holy Savior”], led by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, was the first European ship to sail and survey the waters off the State of California…” (emphasis added) A moment’s reflection reveals that it was impossible for Cabrillo and his men “to sail and survey the waters off” a “State of California” that did not exist in 1542. This very point is acknowledged in the very next section of the bill, which points out that at the time of the Cabrillo voyage “no territory referenced by the rest of the world as California was known to exist.”

Another problem is posed by the following language: “The [ship] San Salvador has been presented throughout the state as the physical manifestation of California’s origin story for more than a century.” The bill’s disrespectful negation of the original peoples of this geographical area of “California,” nations who predate Christian European colonization by thousands of years, shows that the “Holy Savior” ship is part of a Spanish Catholic “origin story” about the imperial colonization of California.

Read More on the Story:
Steven Newcomb: CA Legislation Proposal to Honor the Ship ‘San Salvador’ (‘Holy Savior’) (Indian Country Media Network 4/21)