By Steven Paul McSloy
Being practical men, as they could not realize upon their “extravagant and absurd” claims, as Justice Marshall called them, for fear of military defeat by the Indians, and, in their own way, perhaps even concerned for Native people, the Europeans recognized that Native people had some rights to occupy and use their land. But it was nonetheless clear to the Europeans that Native people did not own their land and thus that the Indians had no power to sell it or otherwise to convey title. The land was owned, and title was held, by the Christian king whose explorers “discovered” it.
The English Crown’s charters to Cabot, Gilbert and Raleigh were nearly identical to the Pope’s Bulls in commissioning expeditions to “heathen and barbarious lands.” Pilgrim and Puritan sermons were replete with references to God’s covenant with them, and their divine mission, their “errand into the wilderness,” their “manifest destiny.” Such a belief is all the more remarkable given the Pilgrims’ famous dependence upon Indian peoples for food and the means to farm, celebrated today as Thanksgiving. This was rationalized by the Pilgrims through the belief that Indian hospitality was due not to the Indians but to the workings of the Pilgrims’ God. As historian Wilcomb Washburn noted, “[w]e read frequently such statements as ‘God caused the Indians to help us with fish at very cheap rates.’” The Puritans called America “Canaan,” meaning the land of promise–God’s promise. Civilization moved west, and with it the Cross, even going out into the Pacific as Hawaii was subdued by the United States Marines. A year later, President McKinley told the nation of how it was revealed to him in prayer that it was America’s responsibility to bring Christianity to the “little brown brothers” of the Philippines.
Native pundits and non-Natives like me have made these points many times before, of course. We'll continue making them until everyone gets it.
For more on the subject, see Unitarians Repudiate Doctrine of Discovery and US Policy = Seeking Terror-Tory.
Below: A good Christian soldier.