Native America: Discovered and Conquered
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Native America: Discovered and Conquered

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September 12, 2009

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Professor Robert J. Miller, sits down for one full hour to talk about his book Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and Manifest Destiny.

Robert J. Miller is an Associate Professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. He is the Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon and sits as a judge for other tribes.

A citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, Professor Miller speaks regularly on issues regarding tribal governments, and the Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, Thomas Jefferson and the Lewis & Clark expedition.

In this interview, which first aired on Washington state public television in 2007, Professor Miller explores the international legal principle known as the “the Doctrine of Discovery” and the ways it has been applied to the creation, development, and maintenance of the American state.

In effect, the doctrine of discovery, based on a set of Papal edicts (Inter Cateara, Rominus Pontifex and others) issued by the Church in the 1400s—and the subsequent Treaty of Tordesillas between Portugal and Spain—gave European Christians legal right over all lands occupied by non-Christian peoples.

At least one of the Papal bulls asserted that non-Christians were not human beings, and thus could not occupy lands. The doctrine, in turn, gave Christians the legal right to claim the “unoccupied” lands by merely setting foot on it (“discovering it” before other Christians).

While the dogmatic nature of the Doctrine of Discovery has been replaced with the assumed-inherent power of the state, the doctrine has remain fixed in place. Even now, it holds the framework for Canada’s “Aboriginal policy”, for Australia’s “Intervention”, and for America’s legal denial of genuine tribal sovereignty.

Corporations are also heavily reliant on the doctrine, exercising it on a daily basis. Even now there are scores of well-paid professionals combing the earth for mineral deposits to claim–all of whom carry ittle colored flags. Many of these companies act as if their projects are “inevitable” (as if ordained by God) and that indigenous people simply can’t of have any land rights of their own, for one reason or another (usually, because they are not “civilized”).

Professor Miller doesn’t explore these latter points, but it’s worth keeping them in mind, as he examines the historical use of the doctrine in America.

For more information about his book, Native America, Discovered and Conquered, visit Professor Miller’s blog at Thanks to Jay Taber for listing this video on his blog.

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