American Indians and the Korean War

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The Korean War began on June 25, 1950 and ended on July 27, 1953.  As with other twentieth century wars, American Indian men did not hesitate to enlist. Many men came from Native cultures which had traditionally emphasized a warrior tradition. For many young men the Korean War provided them with the opportunity to count coup and obtain traditional war honors.

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Tribes and Reservations in 1917

During the nineteenth century, the United States had attempted to settle all Indians on well-defined reservations on lands deemed unsuitable for non-Indian development. Here Indians were to remain until they became extinct or had fully assimilated into the Christian American lifestyle. By the end of the nineteenth century, the government began the process of dismantling Indian reservations and increasing the pressures to assimilate. During the early twentieth century, for example, the United States had dissolved all of the tribal governments in Oklahoma so that the territory could become a state. By 1917, a majority of Indians still lived on reservations where they were considered wards of the government. In general, the reservations were pockets of poverty with poor health care and few educational opportunities. Briefly described below are a few of the events of 1917 which are related to Indian reservations and tribes.

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World War I and American Indians

In 1914, the nations of Europe began the conflict which would become known as the Great War and later as World War I.  In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called for the United States to enter what he called “the war to end all wars” and “to make the world safe for democracy.” The military estimated that a million men would be needed for the war and in the first six weeks following the declaration of war only 73,000 men volunteered. In response, Congress implemented a draft and 2.8 million men were called to service. American Indians, however, were not citizens and could not be drafted. Many Indians volunteered for service.

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American Indians in 1717

The fur trade was an important part of the economic history of North America and incorporated American Indian economies into a larger world economy. Furs were valuable, easily portable, and renewable resources. The prime furs—marten, otter, fox—were sold at high prices in the European and Chinese markets. Of less value, but still profitable, were pelts from buffalo, beaver, muskrat, and squirrel.

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The Algonquian Language Family

In North America, linguists generally recognize 58 language families and isolates. Understanding language families is one of the keys to understanding the historical relationships between the Indian groups. The Algonquian language family is a large American Indian language which is found in the Eastern Woodlands, the Plains, and California.

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Apache Spirituality

Bands or tribes known collectively as the Apache ranged widely throughout the American Southwest at the time of the first Spanish exploration and invasion. The Apache are Athabascan-speaking and migrated into the Southwest from Canada perhaps as early as 850 CE, but most likely between the late 1200s and early 1400s. In her entry on the Western Apache in the Encyclopedia of North American Indians, Elizabeth Brandt writes:

“Evidence from archaeological sites suggests a date around A.D. 1450 for the entry of Athabaskan peoples into the Southwest, but some scholars call for earlier dates.”

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American Indians in 1617

By 1617, four European nations—Spain, France, England, and the Netherlands—were staking their claims in North America through exploration and colonization. Archaeologist Jerald Milanich, in his book The Timucua, describes the reasons for the European expansion into North America:

“The driving force behind these initiatives was a desire for wealth: precious stones or metals, fertile lands suitable for productive plantations, human populations to be sold into slavery, and animals and plants that could be hunted or harvested and exported.”

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Spirituality and Jimsonweed Among California Indians

Throughout the world, different religious and spiritual traditions have used hallucinogenic drugs to enhance the mystical experience. These drugs can trigger the experience of flying or floating. In Southern California, many tribes traditionally used jimsonweed (a part of the nightshade family Datura, also known as toloache and datura) to help produce visions. Most frequently this was used during the initiation of boys into full manhood. During this time the initiates would drink an infusion made from jimsonweed root. The visions received at this time would guide people for the rest of their lives. In recognizing the spiritual power of jimsonweed, the tribes also knew that the plant could be deadly if used incorrectly and thus it was used only in ceremonial context and administered by knowledgeable elders. Even with these cautions, there were occasional deaths from using the plant.

Briefly described below are some of ceremonial uses of jimsonweed by California tribes.

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The Uto-Aztecan Language Family

Linguists studying and comparing languages throughout the world have noted that some languages are similar to each other in terms of vocabulary, sound patterns, and grammatical structure. Using these comparisons, they group languages into language families. According to linguists Laurence C. Thompson and M. Dale Kinkade, in their chapter on languages in the Handbook of North American Indians:

“Language families are groups of languages that can be shown to be genetically related, using techniques developed by comparative linguistics.”

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Federal Indian Policy in 1817

In 1817, James Monroe became the new President of the United States. In his book The Removal of the Choctaw Indians, Arthur DeRosier writes:

“America embarked upon a period of intense nationalism which completely dominated Monroe’s administration.”

Arthur DeRosier goes on to say:

“The changing attitudes of the period affected even the handling of the Indian problem and coincided with the emergence of a new policy.”

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American Indian Religions in 1917

During the first part of the twentieth century, the United States continued in its efforts to assimilate American Indians into an English-speaking, Christian European culture. Traditional American Indian religious practices were oppressed and discouraged as barriers to this assimilation. Briefly described below are some of the events of 1917 related to Indian religions.

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Voluntary Associations Among the Omaha Indians

Many American Indian nations had formal groups which cross-cut kinship ties. These formal groups, known as voluntary associations, sodalities, warrior societies, military societies, and healing societies, had names, membership rules, and even their own special ceremonies. Among the Omaha there were two kinds of voluntary associations: (1) social groups, and (2) secret societies. Included in the social groups are the warrior societies. The secret societies often had knowledge of medicines which were used for healing. Ethnologists Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche, in their classic 1911 ethnography The Omaha Tribe, report:

“The secret societies dealt with mysteries and membership was generally attained by virtue of a dream or vision.”

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The Cherokee in 1817

When the Europeans began their invasion of the Americas, the Cherokee were an agricultural people whose villages could be found throughout the American Southeast. By the first part of the nineteenth century, the Cherokees had had enough experience in dealing with the American government that they understood that they needed to have a unified government. Summarized below are some of the Cherokee events of 1817.

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Children Among the Indian Nations of the Great Basin

The Great Basin Culture Area includes the high desert regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. It is bounded on the north by the Columbia Plateau and on the south by the Colorado Plateau. It includes southern Oregon and Idaho, a small portion of southwestern Montana, western Wyoming, eastern California, all of Nevada and Utah, a portion of northern Arizona, and most of western Colorado. This is an area which is characterized by low rainfall and extremes of temperature. The valleys in the area are 3,000 to 6,000 feet in altitude and are separated by mountain ranges running north and south that are 8,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. The rivers in this region do not flow into the ocean, but simply disappear into the sand.

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Marriage Among the Indian Nations of the Great Basin

The Great Basin Culture Area includes the high desert regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. It is bounded on the north by the Columbia Plateau and on the south by the Colorado Plateau. It includes southern Oregon and Idaho, a small portion of southwestern Montana, western Wyoming, eastern California, all of Nevada and Utah, a portion of northern Arizona, and most of western Colorado. This is an area which is characterized by low rainfall and extremes of temperature. The valleys in the area are 3,000 to 6,000 feet in altitude and are separated by mountain ranges running north and south that are 8,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. The rivers in this region do not flow into the ocean, but simply disappear into the sand.

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A Brief Overview of Cherokee Culture

When the Europeans began their invasion of the Americas, the Cherokee were an agricultural people whose villages could be found throughout the American Southeast. In his book In the Courts of the Conqueror: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided, Walter Echo-Hawk describes it this way:

“The aboriginal Cherokee homeland extends throughout the mountainous Allegheny region of the American Southeast in present-day Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia, Kentucky, and the Carolinas.”

This territory spread over 40,000 square miles.

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A Short Overview of the Potawatomi Indians

The Potawatomi were one of several Algonquian-speaking Indian nations which inhabited the western portion of the Northeastern Woodlands culture area. Among the Algonquian-speaking people of the western Great Lakes area, farming was of secondary economic importance (hunting and gathering were of greater importance) and contributed less than half of their food. As with the other Indian farmers of the Northeast, they raised corn, beans, tobacco, and squash.

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Christian Imperialism

One example of religious imperialism can be seen in the era following the Age of Discovery which began in the fifteenth century. European kings, and later the United States, used a legal fiction known as the Doctrine of Discovery to justify their acquisition of new territories outside of Europe. Following this doctrine, Christianity is seen as superior to all other religions and therefore Christian monarchs (and later Christian republics such as the United States) have a legal and religious right and even an obligation to impose their rule on all non-Christians.

It should be noted that the Doctrine of Discovery applies only to Christian nations in their dealings with non-Christian peoples. In his book American Indians and the Law, law professor Bruce Duthu writes:

“Only Christian colonizers in their encounters with non-Christian peoples could invoke the discovery doctrine. An indigenous seafaring tribe, by contrast, could not plant a flag in the British Isles or on the beaches of Normandy and make comparable claims to England or France under the doctrine.”

Law and its interpretation by the courts regarding American Indians in the United States are based on two concepts: (1) the U.S. Constitution, and (2) legal precedents from international law, primarily a legal fiction known as the Doctrine of Discovery.

In 1787, the United States adopted a constitution which is considered the supreme law of the land. Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 delegates to Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes” and thus dealings with the tribes are to be federal. Most of the litigation regarding Indian matters concerns this clause. However, it has not been unusual for legal scholars, including one Supreme Court Chief Justice, and for many politicians and government leaders to ignore this clause.

The Doctrine of Discovery is not well-known to people who are not: (a) historians, (b) legal scholars, or (c) American Indians. In brief, this is an ancient European Christian legal concept which says that Christian nations have a right, if not an obligation, to rule over all non-Christian nations. Thus, the European nations, and the United States after 1787, felt that they had a legal right to govern American Indians. The Doctrine of Discovery gave Christian nations, including the United States, the right to take land away from indigenous peoples paying for it with the gift of Christianity.

The Popes and Spanish Law

The Catholic Pope in 1452 laid the foundation for the Doctrine of Discovery by issuing the papal bull dum diversas which instructed the Portuguese monarchy “to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ, to put them into perpetual slavery, and to take away all their possessions and property.” The ideas found in this papal document were later woven into U.S. Indian law and continues to guide U.S. Indian policy.

A papal bull is a special kind of patent or charter issued by a pope. It is called a “bull” because of the seal (bulla) which was appended to the end of it and served to authenticate the document.

The original papal bull, which is still in force, was strengthened in 1455 with another papal bull, Romanus Pontifex, which sanctified the seizure of non-Christian lands and encouraged the slavery of natives. Following the discovery of the Americas by the Europeans, Papal bulls by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 granted Spain and Portugal all of the lands in the Americas which were not under Christian rule. This began the European assumption that the native people of the area didn’t really own the land because they were not Christian. The Pope decreed that:  “barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”  The Inter Caetera papal bull stated: “We trust in Him from whom empires, and governments, and all good things proceed.”

This laid the legal foundation for assuming that government comes only from the Christian god and therefore Christian nations have a legal right to rule over non-Christian nations. Indian writer Vine Deloria would later comment:

“Thus armed with a totally bogus title issued by God’s representative on earth, the Spaniards then began a brutal conquest in the Americas which virtually obliterated the native populations in the Caribbean within a generation.”

The Doctrine of Discovery provided Europeans with the legal right to claim the Americas. While non-Christian Indian nations owned the land, the European nations, as Christian nations, had the right to rule Indian nations. If the Indian nations failed to recognize this right, then the Christian nations could wage a just war against them.

By 1513, Palacios Rubios, Spain’s master jurist, had refined the Doctrine of Discovery into a document which was to be read aloud, in Spanish or in Latin, when new peoples and/or lands were encountered. The fact that the indigenous people might not speak Spanish or Latin was not seen as relevant. The document recited the Christian history of the world and then demanded that the Natives accept this version of history and submit themselves to the authority of the Christian Spanish King. The indigenous people were told that God has declared that the Pope rules all people, regardless of their law, sect, or belief. This includes Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles, or any other sect. The Native Americans were to come forward of their own free will to convert to Catholicism or

“with the help of God we shall use force against you, declaring war upon you from all sides and with all possible means, and we shall bind you to the yoke of the Church and Their Highnesses; we shall enslave your persons, wives, and sons, sell you or dispose of you as the King sees fit; we shall seize your possessions and harm you as much as we can as disobedient and resisting vassals.”

Furthermore, the Natives who resist are to be held guilty of all resulting deaths and injuries from the “just” war waged against them. The idea of a “just war” is based upon the word of Saint Augustine. Under this concept, a just war was one that was waged to right an injustice or wrong by another nation. One of these wrongs, according to the Christian view, was not being Christian. Thus, if an Indian nation were to fail to let missionaries live and preach among them, then they were committing a “wrong” which would have to be set right through a “just war.”

American Law

The Doctrine of Discovery entered into American jurisprudence in 1823 when the Supreme Court ruled on Johnson and Graham’s Lessee versus McIntosh. The Court found that the Doctrine of Discovery gave sovereignty of Indian lands to England and then to the United States. Indian nations, under this Doctrine, have a right of occupancy to the land. Christian nations, such as England and the United States, have superior rights over the inferior culture and inferior religion of the Indians. According to the Court, Indians have been compensated for their lands by having the gift of Christianity bestowed upon them.

The Supreme Court’s use of the Doctrine of Discovery in Johnson and Graham’s Lessee versus McIntosh laid the foundation for Indian law that still continues. The decision reinforced the superiority of Christianity as a governing philosophy and paid little attention to either Indian history or the possibility of Indian religions.

In an article in This Week from Indian Country Today, Steven Newcomb, Director of the Indigenous Law Institute, writes:

“From the perspective of Western Christendom, it was the ‘god-given’ right of all Christian sovereigns to locate and dominate (“possess”) all non-Christian lands on the planet.”

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the Tee-Hit-Ton case. The government argued that under international law Christian nations can acquire lands occupied by heathens and infidels. In an article in Indian Country Today, Steven Newcomb writes:

“This is a religiously premised argument. It is also racist, to be sure, but it is an argument made by the United States government on the basis of the Christian religion.”

In their argument, the United States government not only cited the nineteenth century case of Johnson v M’Intosh, but also the Papal bulls of the fifteenth century and the Old Testament from the Bible.

In 1955, the Supreme Court announced its decision which denied the Tee-Hit-Ton any compensation for the taking of the timber. According to the Court:

 “The Christian nations of Europe acquired jurisdiction over newly discovered lands by virtue of grants from the Popes, who claimed the power to grant Christian monarchs the right to acquire territory in the possession of heathens and infidels.”

Legal scholar Steven Newcomb, in an articles in Indian Country Today, writes of the government’s brief:

“It is a gem of religious racism that fully documents the illegitimate foundation of U.S. Indian law and policy.”

The Tee-Hit-Ton case reaffirmed the Doctrine of Discovery as the basis for U.S. law with regard to Indian nations. It reaffirmed this Christian doctrine as the principle to be used in judging American Indians and discounted American Indian history and religious traditions. It denied that Indians had any legal rights as pagan nations. Attorney Peter D’Errico, in an article in This Week from Indian Country Today, sums up the case:

“It reaffirms Christian Discovery as the basis of U.S. law regarding Indian nations; and it says this racist religious doctrine is still in full force and effect. It also says that Indians as people are not covered by the U.S. Constitution, which undermines the arguments of those who believe the Constitution ‘protects’ Indians.”

In 2005, the Supreme Court once again cited the Discovery Doctrine in City of Sherrill v Oneida Indian Nation of New York. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote:

“Under the ‘doctrine of discovery,’ fee title to the lands occupied by the Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign—first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States.”

George Zebrowski, in an article in Free Inquiry, writes:

“In other words, the Sherrill decision was based in part on the Doctrine of Discovery, one of the rare principles of American law that came not from English common law or from the pen of some Enlightenment philosopher but rather from the Vatican.”

In 2008, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers traveled to the Vatican to ask Pope Benedict XVI to rescind historic church doctrine—the Discovery Doctrine—that has encouraged the genocide of millions of indigenous people. Vatican police, however, claimed that the women were engaged in conducting anti-Catholic demonstrations.

In 2009, Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons asked Pope Benedict XVI to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery. While the Pope declined, thus indicating that this Doctrine continues as Church policy, the Episcopal Church adopted a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. The resolution called on the United States to review its historical and contemporary policies that contribute to the continued colonization of native peoples. The resolution also called for Queen Elizabeth II to repudiate publicly the validity of the Doctrine of Discovery.

In 2010, “A Preliminary Study on the Doctrine of Discovery” was presented to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues by Tonya Gonnella Frichner (Onondaga). According to the study, the Doctrine of Discovery has been used to justify indigenous genocide and is one of the underlying reasons for the worldwide violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples. In 2012, the 11th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues discussed the Doctrine of Discovery.

On numerous other occasions, Indian leaders in the Americas have formally asked the Pope to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery. At the present time, it would appear that this is still the policy of the Catholic Church and is a part of American law.