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Off the map, beneath our feet: cartographic amnesia and the national body.


The imaginary consolidation of America as a sovereign nation-state situated on a state-centric international topography was and remains predicated on spatializing practices bound up with the ongoing eradication of indigenous people(s) and simultaneous effacement, or at least repression, of the violence of the (neo)colonial encounter. The American nation-state is founded on the all-but-forgotten bodies and worlds of indigenous peoples and is continually secured by a narrative constellation that reduces the decimation of people(s) to a clearing of space on which a sovereign nation could be constructed or within which it could evolve. This article will trace the various techniques of decimating indigenous cultures and bodies that facilitate efforts of nationalist historiography that reduce indigenous cartographies to mere space situated within a narrative trajectory of American national unification.


cartography, topology, indigeneity, historiography, narrative, America
  The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from
  those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than
  ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.What
  redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a
  sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea
  --something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice
  --Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

As Toni Morrison astutely observes of many of those tempted to venture across the Atlantic, "the attraction was of the 'clean slate' variety, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not only to be born again but to be born in clothes, as it were. The new setting would provide new raiments of self." (1) Engrossed by a fantasy of reclaimed innocence, with innocence not infrequently figured as unfettered autonomy, colonists and more transient exploiters were often impelled across the Atlantic by trepidations about the economic and political turmoil of their European homelands. Coupled with anxious desires to escape severely constrictive or otherwise inhospitable socioreligious regimes, this led to many Europeans' becoming enamored with the prospects of absolute individual or collective self-determination and unlimited profit promised by the Americas (and elsewhere). As Morrison observes, on the colonial stage, "the habit of genuflection would be replaced by the thrill of command. Power--control of one's destiny would replace the powerlessness felt before the gates of class, caste and cunning persecution. One could move from discipline and punishment to disciplining and punishing; from social ostracism to social rank. One could be released from a useless, binding, repulsive past into a kind of history-lessness, a blank page waiting to be inscribed." (2)

Seeking to be born again free of natural vulnerabilities and consequent social and political dependencies, often to be reborn in costumes tailored to emphatically individual contours and providing the armature requisite for glorious self-development, a great many Europeans embarking on colonial or otherwise exploitative expeditions were motivated by a fantasy of the unequivocal recognition of their utterly individual achievements, of their absolutely autonomous selves, or inversely, by a fantasy of absolute communal embedding--in either case by a fantasy of purity. According to this fantasmatic template, the "New World" setting would not expose settlers' vulnerability to the vicissitudes of unknown environs--that is, their natural being--nor their dependence on the hospitality of others--that is, their constitutive sociality. Rather, the setting was imagined as one in which the colonial body would be enveloped and encoded as the instrument of the fully self-determining or absolutely embedded colonial subject. The New World was envisioned as nature reborn as resource; it would provide new raiments of self. The consequences of such desperate grasping at innocence, of such longings to be reborn free of history, were, of course, disastrous. (3)

The imaginary consolidation of America as a sovereign nation-state situated within a state-centric geopolitical topography was and remains predicated on spatializing practices that eradicate(d) indigenous people(s) and cartographies while simultaneously effacing the gross violences of (neo)colonialism. The sovereignty of the American nation-state is founded on the largely forgotten but not transcended bodies and worlds of indigenous peoples and is (thus) continually secured by a narrative currently circulating through textbooks, political science and policy-making discourses, moral philosophies, juridical historiography, (4) anthropological discourses, (5) and popular imaginaries that reduce the decimation of indigenous people(s) and places to the clearing or discovery of the space on which a sovereign nation-state could be constructed or within which it could evolve. (6) Such a narrative, as Henri Lefebvre elaborates,
  a product of violence and war, it is political; instituted by a state,
  it is institutional. On first inspection it [space] appears
  homogenous; and indeed it serves those forces which make a tabula rasa
  of whatever stands in their way, of whatever threatens them ...
  These forces seem to grind down and crush everything before them, with
  space performing the function of a plane, a bulldozer or a tank. The
  notion of the instrumental homogeneity of space, however, is illusory
  [i.e., socially-politically mediated] though empirical descriptions of
  space reinforce the illusion--because it uncritically takes the
  given. (7)

Such a narrative is also testimony to the residual--muted, placeless, yet insistent--claims of indigenous peoples and places that unsettle yet paradoxically thereby embolden the self-confidence of the political present.

Envisioning the New World as simply an open space ripe for exploitation rather than as networks of densely textured cartographies inhabited by people(s) possessed of moral and political standing, colonial "settlers" (8) and more transient exploiters proceeded to annihilate indigenous bodies and worlds in efforts that paved the way for the territorial unification and imaginative integration of the American nation-state. (9) However, for this to happen, Innocentian and other such discourses proclaiming the natural rights-hearing status, especially the property rights-bearing status, of indigenous peoples would have to be circumvented. Such discourses would have to be overwhelmed or, in certain cases, cartographically circumscribed such that indigenous appeals for nonintervention on their lands and bodies could remain, in good conscience, unheeded. As European assumptions coalesced to situate the New World as a basically uninhabited, thoroughly malleable space, colonists and more transient exploiters became increasingly bold in their appropriation of lands and of the labor of the people(s) living with them, as well as in their extermination efforts directed at indigenous populations; once the actual annihilation of indigenous bodies and worlds produced a landscape sufficiently conforming to colonists' motivational assumptions, (10) it became possible for historians to deny the violence of the colonial encounter and its legacy by reproducing the fantasy of the essential vacuity of the New World or relegating such violence to a marginal--tragic yet ostensibly over and done with, "prehistorical"--moment within the narrative development of "American history." (11) Insulating America's self-representation from its founding, continuing violences whereby state sovereignty and national integrity were/are continuously wrought, such historiography repeats and effaces the presumably foundational violences, the violently spatializing practices, of the colonial encounter.

In the following, we will attend to a number of discursive and practical techniques through which the decimation of indigenous cultures and bodies was pursued that allow(ed) later nationalist historiography in its various and varied modalities to reduce indigenous cartographies to mere space on which the teleological trajectory of American national unification could unfold and thereby track the emergence and lasting unease of America's self-representation as a sovereign nation-state among others. Only once America could code the lands over which it claims sovereignty as divested of competing--that is, indigenous--claims and significance could it posture as a sovereign nation-state among others. But since such coding could not but be an overcoding, efforts to naturalize America's sovereign state-centric political imaginary tend toward extravagance, for example, belligerent assertions of sovereignty and unlikely eruptions of nationalism wherein the perturbations of the largely forgotten but untranscended past are preserved, becoming the haunting specter of the immemorial.

King Duarte of Portugal, in the first half of the fifteenth century, describes what are, for him, primarily a geospecific variant of non-Christian non-Europeans as follows: "Canary Islanders are not united by a common religion, nor are they bound by the chains of law, they are lacking normal social intercourse, living in the country like animals. They have no contact with each other by sea, no writing, no kind of metal or money. They have no houses and no clothing except for coverlets of palm leaves or goat skins which are worn as an outer garment by the most honored men. They run barefoot quickly through the rough, rocky, and steep mountainous regions, hiding ... in caves in the ground." (12)

The relentless negativity of this description is striking. Canary Islanders are figured exclusively in terms of their deviation from Euro-Christian norms: they are neither religious nor lawful, they do not inhabit human dwellings, and so on. The cumulative effect of this ultimately self-referential series of negations is to situate the Canary Islanders as barely human, if at all. Portrayed as "living in the country like animals"; with the agility and dexterity of beasts running "barefoot quickly through the rough, rocky, and steep mountains"; as mostly naked and "hiding ... in caves in the ground" like timid animals; and so forth, Canary Islanders' status as human becomes eminently questionable; and therewith, their entitlement to natural rights becomes equally questionable. Although at least officially throughout the fifteenth century the status of indigenous people(s) as rights-bearing beings ultimately depended on the papacy, papal determinations were often informed by accounts such as Duarte's. Sovereignty, considered the site of supreme interpretive hegemony, is fundamentally dependent on those who control the form and content of the archives.

Duarte's emphatic rhetorical/conceptual negativity, as we will see, is far from idiosyncratic. Such negativity saturated the discursive field of early colonial descriptions of indigenous people(s), eventually consolidating into a discursive matrix that largely overwhelmed discourses propagating the natural rights of indigenous people(s). As summarized by Ward Churchill, "the standard Euroamerican depiction of 'precontace Native North Americans has long been that the relative handful of us who existed wandered about perpetually in scattered bands, grubbing out the most marginal subsistence by hunting and gathering, never developing writing or serious appreciations of art, science, mathematics, governance, and so on. Aside from our utilization of furs and hides for clothing, the manufacture of stone implements, use of fire, and domestication of the dog, there is little in this view to distinguish us from the higher orders of mammalian life surrounding us in the 'American wilderness.'" (13)

As Franciscus de Vitoria declared in 1532, indigenous people of what would come to be called the Americas "have no proper laws or magistrates, and are not even capable of controlling their family affairs; they are without any literature or arts, not only the liberal arts, but the mechanical arts also; they have no careful agriculture and no artisans." (14) Although moments of ambiguity intrude on the negativistic thrust of the statement--such people(s) have no "proper" laws or magistrates, have families but cannot control their affairs, are without "careful" agriculture--as with Duarte, indigenous phenomenality is subdued to the strictures of an eminently Eurocentric discourse such that indigenous people(s) come into view only as the inverted reflection of European self-representations. As wild, unlawful, dangerous, and without any redeeming cultural productions that would warrant even the attention of those fetishistically enamored with the exotic, "the indigenous" emerge primarily as prospective objects of European extermination or regulatory programs. (15) With no mechanical arts, eking out a meager life from their presumably nomadic hunting and gathering ventures and rudimentary agriculture, it is a wonder they survive; indeed, as the indigenous are already on the brink of extinction, to contribute to this fate would only be to hasten what is naturally inevitable. Such depictions make indigenous people(s) seem eminently exploitable: beast-like beings fated to oblivion who would not be terribly aggressed against if their ways of life were thoroughly extinguished. Perhaps it would even be better that way. (16)

Paradoxically, because they were pervasively figured as inverted Europeans, indigenous people(s) became tightly bound to European self-representations--indeed, so much so that detailing the inversions of the indigenous became a perverse venue for European narcissistic stabilization and self-engrossment. With their attention ostensibly directed outward at indigenous inverts, Europeans were able to circumvent the barrage of resistances ordinarily accompanying direct self-glorification and all the more insistent when self-acclaim is occasioned by narcissistic crisis, that is, arises as a defense. As their anxieties about who they were or would become--both in their homelands and in the New World were reduced by redirection into impulsions to speak of indigenous inversions incessantly, Europeans became increasingly dependent on indigenous people(s) as the rhetorical occasions for their self-aggrandizement and self-specification. Reflected as the inverse of backward, uncivilized, immoral, yet evidently fascinating indigenous people(s), Europeans at home and abroad secured their self-representations as advanced, civilized, and moral at a time when these self-characterizations were clearly under pressure. In the narcissistic reflecting pool of colonialist constructions of indigenous people(s) as European inverts, European self-identity was ensured, indeed naturalized--which was all the more important for colonists far from their European homelands and frequently frustrated and disappointed therewith, yet still passionately attached to their status as proper European subjects.

Accordingly, a central concern of European discourses regarding indigenous people(s) was their establishment as the bearers of nature. Incessantly underscoring the naturalness of indigenous people(s), colonists were as if obsessed with installing the natural on display for all. For thereby they desperately sought to assure themselves of their autonomy from nature--both the nature with which they were negotiating, often with great difficulty, in their exploitative adventures and the nature they plainly manifested in their aggressive activities but could not acknowledge--while at once suppressing the deracinating implications of their intense desire for autonomy. By simultaneously encapsulating the natural in figurations of indigenous people(s) and casting such people(s) as inverted Europeans, colonists were afforded the fantasmatic solace of understanding themselves as autonomous from nature yet not so autonomous as to be deprived of their proper political identities. Furthermore, by so doing they were afforded the fantasmatic consolation of imagining nature to be as nonthreatening as indigenous people(s) and vice versa.

Given the extent to which early travel geographies., official and unofficial reports from the colonies, colonial advertisements, and other such communicative circuits were saturated by this pronounced negativity, it is little wonder that indigenous people(s) were soon "converted into chattel, ultimately to be worked to death for the wealth and 'glory' of Spain" (17) and other European states. For according to the prevailing imaginary, such actions would not amount to a conversion but only a practical elaboration of the bestial status of the indigenous. Informed by this imaginary, the Spanish, according to Pedro de Cieza de Leon, "thought no more of killing Indians than if they were useless beasts." (18) And with the pope leagues away and likely informed by similar bestializing discourses, the papal arrogation of the ultimate authority to determine the rights-bearing status of indigenous people(s) was no impediment to such devastations.

What might have been dynamic dialogical engagements were foreclosed, and when actual, (19) suppressed and denied in favor of practices of Euro-parasitism on indigenous hospitality and absurd gestures of interpretive imperialism such as the following:
  To the Europeans ... no formal institutions were apparent. Leaders
  seemed to come and go almost whimsically. One might be negotiating
  with one chief on one occasion and be faced with a different person
  for no apparent reason except that the Indian council had designated
  a new man [or woman] to speak for them, In tracing the source of
  political authority [when this was at all attempted], whites were
  really baffled. No one seemed to be in charge of anything. A promise
  need not even be written down, and there seemed to be no appeal to any
  formal authority when things went wrong. In frustration, an early
  painter designated the Iroquois chiefs "kings," because there seemed
  no way to describe their status within the tribe except through the
  medium  of familiar English feudal terminology. (20)

In his letter of March 14, 1493, Columbus likewise refers to a particular indigenous person as "the King," just as Bernal Diaz Del Castillo, a member of Cortes's invading force, would soon refer to "their Prince" in 1519. (21) When indigenous people(s) were not rendered simply as inverted Euro-Christians, they were still understood wholly in terms of Euro-Christian self-representations. Although depictions of indigenous political structures as identical to (an idealized version of) those found in Europe seem to indicate a countervailing tendency to the framing of indigenous people(s) as Euro-Christian inversions, in a very serious sense, it speaks the same. When representatives of "European nations encountered peoples of other continents [and acted on the] ... presumption ... that these peoples shared the view that political power must be located in a specific person and [consequently] ... attributed immense absolute powers to those spokesmen of other nations who dealt with them," (22) whether this was a disingenuous measure of expediency or a genuine confusion, what is plainly evident is that Euro-Christians were relentless in their arrogation of interpretive hegemony.

Rather than adopt a posture of inquisitive openness to the complexities of indigenous political forms that would allow for the confounding and recalibration of European expectations, rather than seek to understand the intricacies of the various indigenous political-representational schemas and make efforts to adapt to them, Euro-Christians were predominantly self-absorbed in their interactions with indigenous people(s). Colonists and other exploiters "used to dealing with kings, queens, and royalty ... insisted on meeting the supreme political head of each tribe. When they found none, they created one and called the man [always a man] they had chosen the Chief" (23) Although such practices acknowledge the nonidentity of European and indigenous political structures, they are manifestly in the service of efforts to eradicate such differences. Such efforts were, disastrously, extremely effective: treating indigenous people(s) as organized by a European form of governance initiated a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Vine Deloria Jr. and Clifford Lytle relate, occasionally indigenous peoples would assimilate themselves to European expectations for reasons of political expediency, especially to facilitate peace:
  European treaty commissioners always insisted on dealing with the
  "head" chief of the Creek Confederacy and, rather than learn the
  complicated system the Creeks used to allocate the functions of war
  and peace, began to insist on signing their treaties with the most
  influential miccos [town head chief] of the upper and lower towns of
  the Creek Confederacy. After a time these offices seemed to appear as
  a means of dealing with the Europeans and eventually the Creeks
  organized a council of kings who were the miccos of the respective
  towns presided over by the miccos of the most important towns of the
  upper and lower halves of the nation. (24)

However, one may wonder why Euro-Christians felt compelled to assume into existence political structures among the indigenous visibly resembling their own, given that indigenous people(s) were pervasively deemed European inverts, beasts, or simply exploitable or negligible features of the landscape. Would it not be entirely inappropriate, indeed downright perverse, for beasts to comport themselves as Euro-Christians? Likely, the assiduous negativity pervading descriptions of indigenous people(s), as much as efforts of political assimilation, were motivated by justificatory expediency--merely instrumental, they were eminently interchangeable. The Europeanization of indigenous political structures, as in the following account, and similar such assimilative conduct seem to be little more than an attempt to establish a more comfortable context for colonization, such comfort being purchased at the price of superficial concessions to the papacy's insistence that indigenous people(s) be provisionally extended the presumption of humanity, and such comfort amounting to the maintenance of (self-)imperiled self-representations as properly Euro-Christian subjects. "In September 1608 Christopher Newport ... returned to the colony with instructions from London to perform a 'coronation' of Powhatan. To solemnize the ceremony, Newport had brought along a copper crown, European furniture and clothing, and instructions to build [someone the English referred to as] the emperor an English house ... The company apparently desired to make Powhatan some type of vassal or minor lord, prior to any large-scale English migration." (25) This "emperor of Virginia" was then depicted in advertisements circulated throughout England as submitting to the English Crown and agreeing to English purchases of "his people's" lands. (26)

We are now in a position to understand why the Requirement was mumbled beneath the breath of onrushing Spanish exploiters, generally, why discourses of salvation were often halfhearted at best, and why the issue of natural rights became central to those (Europeans) specifying the range of appropriate European-indigenous relations. Christian-Europeans' commitments to sustaining their proper political-religious identities, identities imperiled by their own desires and activities, required at least superficial concessions to the humanity of indigenous people(s). Deigning to concede the humanity of indigenous people(s) became a conduit for identification with Euro-Christian authority and thereby an ideological facade in which Christo-European exploiters took shelter from the image of wild nature they were enacting. Since they were predominantly instrumental, such concessions were easily revoked. As Varner and Varner recall in Dogs of Conquest, "to many of the conquerors, the Indian was merely another savage animal, and the dogs were trained to rip apart their ... [native] quarry with the same zest as they felt when hunting wild beasts." (27) For such conquerors, to directly participate in such appalling viciousness would be to jeopardize their highly cathected self-images, to threaten their sense of humanity, so the job was delegated to an obvious proxy, "domesticated" animals--rendering the gore available for vicarious, thus self-image-preserving, enjoyment. (28) When convenient, the New World was interpreted as not only peripheral but politically and morally beyond the pale of the human. Bodies "found" there were, for the most part, equated with the territorial expanse (29) or with animals roaming therein; indigenous people(s) and the lands with which they lived were divested of cultural, moral, and political significance. In short, "Europe was hungry for raw material, and America was abundant forests, rivers, land." (30) It was ultimately gross territorial categories and not the capacities and activities of those inhabiting various territories on which the distinction between the Christian or non-Christian yet nonetheless human inhabited lands of Europe and the bestial ranges of the New World was based.

As Vine Deloria Jr. notes (in a manner bound to generate considerable discomfort due to his colonial-style massificaton of varied indigenous people[s] into the masculine monolith he calls "the Indian"), "because the Indian occupied large areas of land he was considered a wild animal." (31) Surveying the landscape, colonists considered "Native Americans ... bodies in that wilderness, indwellers of the very animal world the newcomers so arrogantly sought to rise above,"32 thus ideal objects of sacrifice on the altar of autonomy. Equated with the lands with which their lives were intimately interconnected, indigenous people(s) were often "relegated [at best] to the status of a picturesque species of wildlife," (33) a status that could, at most, motivate a conservationist ethos of fetishistic enclosure and display but certainly not political or moral respect. As Chief Justice Story would confirm in 1823, although the papacy's image of the indigenous as convertible, thus potentially human, was unavoidable, it was ultimately the instrumentally felicitous image of the indigenous as beast that prevailed: "as infidels, heathens [i.e., potentially convertible], and savages [i.e., unconvertible because inhuman], they were not allowed to possess the prerogatives belonging to absolute, sovereign and independent nations. The territory over which they wandered ... was, in respect to Christians, deemed as if it were inhabited only by brute animals." (34) Characterized ambivalently as nomads--not recognizably human, not simply animal--a characterization perhaps somewhat appropriate for the Shoshone and Paiutes but certainly not appropriate for all or even a significant percentage of the indigenous people(s) of what would come to be called North America, indigenous people(s) were subsumed under a dedifferentiating imaginary that, despite its ambivalence, further solidified their status as more animal than human. Indigenous people(s) were coded as nomadic not, or at least not simply, (35) because they were perceived to be incessantly mobile--many early colonial treaties and other land transfer documents testify to colonial understandings that indigenous peoples inhabited and maintained authority structures within relatively discrete parcels of land but largely because their movements were not regulated by Eurocolonial interests. Movements not in the interests of Europeans became "nomadic roaming." Described as "wandering" and occasionally hunting and gathering for subsistence, or as the "prehistoric" antecedents of those newly arriving on the(ir) lands, indigenous people(s) were, again, negatively defined against Euro-colonial self-representations. (36)

Columbus's "observations of people are recorded in accounts of the landscape that locate them as only one among many objects in the new territory: the transcribed journal of November 25, 1492 reports that 'Hitherto, things had gone better and better for [Columbus], in that he had discovered so many lands as well as woods, plants, fruits and flowers as well as the people.'" (37) "The people" are swept into a naturalistic frame that collapses their distinctiveness from their surroundings, absorbs them into the felicitous homogeneity of an eminently exploitable landscape--here a terrible irony abounds. According to Ward Churchill's etymological efforts, tellingly, "although the initial meaning of 'tribe' pertained to the original three groups of Romans, and later to the Hebrew clans of ancient Israel, by the time it began to be applied to indigenous peoples outside the flow of European history it was beginning to be applied to the 'animal kingdom' as well." (38)

Perpetuating the bestialization of indigenous peoples while at once evincing the contested status of this imaginary, its need for repeated authorization and sedimentation, in the early 1600s Puritan preacher Robert Gray speaks of securing the land from the "hands of beasts and brutish savages, which have no interest in it, because they participate rather in the nature of beasts than men." (39) Despite its bluntness, Gray's statement is clearly a polemical response to the natural rights discourses that situated indigenous peoples as invested with credible interests in their lands, as participating in the nature of men rather than beasts. Negotiating (among themselves) a compromise between bestializing and natural law discourses, the Puritans of the Plymouth Plantation and Massachusetts Bay Colony, from the early 1620s until 1629, explicitly interpreted all indigenous lands except those on which villages were erected or agricultural fields tilled as territorium resnullius. (41) This stance set the stage for Locke's influential claim in 1698 that "land that is left wholly to nature, that hath no improvement of pasturage, tillage, or planting, is called, as indeed it is, waste." (41) Unilaterally transforming instrumental motive into legal justification, Locke and the likeminded propagated a universalistic natural rights discourse that, although in competition with discourses situating the indigenous as brute beasts with no claims on their lands, conspired to the same effect: ethnoecocide. (42) So far from antagonistic, these formally distinct discourses, because both were informed by a bestializing and nomadizing imaginary, often converged to enhance their mutual effect. A Puritan colonist thus proclaims, "this then is a sufficient reason to prove our going thither to live lawful: their land is spacious and void. And there are few that do but run over the grass ... They are not industrious, neither have art, science, skill or faculty to use either the land or the commodities of it ... As the ancient patriarchs therefore removed from straiter places more roomy, where the land lay idle and waste, and none used it ... so it is lawful to take a land which none useth, and make use of it." (43)

Although as with "heathens" elsewhere there was a certain ambivalence concerning the proper designation of indigenous people(s) as human or inhuman, (44) unlike heathens' elsewhere, indigenous peoples' humanity's being in question was sufficient to alleviate most Eurocolonial anxieties pertaining to the expropriation of their lands and labor and the annihilation of their bodies and cultures (of course this happened elsewhere, but much more anxiously). Coupled with a desire to avoid asserting authority over matters it could do little about, its acceptance of the questionability of the humanity of indigenous people(s) was enough to put the papacy in a position in which it very seldom admonished colonists and their supporters for infringements of their natural rights.

In a 1637 letter, Roger Williams bears witness to the insistent ambiguity, indeed manifest contortions, of Euro-Christian depictions of indigenous people(s), as well as to the leveraging of this ambiguity against the natural rights-bearing status of indigenous people(s). Williams declares that he "would not feare a Jan with them yet ... would fend of[f] from being fowle, and deale with them [Narragansetts] wisely as with wolues endewed with mens brains." (45) Williams's refraining from being "fowle" certainly does not signify respect for indigenous people(s) or their rights but rather results from calculations of expediency. Refraining from manifest cruelty toward indigenous peo-ple(s) makes sense to Williams because such people(s) are exceptionally dangerous--they are "wolues endewed with mens brains," that is, creatures that can experience not just the hurt but the wrong of cruel treatment (like humans) and on its basis undertake to exact terrible revenge (like wolves). Even when artifacts plainly indicative of human design were explicitly recognized as indigenous in origin, dehumanizing discourses derailed what might have been a simple relay from human artifact to human artificer. And even when the ways of life of indigenous people(s) accorded with Euro-Christian-determined criteria for humanity, thus warranting the extension of natural rights, such extension was impeded by the overwhelming force of a dehumanized image of the indigenous. Thus, the Jamestown Colony's doctrine of "right of Wane" entitling the English to "invade the Country and destroy them" was considered the means "whereby wee shall enjoy their cultivated places [and] their cleared grounds in all their villages." (46) What should have entitled indigenous people(s) to their lands became an incentive to their expropriation.

Unsurprisingly, the ambiguity of Euro-Christian depictions of indigenous people(s) occasionally gives way to pure bestialization. But what may be surprising is that pure, unconflicted bestialization is in fact rare, as if difficult to pull off. Later, Williams would describe the Mohawks as "mad dogs," and testifying to the extent and influence of such bestializing enframing, but also to its almost inevitable interruption and inconsistency, he notes that "the generall speech is, all must be rooted out, etc. [a more callous "etc." was perhaps never penned] The body of Pequin men [not males but men] yet liue, and are onely removed from their dens." (47) As beasts, the "Pequin" [Pequots] are targets of wanton destruction, expelled from the normative horizon not just of property but of human warfare, generally, of politics and morality. (48)

More than a century later, indigenous people(s) were still being corralled into a bestializing ima-ginary, as in Lieutenant General John Burgoyne's 1777 invective: "I will let loose the dogs of hell, / Ten Thousand Indians who shall yell / And foam and tear and grin and roar, / And drench their moccasins with gore." (49) Anticipatorily projected as foaming and roaring, indigenous people(s) are recruited into a bestializing phantasmagoria that seeks to peremptorily justify gruesome atrocity on the basis of the animality it will expose. For Burgoyne, horrendous cruelty is the laudable means by which indigenous bestiality is rooted out and appropriately dealt with. Yet even for Burgoyne, ambiguity intrudes. Perversely grinning in the throes of their maiming and sufficiently adept at dissimulation to require extreme means of unmasking, the indigenous are not simply brute beasts.

More or less ambiguous bestializing enframing persisted throughout the eighteenth century, showing up in the discourses of those influential enough to secure its legacy. George Washington, for instance, contends that despite the confusions that are bound to arise in virtue of the human-like appearance of the indigenous and despite the benefits that would accrue to Euro-Americans were they to treat the indigenous as if they were humans invested with natural rights (specifically, property rights), historical experience compels the recognition of indigenous people(s) as beasts:
  I am clear in my opinion, that policy and economy point very strongly
  to the expediency of being upon good terms with the Indians, and the
  propriety of purchasing their lands in preference to attempting to
  drive them by force of arms out of their County; which, as we have
  already experienced, is like driving wild Beasts of ye forest, which
  will return as soon as the pursuit is at an end, and fall perhaps upon
  those that are left there; when the gradual extension of our
  settlements will as certainly cause the savage, as the wolf, to
  retire; both being beasts of prey, tho' they differ in shape. (50)

Immured in the phantasmagoria of indigenous bestiality, Washington Will not consider efforts of indigenous people(s) to reclaim their homelands a recognizably human undertaking, as he surely would if the roles were reversed. John Adams was likewise in the grip of this imaginary. In an 1884 letter to Secretary of State James Monroe, he claims that "their habits, and attachments, and prejudices were so averse to any settlement that they could not reconcile themselves to any other condition than that of wandering hunters. It was impossible for such a people to have possessions. Their only right upon the land was to use it as hunting grounds." (51) Although Adams situates indigenous people(s) more as savages than beasts--their nomadism is a matter of "habits ... attachments, and prejudices" and indeed they are "a people" who maintain a certain highly qualified "right upon the land"--he practical consequences of the rhetorical distinction are negligible. (52)

In an entirely unsurprising relay, Adams's characterization of indigenous people(s) as savage nomads is later repeated and reinvigorated by its addressee. Three years later, then president James Monroe declares that "the hunter or savage state requires a greater extent of territory to sustain it, than is compatible with the progress and just claims of civilized life, and must yield to it." (53) Explicitly invoking a secular best-use doctrine while alluding to theological mandate, Monroe, though perhaps more circumspect than Washington and Adams, is clearly pursuing the same agenda. While unused or improperly used indigenous lands are, he suggests, legitimately claimed by anyone dedicated to cultivating them, to be sure, similar such lands claimed by Euro-Americans, especially if those lands lie in Europe, would not have been so flagrantly figured as up for grabs. Likewise, although the treatment of indigenous people(s) by a great many Euro-Americans may have been profoundly incompatible with Monroe's vision of "the progress and just claims of civilized life," he would hardly consider such treatment to impugn their land rights even if it were a violation of justice and an impediment to the progress of civilization.

Reinvigorated by discourses of manifest destiny (54) and exemplifying their rationalized rage, depictions of indigenous people(s) as beasts and/or savages--now sometimes devils or demons, yet further figures of the inhuman in human guise--remained in force throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century: "that such a Beautiful Country, was intended by its Author to be forever in the possession and occupancy of serpents, wild fouls, wild beasts and savages, who derive little benefit from it, no reasonable man, can for one moment believe who sees it." (55) Or more aggressively:
  animals, vulgarly called Indians ... [these] wild Indians ... cattle
  ... [to whom] I would as soon admit a right in the buffalo to grant
  lands, as in Killbuck, the Big Cat, the Big Dog, or any of the ragged
  wretches that are called chiefs and sachems. What would you think of
  going to a big lick or place where the beasts collect to lick saline
  nitrous earth and water, and addressing yourself to the great buffalo
  to grant you land ... I am so far from thinking the Indians have a
  right to the soil, that not having made a better use of it for many
  hundreds of years, I conceive they have forfeited all pretense to
  claim, and ought to be driven from it. With regard to forming treaties
  or making peace with this race, there are many ideas: They have the
  shapes of men and may be of the human species, but certainly in their
  present state they approach nearer the character of Devils. (56)

Targets of aggressive bestialization on both official and popular fronts, indigenous people(s) remained objects of intense aggression as the turn of the century approached. An 1890 Aherdeeen Saturday Pioneer article recommends that the government "wipe out these untamed and untamable creatures." (57)

Figured as wildly unpredictable yet instinctually governed, as if but a bit of mechanical nature; perverse and untamable yet to a degree politically domesticable; vengeful and cruel yet possessed of a sense of natural justice; pliable and exploitable yet prone to talionic vengeance; nomadic yet enraged by the dispossession of their traditional homelands; anarchic yet politically inscrutable; (58) a prehistorical relic impeding the progressive march of history yet a doomed race naturally fated to extinction; wolves in sheep's clothing, the fantasy of the indigenous beast was made to bear the burden of colonial/American abjection, to encapsulate all that would need to be eradicated or repressed in the colonial and later American pursuit of autonomization from nature and thereby of purity. Concretized and contained in, thus fantasmatically eliminable along with such an eminently extinguishable figure were the disavowed self-images, along with the persistent fears, of colonial and later American exploiters. Thus aimed at this overdetermined figure were an onslaught of colonial and American discourses and practices through which the aggressors sought to stage an accomplishment of autonomy in which they could not and did not entirely want to believe. Through the overt and much publicized dispossession, destruction, and sadistic punishing of the indigenous-as-beast, colonists and later Americans would make a spectacle of their violent uprooting from nature and history, returning again and again through this theater of cruelty to the anguished excitement of autonomy with which they were ill-equipped to negotiate. (59) Sighs of liberation are shadowed by shudders at uprooting. Mythologized, the indigenous as beast became the permanent platform for colonial/American self-purification enacted through ever-unfinished dispossession and destitution. (60)

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

37(2) 133-150

[C] The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission:

DOI: 10.1177/0304375412445128



(1.) Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark (New York: Random House, 1993), 35.

(2.) Ibid.

(3.) Examples are Columbus's extermination of the Taino population of what is today Haiti and the Dominican Republic; "the 1622 attack by Opechancanough and the Powhatan Confederacy [that] had led whites on the Chesapeake Bay to establish an open hunting season on Indians, a precedent well-known in New England" (cited in Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building [New York: New American Library, 1980], 46); colonial governor Wyatt's attempts at "rooting them out from being longer a people upon the face of the earth" (cited in Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust Denia11492 to the Present [San Francisco: City Lights, 1997], 166); "Cortes' butchery of an estimated 20,000 Mexicans (Aztecs) per day, ultimately putting to the sword more than 300,000, as he set his men to systematically reducing all evidence of their civilization to rubble ... the Spanish system of forced labor (ecomienclo) under which entire American Indian populations were worked to death ... the Virginia Colony's extermination of the Powhatans ... Lord Jeffrey Amherst's 1763 instruction that his subordinates use smallpox to 'extirpate' the Ottawas ... the U.S. Army's replication of the tactic against the Mandans in 1836 ... the 1864 orders of both civil and military authorities in Colorado for the total extermination of the Cheyenees and Arapahoes" (Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide, 63-64). "A bare sampling of some of the worst must include the 1854 massacre of perhaps 150 Lakotas at Blue River (Nebraska), the 1863 Bear River (Idaho) Massacre of some 500 Western Shoshones, the 1864 Sand Creek (Colorado) Massacre of as many as 250 Cheyennes and Arapahoes, the 1868 massacre of another 300 Cheyennes at the Washita River (Okla-homa), the 1875 massacre of about 75 Cheyennes along the Sappa Creek (Kansas)," the 1865 massacre of Paiutes at Mud Lake, "the 1878 massacre of still another 100 Cheyennes at Camp Robinson (Nebraska) ... the 1890 massacre of more than 300 Lakotas at Wounded Knee (South Dakota)," and the internment of Navajos from 1864 to 1868 (killing half) perpetrated by the U.S. military after forcing them to undertake the "Longest Walk," a 400-mile displacement from their ancestral homelands (Lenore Stiffarm and Phil Lane Jr., "The Demography of Native North America: A Question of American Indian Survival," in The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance, ed. M. Annette Jaimes [Boston: South End, 1992], 34). "All told, it is probable that more than one hundred million native people were 'eliminated' in the course of Europe's ongoing 'civilization' of the Western Hemisphere" (cited in Ward Churchill, Indians Are Us? Cultural Genocide in Native North America [Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1994], 30). The indigenous population of the Americas has been decimated by some 90 percent and their lands reduced 98 percent from their original size (Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide, 97).

(4.) Cf. Fletcher v. Peck, 10 U.S. 87 (1810), in which Chief Justice Marshall refers to indigenous lands as "vacant" to secure the legitimacy of American title.

(5.) For criticism of anthropological effacement of American indigenous peoples, see Vine Deloria Jr., "Anthropologists and Other Friends," in his Custer Died For Your Sins (London: Collier-MacMillan, 1969); Stiffarm and Lane, "The Demography of Native North America," (ibid.); and Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest (New York: Norton, 1976). For further analysis of the mutual imbrication of anthropology and foreign policy, see John Borneman, "American Anthropology as Foreign Policy," American Anthropologist 97 (4): 663-72.

(6.) As is manifest in many versions of environmental ethics and American International Relations (IR) theory, contemporary discourses tend to reify the lands as unequivocally American and then concern themselves with how best to negotiate security dilemmas or promote conservationist land management policies Cf. Rosen, "Scandals of Sovereignty," Ethical Perspectives 14, no. 3 (2007): 311-340.

(7.) Henri Lefevres, The Production ("Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1991), 285.

(8.) The very word settlers reverberates with yet rhetorically neutralizes the aggressivity of the colonists; set-tlers sound like people who simply find an unused space and settle down, not people who destroy 97 to 98 percent of an indigenous population in the process of settling in.

(9.) See Richard Grounds, ed., Native Voices: American Indian Identity and Resistance Native Voices: American Indian Identity and Resistance (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2003).

(10.) An example is General Washington's order to "lay waste all the settlements around ... that the country not only be overrun but destroyed, land not to] listen to any overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is effected" (cited in Drinnon, Pacing West, 331-32).

(11.) See Wilcomb Washburn, "Land Claims in the Mainstream of Indian/White Relations," in Irredeemable America: The Indian's Estate and Land Claims, ed. Imre Sutton (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985); H. Rosenthal, Their Day in Court.. A Ilistoty of the Indian Claims commission (New York: Garland, 1990); Margaret Mead and Ruth Bunzel, The Golden Age of American Anthropology: The Growth of the Science of Man on the North American Continent as Told by Those Who Laid the Foundations (New York: George Braziller, 1960); and Hannah Arendt's account of the infinite profitability and desolate wilderness of America in On Revolution (New York: Penguin, 1990).

(12.) Cited in Robert Williams Jr., The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: Discourses of Conquest (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 69.

(13.) Ward Churchill, Struggle for the Land: Native North American Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide and Colonization (San Francisco: City Lights, 2002), 15.

(14.) Cited in Williams, The American Indian in Western Legal Thought, 104.

(15.) It was not just derogatory depictions of indigenous people(s) but also enthusiastic and acclamatory discourses that situated indigenous people(s) as inverted Christo-Europeans. Even those whose experiences with indigenous people(s) impressed them greatly tended to portray indigenous people(s) as the romanticized inverse of European debauchery. Vespucci, for instance, insists that "they deal truly with one another, without laws, without books, without judges" (cited in Williams, The American Indian in Western Legal Thought, 127). Likewise, Richard Eden, who published the first English translation of Amerigo Vespucci's accounts of "the New World" in the midsixteenth century, renders indigenous people(s) as "a smooth and bare table unpainted ... upon which you may at the first paint or write what you list, as you cannot upon tables already painted" (cited in Williams, The American Indian in Western Legal Thought, 130-31).

(16.) In 1820, Daniel Webster extols, "now more than a million of people, descendents of New England ancestors, [are] living free and happy, in regions which scarce sixty years ago were tracts of unpenetrated forests. Nor do rivers, or mountains, or seas resist the progress of industry and enterprise. Ere long, the sons of the Pilgrims will be on the shores of the Pacific" (cited in Daniel Richter, Facing East from Indian Country [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001], 244). With an explicitness that was possible (again) only once America was assured of its status as a sovereign nation-state among others, in 1903 the Sioux Falls Press editorialized, "The Cheyenne River Reservation is ripe for opening. The white people need the lands and the Indians are making no good use of them and would be infinitely better off without them" (cited in Fergus Bordewich, Killing the White Man's Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century [New York: Anchor, 1997], 122).

(17.) Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide, 87.

(18.) Ibid, 103.

(19.) Indigenous warfare tactics were utilized by the colonial/American revolutionary army; so too was a traditional indigenous method of raising a volunteer army via persuasion rather than draft. See Bruce Johansen, Forgotten Founders: Benjamin Franklin, the Iroquois and the Rationale for the American Revolution (Ipswich, MA: Gambit, 1982), 117 ff. Colonial crops were borrowed from indigenous peoples such as the Pequot and Pennoboscott and used expansively throughout the colonies; indeed, "two-thirds of vegetal foodstuffs now commonly consumed by humanity were undeniably under cultivation in the Americas and nowhere else at the time of the 'Columbian landfall!" Ward Churchill, Fantasies of the Master Race: Literature, Cinema, and the Colonization of American Indians (San Francisco: City Lights, 1998), 176; see also Jack Weatherford, Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1988). There were, of course, numerous cartographic dialogues between explorers/exploiters and their indigenous guides. The colonial context was rife with Euro-indigenous dialogical interactivity. However, rather than acknowledge their dependency on indigenous people(s) and their practices of agriculture, mapping (see J. B. Harley and David Woodward, eds., The History of Cartography [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987]), and politics (such as the Iroquois Constitution, which was intensely studied by a number of colonists and parts of which bear a striking resemblance to aspects of the American Constitution; see Johansen, Forgotten Founders), colonialists desperately attempted to stabilize and secure the separation of Indian and European, disavowing the dependency of the colonial regime on the hospitality and know-how of indigenous people(s).

(20.) Vine Deloria Jr. and Clifford M. Lytle, American Indians, American Justice (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983), 9.

(21.) Cited in Virgil Vogel, ed., This Country Was Ours: A Documentary History of the American Indian (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), 35.

(22.) Vine Deloria Jr., "Self-determination and the Concept of Sovereignty," in Native American Sovereignty, ed. John Wunder (New York: Garland, 1999), 22.

(23.) Vine Deloria Jr., Custer Died ibis Your Sins (London: Collier-MacMillan, 1969), 204.

(24.) Ibid., 86.

(25.) Williams, The American Indian in Western Legal Thought, 207.

(26.) Ibid., 208. Repeated and normalized across the centuries, such techniques would later be deployed in American efforts to secure a legitimate land base. Consider the 1851 Fort Laramie treaty, for instance. After the Sioux refused to select a single leader to represent them, American negotiators chose Conquering Bear and worked out a treaty

with him that they maintained was binding on all Sioux. Or as an American agent to Osage in 1877 recalls, "several men of the tribe, regardless of character, are recognized as the representative men of the tribe, and through them its business with the agent and Government is transacted" (cited in Deloria and Lytle, American Indians, American Justice, 95). Generally, "finding a man at treaty-signing time was no problem. The most pliant man who could easily be bribed was named chief and the treaty was signed" (Deloria, Custer Died for Your Sins, 204-205). Those designated in modern parlance as "hang around the forts" habitually stayed "rather close to the nearest army post, all the better to be in position to sign instruments conveying land to the United States. In exchange for such 'services,' they were officially designated as 'leaders of their people' by various government commissions" and offered a modicum of compensation for their services (Churchill, Indians Are Us? 286). Later repercussions of this tradition border on the absurd. For instance, U.S. courts would rule against indigenous claims on the grounds that the indigenous peoples of California have "no tribal laws or regulations, and no organization or means of enforcing any such laws or regulations. The only sort of communal organization or semblance of political autonomy it has consists of the fact that one of them has the title of 'Captain,' and is treated as their leader or spokesman and receives some deference and respect on that account. But he has no authority. Disputes are sometimes submitted to him for settlement, but his decisions are considered wholly advisory. Each party accepts or rejects them as he chooses, and there is neither enforcement nor means of enforcement thereof" (Anderson v. Mathews, 174 Cal 537 [1917)). Looking to the "captain" who arose to appease European desires and was often never taken all too seriously by the community, the court could not discern the political structures of indigenous communities and assumed they simply had none. Similarly, the Temoak Band of Shoshones filed a claim in 1951 under the Indian Court of Claims Act that did not require that a claim filed represent the majority of the people in whose name it was filed and was vehemently rejected by traditionals (those refusing to subject their status as community members to the federal recognitive regime). Recognizing their mistake, the Temoak council attempted to withdraw this claim in 1976, yet the Indian Court of Claims held in 1979 that the Western Shoshone lands would be exchanged for monetary compensation despite the desires of the traditionals who were never represented and even the current desires of those who had once voted in favor of the proposal. The Western Shoshane refused to accept the terms of the settlement, and the Ninth Circuit Court agreed that since they did not accept compensation, their land title was still valid. However, this posture was reversed by the Supreme Court's ruling that the U.S. federal government had already accepted the money as their trustee.

(27.) John Grier Varner and Jeanette Johnson Varner, Dogs of Conquest (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983), 193.

(28.) Of course, such identificatory investments were, in many cases, feeble resistances to direct participation in gruesome atrocities.

(29.) Emblematically, Tocqueville claims that "although the vast country that I have been describing was inhabited by many indigenous tribes, it may justly be said, at the time of its discovery by Europeans, to have formed one great desert" (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1 [New York: Vintage, 1945], 26).

(30.) Simon Ortiz, From Sand Creek: Rising in This Heart Which Is Our America (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2000).

(31.) Deloria, Custer Died for Your Sins, 8.

(32.) Drinnon, Facing West, xii-xiii.*

(33.) Deloria, Custer Died for Your Sins, 6.

(34.) Cited in Williams, The American Indian in Western Legal Thought, 316.

(35.) "The European image of 'culture' has for centuries used monuments and buildings as the most significant markers [of civilization] ... Those, for example, who dwelled in forests have had no significant culture for people whose gaze fails to discern the lineaments of culture in the spatial practices of peoples dwelling in areas with limited clearings" (cited in Michael Shapiro, Violent Cartographies [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997], 23). In his travel geography, Richard Hakluyt repeatedly claims, echoing the Roman principle of ten itorium resnullins, that the right of conquest is justified by the lack of civilization throughout "the New World." Leslie Cormack, "Geography and the State in Elizabethan England," in Geography and Empire, ed. Anne Godlewska and Neil Smith (Cambridge, UK: Blackwell, 1994), 13-30.

(36.) The "father of American physical anthropology," Samuel G. Morton, would later claim that indigenous peoples are "inherently endowed with a 'peculiar and eccentric moral constitution' in which 'wildness' was an indelible racial trait" (Bordewich, Killing the White Man's Indian, 183).

(37.) David Campbell, Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), 111.

(38.) Churchill, Indians Are Us? 332. See also William Stanton, The Leopard's Spots: Scientific Attitudes toward Race in America, 1815-59 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960).

(39.) Cited in Williams, The American Indian in Western Legal Thought, 210. Notice the strain on Gray's efforts to bestialize indigenous people(s): he speaks of beasts and brutish savages, "which," rather than "who," have no interest in, that is, rightful claim on, their lands but also speaks of the hands of these beasts, not paws.

(40.) Similarly, although in his 1625 Discourse on Virginia, Samuel Puchas claims that the indigenous "range rather than inhabite" their "unmanned wild country" (cited in Williams, The American Indian in Western Legal Thought, 218), in a 1688 letter, he describes "the savage" who "likes more to roam around than to take the trouble to cultivate the lands" (cited in Georgiana C. Narnmack, Fraud, Politics, and Dispossession of the Indians: The Iroquois Land Frontier in the Colonial Period [Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969], 20; emphasis added). A telling legacy of this ambiguous imaginary is the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior: it handles both wildlife and indigenous peoples.

(41.) John Locke, Second Treatise on Government, ed. C. B. Macpherson (Cambridge, UK: Hackett, 1980), 26. As a secretary to the proprietors of the Carolina colony who assisted in writing the colony's first constitution, Locke's influence was not just academic.

(42.) The designation ethnoecocide attempts to register the ways in which the destruction or major modification of ecosystems was experienced as, and sometimes pursed because they would be experienced as, assaults on indigenous communities living in connection and collaboration with the(ir) lands, animals, waterways, and so forth. As (Paiute) Joe Ely said before the Senate Subcommittee on Power and Water in 1990, "when we talk of the water it must be understood that it is a major component of our identity and way of life whose components are the people--cui-tri-tuccatta, the lake--cui-uipah--and the fish, cui-ui" (cited in Bordewich, Killing the White Man's. Indian, 148). Likewise, Katherine Smith, an elder from the Big Mountain region of the Joint-Use Area (JUA), informed Senate inquirers in 1972 that she would "never leave the land, this sacred place. The land is part of me ... All that has meaning is here (cited in Churchill, Struggle for the Land, 151). As Vine Deloria Jr. describes the "tribal-communal way of life," it "views land as the most vital part of [humanity's] ... existence. It is THEIRS. It supports them, tells them how to live, and defines for the HOW they live. Land ... provides a center of the universe for the group that lives on it. As such, the people who hold land in this way always have a home to go to. Their identity is secure. They live with it and do not abstract themselves from it and live off it" (Vine Deloria Jr., We Talk, You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf [New York: Macmillan, 1970], 175). Explicit ethnoecocidal aggression persisted from the beginnings of colonization through the early days of American independence (and onward), as exemplified by the 1779 scorched-earth campaign embarked upon by the U.S. Army throughout the Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga lands. in this campaign, Major General Sullivan decimated fields, houses, and orchards in an undifferentiated attack on indigenous bodies and lands. General Clark did much of the same in 1780 against the Shawnees and others, as did General "Mad Anthony" Wayne in 1794 as he burned much of the Shawnee heartland. Similarly, the 1860s Kit Carson Campaign "featured a scorched earth policy directed at such targets as the Dine sheep herds and the peach orchards which had been carefully established over several generations" (Churchill, Struggle for the Land, 135). The pursuit of eth-noecocide gives the lie to those who claimed to understand indigenous people(s) as mere menageries of beasts wandering vast tracts of lands.

(43.) Cited in Michael Kammen, People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 34.

(44.) Emblematically, William Petty's 1677 The Scale of Creatures situates "savages" between "men" and "animals proper" but does not allow this liminal category to unsettle its dualistic confidence (William Petty, The Collected Works of Sir William Petty [London: Routledge/Thoemmes, 1997]).

(45.) Cited in Drinnon, Facing West, 53.

(46.) Edward Waterhouse, A Declaration of the State of the Colony and Affaires in Virginia (London: imprinted by G. Eld., 1662), 23; emphasis added.

(47.) Cited in Drinnon, Facing West, 53.

(48.) Sovereignty is perhaps best thought of in a constitutive relation not with "bare life," that is, the needs and violability of organic being, but with life that can be bestialized, held in liminal precarity between the human and the animal, abandoned to a zone of indistinction where it is unreservedly exposed to all one might want to call this placeless place the birthplace of secular modernity; it is certainly an unmarked mass grave. To consider sovereignty the ultimate site of decision that asserts and thereby enacts a distinction between friend and foe may be to participate in sovereignty's fantasy of itself. What the figure of the bestialized reveals is that the manner of his or her treatment is ultimately decided not by a sovereign but by anyone. The withdrawal of the sovereign ban abandons us to ourselves.

(49.) John Burgoyne, Orderly Book of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne, ed. E. B. O'Callagahan (Albany, NY: J. Munsell, [1777] 1860), xxii.

(50.) George Washington, "Letter to James Duane," in The Washington Papers, ed. Saul Padover (New York: Harper and Bros., 1955), 355.

(51.) John Adams, "Adams to Secretary of State James Monroe Sept 5, 1814," in Writings of John Quincy Adams, Vol. 5, ed. Worthington Ford (New York: Macmillan, 1915), 110-21.

(52.) In Fletcher v. Peck (1810), Chief Justice John Marshall argues that at least in certain instances, indigenous lands not cultivated can be construed as unowned and be subject to annexation or appropriation by the states. Lands west of King George Ill's 1763 Proclamation line were deemed "vacant" even though indigenous people were living on/with them and had never ceded them.

(53.) Francis Prucha, ed., Documents of United States Indian Policy (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975), 228.

(54.) An example, as was proclaimed on the congressional floor, is the following: "Congress must apprise the Indian that he can no longer stand as a breakwater against the constant tide of civilization ... An idle thriftless race of savages cannot be permitted to stand guard at the treasure vaults of the nation" (U.S. Senate, congressional Globe. appendix 74, 27th Congress, 2nd sess. [Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1846]). See also Anders Stephanson, Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995). Note in passing that "Hitler took note of Native Americans, indigenous people of the Americas, specifically within the area of the U.S. and Canada. He used the treatment of native people, the policies and processes that were imposed upon them, as a model for what he articulated as being Lebensraumpolitik, the politics of living space. In essence, Hitler took the notion of a drive from east to west, clearing the land as the invading population went and resettling it with Anglo-Saxon stock, primarily, as a model by which he drove from west to east into Russia, displacing, relocating, dramatically shifting or liquidating populations to clear the land and replace it with what he called 'superior breeding stock,' meaning Germanic peoples" (Ward Churchill, interview with David Barsamian, Z-Magazine, December 1995,

(55.) Caleb Atwater, The Indians of the Northwest, Their Manners, Customs, &c. (Columbus, 1850), 256, cited in Vogel, This Country Was Ours. 107.

(56.) H. H. Brackenridge, Indian Atrocities: Narratives of the Perils and Sufferings of Dr. Knight and John Slaver among the Indians (1867), cited in Vogel, This Country Was Ours, 103-106. Much later, in 1945, giving juridical-institutional shape and authority to the bestialization of indigenous peoples, Justice Jackson in Northwest Bands determines that indigenous peoples do not constitute nations, states, polities, ethnic or racial groups, or even communities but are mere "menageries." For a synopsis of the case, see David Wilkins, American Indian Sovereignty and the U.S. Supreme Court (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997), 136-65. Compare John Stuart Mill: "a savage tribe consists of a handful of individuals, wandering or thinly scattered over a vast tract of country" (John Stuart Mill, Essays on Politics and Culture, ed. Gertrude Himmelfarb (New York: Doubleday, 1962), 52.

(57.) Cited in Churchill, Indians Are Us? 316.

(58.) "To the extent that the Americas were the 'New World,' there could be no interest in the study of its antiquities. Although civilizations had existed there for millennia, there was no attempt to recover their history. Moreover, this inattention was overdetermined by the European assumption that the peoples had no historical texts. Their literary media for example writing in such forms as knotted ropes and pictorial narratives like those on the wampum belts--[which signified social status, territorial claims, bonds of solidarity among communities, treaty records, and on which were inscribed myths of community origin] did not fit within the genres of what Europeans recognized as texts" (Shapiro, Violent Cartographies, 22). Apparently not aware of the function of wompompeage it could hardly have been the case that they were not noticed because "at midcentury, as many as 3 million individual wampum beads were in circulation in the countries of the Five Nations Iroquois alone, nearly 300 for each man, woman, and child" (Richter, Facing East from Indian Country, 45-46)--with which many indigenous people(s) would "pay tribute, redeem captives, satisfy for murders and other wrongs, and purchase peace with their potent neighbors" (Gookin, Historical Collections, 12, cited in Richter, Facing East from Indian Country, 45); confusing a lack of conventional titles with a total lack of proprietary claims; failing to discern that even "the Great Law was not wholly unwritten before its transcription into English during the late 19th century ... Its provisions were recorded on wampum belts that were used during council meetings whenever disputes arose over procedure, or over the provisions of the law itself," or that wampum were "also used to record many other important events, such as contracts and other agreements" (Johansen, Forgotten Founders, 29), Europeans time and again conflated nonconformity with their expectations of textual presence with the full-fledged nonexistence of indigenous texts. Failing to discern that "the Gayaneshagowa, or Great Binding Law of the Five Nations was a written constitution created by the Iroquois [on sacred wampum belts] and enunciated such democratic ideals and doctrines as initiative, recall, referendum, and equal suffrage" (Deloria and Lytle, American Indians, American Justice, 82); that written histories existed in the form of petroglyphs, wood and tusk carvings, and wintercounts recorded on animal skin; that "having continuously occupied the continent for at least 50,000 years, the native inhabitants evidenced a total population of perhaps 15 million, cities as large as the 40,000-resident urban center at Cahokoa ... highly advanced conceptions of architecture and engineering" (cited in Ward Churchill, From a Native Son: Selected Essays on Indigenism, 1985-1995 [Boston: South End, 1996], 21), Europeans remained steadfast in their conviction that indigenous peoples were coextensive with the space in which they were "found" and subject to rightful plunder. As Harley and Woodward explain, "just as Indian maps were often destroyed, so too were the traces on an Indian geography frequently eradicated from the space of European maps. The maps increasingly convey, through the articulation of the blank spaces and terra incognita, the assumption of an uninscribed earth. Later, in North America, they would contribute to the myth of an empty frontier." Harley and Woodward, The History of Cartography, 5.

(59.) Consider the following. The Pequot War "established the credibility of the English will to exterminate, lessened the likelihood of 'conspiracies' to resist their rule ... [and] established a peace based on terror that lasted more or less four decades" (Drinnon, Facing West, 48). Subsequent to the massacre, the slain bodies of the Pequots were circulated within a colonial regime of terror in which they were made to function as warnings against resisting the will of the colonizers. Enveloped in an insistently bestializing discourse, "the Pequots were 'rooted out' as a tribe" and subject to ethnoecocidal extermination. "There would have been no known living members of that tribe had the colonizers had their way" (Drinnon, Facing West, 55). Although certainty, the colonists "sought ... to cut off the Remembrance of them from the Earth'" after the war, "the General Assembly of Connecticut declared the name [Pequots] extinct" (Drinnon, Facing West, 55) and "the word 'Pequot' was ... removed from English maps: the river of that name was changed to the Thames and the town of that name became New London" (David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World [London: Oxford University Press, 1992], 115)-paradoxically, the colonialist venture was to maintain the memory of the vanquished Pequots as a testament to the vengeful might of the English. It seems that the English strategy was at once to decimate the Pequots and overlay their lands with English markings and to preserve the absence of the Pequots from the(ir) lands, rendering the absence conspicuous. For colonialism to proceed unencumbered, the Pequots would have to be destroyed and indigenous cartographies would have to be reduced to the enticing space of colonial adventure, yet the status of these lands as historically Pequot would have to be preserved to secure an abiding memorial to the profundity of English might. Paradoxically, to be recognized as such, sovereignty is bound to preserve, even as it effaces, the memory of its victims.

(60.) However, at least in the early American context, the bestialization of and consequent withdrawal of property rights from indigenous people(s) came under extreme pressure, indeed to the point where such bestialization and expropriation would be consistently concealed from international perception. Shortly after the American Revolution, securing legitimate land transfers from indigenous people(s) would become imperative; thus, indigenous people(s) would have to be treated, or at least shown to be treated, as property rights-bearing beings, for American land claims would be acknowledged by European hegemons only if the lands were legitimately purchased (or claimed as the spoils of a just war). Although Deloria, Churchill, and many other indigenous American scholars conclude that the need for legitimate land transfers induced early colonists and/or early Americans to recognize indigenous people(s) as humans bestowed with natural rights and as such entitled to alienate their lands, this seems unlikely. Recognition of indigenous people(s) as property rights bearing was, as we have seen, occasionally expedient to colonial interests, as it would be to early American interests. And it was certainly compatible with appropriations occurring more or less covertly in other contexts under the auspices of conquest, more efficient use, or lack of human habitation. This peculiar moment in the history of Americanindigenous relations will be detailed in a forthcoming companion article. The following is just one detail for now: the (English) Ordinance of 1787 designated certain North American lands as unequivocally belonging to indigenous people(s) and announced the punishments that would fall on British colonists intruding into or attempting to illicitly appropriate these lands.

Adam Rosen-Carole (1)

(1.) Department of Philosophy, Bard College, New York, USA

Corresponding Author:

Adam Rosen-Carole, Department of Philosophy, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, USA



Adam Rosen-Carole is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute.
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Author:Rosen-Carole, Adam
Publication:Alternatives: Global, Local, Political
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Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:May 1, 2012
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