Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Doctrine of Discovery, Part III: Who's indigenous, who's a colonizer?

A 2010 Arizona law, SB1070, criminalizes offenses against federal immigration rules and requires police to ask anyone they stop for papers proving their legal status. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio enforces the law in draconian ways. Ironically, Arpaio was himself born to Italian immigrants and wouldn’t have had his successful life if his parents hadn’t come to the United States. Sounds like Joe Arpaio was an anchor baby!  Churches and civil rights groups have been protesting SB1070 and its harsh enforcement.
After they were both arrested in 2010 for protesting SB1070, the Rev Colin Bossen, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland, interviewed his cellmate Tupac Enrique Acosta, an invited guest at the Unitarian Universalist 2012 General Assembly.   Acosta is a founding member of the UUA’s Arizona partner organization Tonatierra.  The Acosta quotes are from a blog by Bossen.
According to Acosta, “The purpose of SB1070 was to consolidate the perceptions of some white Americans around an America that is white in a continent that belongs to them.” Yes, the law is racist, since Latinos are more likely to be stopped.
Acosta further states, “SB1070 would not exist without the Doctrine [of Discovery].”  The Doctrine of Discovery was a series of papal bulls issued between 1452 and 1493 stating that when Christians discovered a land inhabited by non-Christians, the Christians had the right to kill or enslave the native inhabitants and seize their land. Not only does the Doctrine of Discovery take the fall in some eyes for the sorry state of today’s Indians, Acosta’s notion that it’s responsible for  SB1070 is specious, along with the remainder of his logic. The desire to restrict jobs and government benefits to those who are legal citizens is reason enough for such a law.  If the United States repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, would SB1070 be repealed?  I think not.
Acosta explains how the bill penalizes native indigenous people: “SB1070 is designed to enforce a border that divides not only the United States and Mexico, but the indigenous peoples who belong to the Uto-Aztecan language group.  They have been moving back and forth between what is now the US and Mexico long before either country existed.  SB1070 criminalizes their traditional freedom of movement.” However, modern nation-states have defined borders in contrast to nomadic hunter-gatherers.  Bills, unfortunately so far unsuccessful, have been introduced in Congress to make all enrolled Tohono O’odham tribal members United States citizens.
Doug Muder of the UUWorld quotes Acosta: “indigenous people are not immigrants.”    Can indigenous people ignore borders because they’re just migrating from one part of their territory to another?
“The struggle against SB1070 is the continuing indigenous struggle against colonialism.”   For Acosta, the Mexican and Central American migrants are also indigenous, although many Mexicans and Central Americans  are descendants of the Spanish conquistadores, hence aren’t truly indigenous. Moreover, citizens of the United States aren’t mounting a colonization campaign into Mexico, which has its own immigration restrictions. Finally, the Doctrine of Discovery assigned land to Spanish Christians who proselytized the Mexicans.  We now have two semi-Christian nations and according to the Doctrine of Discovery, you shouldn’t steal from other Christians.
“We didn’t come to legalize ourselves before the state of Arizona.  We came to legalize Arizona; colonization is illegal,” says Acosta. “If we’re going to legalize Arizona we have to decolonize Arizona.” Does decolonizing Arizona mean all non-indigenous (per Acosta’s definition?)  people have to leave?  I hear an echo of ethnic cleansing. Giving the country back to the Indians would cause more injustice than it would fix.  Similarly,  reparations to the slaves who were likewise victims of the Doctrine of Discovery is a nice idea in theory, but after five generations, impractical as well us unfair to carry it out.
It takes a lot of resources to pursue and punish migrants, even though they’re kept in tents and fed only twice a day.  Rather than squander resources on a futile goal to keep “them” out of  “our”  country, why not use those resources to help migrants become contributing, legal citizens?
Because Acosta connects SB1070 with the Doctrine of Discovery, Bossen lauds him as a theologian. On the contrary, Acosta comes across like a politician.
Acosta’s calling attention to the Doctrine of Discovery focuses attention on injustice committed in its name, and that’s good. But rather than concentrating on the Doctrine of Discovery itself, it makes more sense to think of the Doctrine of Discovery as one expression of a meme, an idea, concept, or cultural norm that’s passed along from person to person. The Doctrine of Discovery meme says powerful people have the right to take land and resources from weaker people.  The meme itself is what we need to repudiate, not the Doctrine of Discovery.
A second meme is buried in the Doctrine of Discovery.  The Doctrine of Discovery separated Christians [worthy people] from non-Christians [unworthy people].   Acosta reasserts this separation meme when he separates indigenous from colonizers.
We Unitarian Universalists affirm the inherent worth of every person and justice for all.  We are all one human race.  Todos somos una raza.

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