Army general Richard Henry Pratt is seen here with an Indian boarding school student , circa 1880. Pratt was the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and advocated the Kill the Indian -- Save the Man approach to the education of Indian children. Photo from U.S. Military Institute, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Law | Opinion

Steven Newcomb: Federal Indian law comes from the mind of a White man

We all know where federal Indian law and policy comes from but where do we go next? Steven Newcomb (Shawnee / Lenape) of the Indigenous Law Institute urges the original nations to come up with a new approach in their dealings with the United States:
The U.S. federal Indian system of domination assumes that our nations and peoples are subject to the mind of the White Man. But if we ask, “On what basis is it assumed that our nations are subject to the mind of the White Man?, the circular answer is, “On the basis of the mind of the White Man.” So how did we get into the predicament in which we find ourselves? Simple. The mind of the White Man has been able to construct the ideas and arguments that have been used to create the impression that our Nations are rightfully subject to the mind of the White Man. If we make no effort to challenge this, then we have simply resigned ourselves to our own fate.

If we allow ourselves to become mentally conditioned to live our lives on the basis of the White Man’s conceptual system, we will continue to be mentally imprisoned by that conceptual system, which will continue to be called “the law.” Our reluctance to challenge the mental activities of the White Man has resulted in us treating the prevailing ideas of the White Man as “the law.” It’s “their law.” As our nations and peoples began to use English as our primary means of communication, at the same time that our own languages were being set aside and no longer used because of the boarding schools, we were internalizing in our own minds the very dominating assumptions that are still being used today to disempower our nations.

We need a different approach and a different kind of conversation about the federal Indian law system of domination, an approach that calls into question and challenges the most basic assumption that our nations are subject to the mind of the White Man simply because the mind of the White Man has thought so and because he has said so on the basis of the doctrine of Christian discovery and domination.

Read More on the Story:
Steven Newcomb: The Mind of the White Man is the Origin of US Federal Indian ‘Law’ (Indian Country Media Network 6/28)