The colonizers were very aware of the power of words as a tool of subjugation. Newcomb quotes 15th century Spanish grammarian and rhetorician Antonio de Nebrija, addressing Queen Isabella: "Your Majesty, language is the perfect instrument of empire."
Newcomb reveals that not much has changed in America's religious/ethnocentric view of indigenous peoples. In one example, he cites a 1987 report by the U.S. State Department titled "History of the Doctrine of Tribal Sovereignty," submitted to the United Nations Social and Economic Council.
In the report, "Indian" is repeatedly spelled "indian," with a lowercase "i," although "Federal Government" is capitalized. The implication is clear, Newcomb writes: The United States "exists up, or on a higher plane in relation to Indian nations, and that Indian nations are down in relation to the United States."
In the same way, Newcomb views the word "tribe" as a "very problematic term," a demeaning term used by governments as a technique of political subjugation. A "tribe" ranks below a "nation," significant considering the U.S. government continues to exercise plenary, or absolute, authority over indigenous people and their own governments, he said.
How many times have we heard people say that they didn't know Indians were still around? Or that they thought Indians all lived in tipis? This continuing ignorance of the diversity and complexity of Indian life is a fundamental issue in Indian country today.
If we Americans see and hear no evil, we don't have to act upon it. We don't have to acknowledge the treaties we've broken, the land we've stolen, the children we've kidnapped. We don't have to address the poverty, crime, and hopelessness we've allowed by not funding necessary government services.
This is why I keep harping on the stereotype issue. I bet Steve Newcomb would agree it's worth harping on.