Opinion

Steven Newcomb: How old documents affect indigenous people





Steven Newcomb explains how old Christian documents affect Indian policy and law in the U.S.:
Ever notice how some dominant society people tend to talk about the past, particularly when it comes to Indian history? “Well that was a long time ago,” some will dismissively say. “You can’t turn back the clock,” is another typical phrase. And then there is this gem: “What’s past is past.”

So let’s take a "past" document from the 15th century issued by Pope Alexander VI. People, even Vatican officials, say, “Well, that was long ago, what’s that got to with today?” But let’s think about that question for a moment.

One such papal document is a velum (lambskin) parchment with the Latin words carefully handwritten in golden brown ink. The words look as if they written yesterday. They express certain ideas such as the pope’s call for “barbarous” meaning “non-Christian” nations,” to be “reduced,” or “subued” (“deprimantur”). They call for the “propagation of the Christian empire” (“imperii christiani”), and for “the Catholic faith and Christian religion” to be “everywhere increased and spread.” And the pope purported to concede to the monarchs of Castile and Aragon full dominion, in perpetuity, over lands, “discovered and to be discovered,” lands that were “not already possessed by any Christian sovereign or prince.”

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: What's Past Is Past Only if Natives Let It (Indian Country Today 9/3)