Essential Words and Phrases in Native History Related to the Doctrines of Discovery

By Doug George-Kanentiio©
News From Indian Country

No effective discussion on any Native issue can be done without understanding the following words and phrases. If we are to break the chains of “federal trust” and colonial “paternalism” we must know our opponents and have a strong command of our collective histories.

Every Native person has been deeply affected by the following  words and the power they contain. As Ray Fadden-Tehanetorens, the great Moahwk teacher, showed the only way to true freedom and liberation is to know your indigenous history and be prepared to challenge the assumptions of racial superiority inherent in the Doctrines.  

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, no great defender of Native people, cited the papal bulls in writing the decision which ended Haudenosaunee land reclamation efforts in New York State. Despite the grotesque and blatant violation of federal law by New York State in stealing Native lands, Justice Ginsburg cited the Doctrines in City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation 544 US 197 (2005) as the rationale for the US assuming authority over all indigenous lands. This is odd given that her Jewish ancestors were subjected to formal expulsion and active suppression by Christian nations in Europe who cited the papal bulls as just cause for their actions.

Millions of human beings have died as a result of the Doctrines with subsequent environmental degradation.

Note: I use Doctrines plural as there are many of these edicts and laws.

Doctrines of Discovery
Dum Diversas papal bull of June 18/1452

Pope Nicholas V: authorized King Alfonso V of Portugal to conquer Saracens, enemies of Christ and out pagans into perpetual servitude
Affirmed by popes Sixtus IV in 1481 and Leo X in 1514

Romanus Pontifex: papal bull of 1454 by Nicholas V to Alonzo V of Portugal confirms Portuguese dominion over parts of Africa excludes other nations and grants rights to trade and colonization.

Eximiae Devontionis: issued May 3/ 1493 and Inter Caetera on May 4/1493 by pope Alexander VI. Grants to Spain all lands 100 leagues west of the Azores

Dudm Siquidem: September 26/1493: Alexander VI grants all islands and mainland to be discovered to Spain

Treaty of Tordesillas: June 7/1494 Spain and Portugal divide the earth 370 leagues west of Cape Verde Islands

Treaty of Zaragoza: April 22, 1529 between Spain and Portugal defining areas of interest in Asia

Praecelsae Devotionis: Nov. 3/1514 Pope gives Portugal all lands sailing east

The Roman Catholic church was concerned about the legitimacy of its authority to make territorial grants and concessions in areas which were not Christian. Since the Church itself had, and is, an entity which secured its powers from an alliance with the Roman Empire it looked to the Romans for the legal means to invade, subdue and control a given population or state. The Romans used the following terms to justify their conquests. These are in Latin, the language of Rome.

Roman Ius gentium: law of nations
Roman Ius naturale: natural
      law-all are born free
Roman Foedera pacis: peace treaties
Roman Ius intergentes: treaty law,   
     international agreements
Roman Jus adbellum: just war
Roman Ultima ratio: last resort
Roman Causa belli: cause of war
Roman Territorium nullius:
      empty lands
Ponifex Maximus: head priest in pagan Rome which became the Pope after the fourth century
Fetiales: pagan priest overseeing forced conversions and acts of war

The Spanish used their own words to cover their theft of Native lands.
Encomienda: native “entrusted” to overlords by the Church-this word was the source of the paternalistic powers enacted by Canada and the US.  Indian agents were an extension of this term as were missionary and residential schools. It is the root of federal trust.

Requiremento: Required words of conversion and acquiescence before military action.

The Romans had a formal procedure (the source of the requiremento) with the words spoken by a priest called the Fetiales. In certain instances a spear would be hurled in the direction of the adversary followed by the ritual.

It was irrelevant if the “offending” people did not speak Latin. Jus adbellum would commence and not cease until the adversary was defeated, their lands and property taken while their status was reduced to a condition of servitude.

The Catholic Church required the Christian invaders to cite the requiremento before using military force (ignorance of Latin did not exempt Natives from compliance in which they had to verbally acknowledge the supremacy of the Church).

The ambassador binds his head in a woollen fillet. When he has reached the frontiers of the nation from whom satisfaction is demanded, he says, “Hear, O Jupiter! Hear, ye confines” - naming the particular nation whose they are - “Hear, O Justice! I am the public herald of the Roman People. Rightly and duly authorised do I come; let confidence be placed in my words.” Then he recites the terms of the demands, and calls Jupiter to witness: “If I am demanding the surrender of those men or those goods, contrary to justice and religion, suffer me nevermore to enjoy my native land.”

He repeats these words as he crosses the frontier, he repeats them to whoever happens to be the first person he meets, he repeats them as he enters the gates and again on entering the forum, with some slight changes in the wording of the formula.

If what he demands are not surrendered at the expiration of thirty-three days - for that is the fixed period of grace - he declares war in the following terms:

“Hear, O Jupiter, and thou Janus Quirinus, and all ye heavenly gods, and ye, gods of earth and of the lower world, hear me! I call you to witness that this people” - mentioning it by name - “is unjust and does not fulfil its sacred obligations. But about these matters we must consult the elders in our own land in what way we may obtain our rights.”


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