Colonization and the Human Construction of a Reality System of Domination

Prior to the first voyage of Columbus in 1492, the original nations of the two continents that are now called North and South America (the “Western Hemisphere”) were living completely free and independent. The vast Atlantic Ocean separated those distinct and free nations from Western Christendom (Western Europe). Today, we, as the descendants of our Native ancestors, are now faced with the task of understanding what our ancestors were subjected to, at the hands of the Christian colonizers. The colonizing political powers of Western Europe established and imposed a Christian European reality system of domination over our part of the planet, and over our respective nations.

Peter L. Berger has pointed out that society “is constituted and maintained by acting human beings.” He adds that society has “no being, no reality, apart from this activity.” We may sensibly draw the inference that the system of domination that was used against our Native ancestors and our nations was created and maintained by acting human beings who traveled across the ocean from their home in a place they called “Western Christendom” or “the Christian Commonwealth.” The system of domination they working to replicate in our part of the planet was a system that had been created by highly intelligent humans. They used their intellectual prowess to design and execute a vision, a long-range plan, the evidence of which is contained in the Latin language of a number of Vatican documents issued by various popes during the fifteenth century.

Those papal documents, and royal charters issued by Portugal and Spain, were the result of the thinking and writing skills of highly intelligent minds. One such document indicates that the Christian explorers were looking to travel in quest of non-Christian places where the system of Christian domination could be constituted, established, and maintained. Their intention becomes evident when we read documents issued by a number of popes, particularly documents issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493. Pope Alexander’s documents expressed a vision of Christian lords (“dominorum Christianorum”) constituting or establishing (“constitute”) their domination (“dominio”) over non-Christian nations (“barbarae nationes”) and their lands.

Every human reality of domination such as the Christian empire that Pope Alexander VI desired to propagate (“propagationem”), is the result of what Berger calls “meanings externalized in human activity.” In other words, humans combine their thoughts, speech, and activity in community with others, to create and maintain a particular configuration of reality. And when the fervently militant representatives of the Christian empire (“imperii Christiani”) were working to constitute or build a reality system of domination in whatever place they were invading, they carried with them all of the ideas and equipment necessary to accomplish the bloody work. This pattern is well exemplified in the following account of Hernando de Soto’s expedition from Cuba to Florida:

“At length, all preparations were completed; leaving his wife to govern the island [of Cuba], he [Soto] and his company, full of unbounded expectations, embarked for Florida; and in about a fortnight, his fleet anchored in the Bay of Spiritu Santo. The solders went on shore; the horses, between two and three hundred in number, were disembarked; and the men of the expedition stood upon the soil which they had so eagerly desired to tread. . . And now began the nomadic march of the adventurers; a numerous body of horsemen, besides infantry [on foot], completely armed; a force exceeding in numbers and equipments [sic] the famous expeditions against the empires of Mexico and Peru.”

In a footnote, Bancroft explains it was likely that there were nearly a thousand men on this expedition. Hernando de Soto and his men were equipped with all the kinds of things they knew they would need in order to establish their domination in Florida based upon what “former invasions and the cruelty of avarice” suggested to them. Accordingly, De Soto and his men carried with them

“chains for captives, and the instruments of a forge; arms of all kinds then in use, and bloodhounds as auxiliaries against the feeble natives; ample stores of food, as a last resort, a drove of hogs, which would soon swarm in the favoring climate, where the forests and the Indian maize [corn] furnished abundant sustenance. It was a roving expedition of gallant freebooters in quest of fortune. It was a romantic stroll of men whom avarice rendered ferocious.” (Source: George Bancroft, History of the Colonization of the United States (1853), Vol. I, Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, pp. 43-45).

These rapacious patterns of thought and behavior, combined with the technological means of domination and war, provide a telling example of how the meanings and acts of domination found in papal bulls and royal documents were “externalized in human activity” and used against the original nations and peoples of Florida. By analogy, those same patterns were carried to and repeated in every place the Christian world went throughout the entire Western hemisphere. Bancroft describes how Catholic priests, as foot soldiers of the church, (“Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching As To War”) supported the invasion, and thereby created a combination of greed, carnage, and religious fervor:

Religious zeal was also united with avarice: there were not only cavalry and foot-soldiers, with all that belongs to warlike array; twelve priests, besides other ecclesiastics, accompanied the expedition. Florida was to become Catholic during scenes of robbery and carnage [committed against the Native people]. Ornaments, such as are used at the service of mass, were carefully provided; every festival was to be kept; every religious practice was to be observed. As the troop marched through the wilderness, the solemn procession, which the usages of the church enjoined, were scrupulously instituted. (Bancroft, p. 45)

The language from the papal document Inter Caetera, dated May 4, 1493, identifies the nature of the “Deity” that the Catholic invaders of the original nations scrupulously worshiped. A sentence from that May 4 papal decree reads: “We trust in Him from whom empires and dominations and all good things proceed.” The pronoun “Him” is the only identifier of a “Deity” out of whom empire and domination issued forth or “proceeded.”

Bancroft describes the manner in which Hernando De Soto invaded the original nations of Florida. The intrepid Christian invaders made certain that they maintained, by means of proper ritual activity and liturgical conduct, religious devotion to their Deity-of-Domination, consecrated by means of blood, gore, and war. Liturgical ritual, robbery, and bloody carnage would “Christianize” and “Catholicize” Florida. This context would result in the bloody birth of a reality system, or “State of domination,” in that region. Today that state is called Florida. Every State has been “birthed” in this manner. This is why anthropologist Stanley Diamond said that “civilization originates in conquest [domination] abroad,” meaning externally, and repression [domination] at home,” meaning, internally.

Hernando de Soto and the Domination System

The activities of De Soto and his men demonstrate the conceptual model implicit in the language and thought that was later manifested as the society of the United States. It is the model of a dominating authority figure (e.g., De Soto), who rules through the threat of, or direct imposition of, brutal force.  We may call this the Domination Model.

We are encouraged to believe that the domination system dominates those it subjects wisely and fairly. Be that as it may, the dominators expect those being subjected to their control an unquestioning obedience to the system of domination called “the State.” Dominators such as De Soto fully expected the Native people to obey all of the mandates and commands issued by the domination system they, as dominators, represented. Those patterns of command and obedience formed the origin of the phenomenon called “the modern state.”

We find an excellent example of the origin of “the State” in the description of the tools and techniques of domination that De Soto and his men carried with them: e.g., “chains for captives, and the instruments of a forge [for metal work]; arms of all kinds then in use, and bloodhounds as auxiliaries against the feeble natives.” That list of items tells us that Native noncompliance with the demands of the invading system of domination was not an option.

Every failure of the Native people to immediately comply with the dominators’ demands was seen as an act of defiance against a rightful domination, or, in other words, every act of defiance was deemed a “rebellion” by the Native people against a perfectly justifiable and valid system of domination called “sovereignty.”

The domination system is made real and meaningful because the behaviors of domination are externalized and made real by means of social interaction between the dominators and those being dominated. To put it more bluntly, domination is made real whenever the proponents of the domination system act on their belief that they have “the right” to assume and claim a right of domination over the Native nations and peoples.-Steven Newcomb