Visiting the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University in 1989

Years ago I was visiting the John Carter Brown Library at the Brown University campus. That is where Henry Wheaton went to college. He was the Reporter for the U.S. Supreme Court during the Johnson v. McIntosh ruling of 1823. I went there to do some research about the so-called Age of Discovery, the history of Christopher Columbus, and the Doctrine of Discovery.

As I was leaving the library building, two middle aged white men were walking toward the exit ahead of me. One of the men, who had previously heard me making some inquiries about Columbus and Native nations, turned to the other man and asked, “Did you hear that American Indians will be celebrating the day before Columbus Day during the upcoming five hundred year celebration of Columbus?”

“Oh yeah, why’s that?” asked the other man.

“Because,” the first man replied, “that’s the day when the Indians can celebrate their last day of freedom.”

Knowing I was walking right behind them, they both had a good laugh over that exchange. They intended for me to overhear what they were saying.

Their conversational seemed remarkable because most non-Native people spend no time reflecting on the fact that Native nations were living free and independent prior to Europeans invading the Western Hemisphere. They also don’t spend time thinking of our ancestors living free from a belief system, specifically, Christian European thinking, and, therefor, free from Christian European domination.

Here’s a way for us to think about the free existence of Native nations and peoples: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Native Nations were originally living free and independent of Christian domination. You might say that our ancestors and our nations possessed inalienable and fundamental political rights, and on the basis of those rights, they lived in an ecologically sustainable and sacred relationship with the respective territories of our nations.

In making the above statement, I am assuming that when Christian Europeans first invaded the Western Hemisphere, our ancestors were not only living free, they also had the perfect right to remain free. The Christian European invaders had no valid right to deprive our nations and our ancestors of a free and independent way of life within our respective homelands by forcibly imposing a system of domination on our Native nations. –Steven Newcomb