Steve Melendez 'The Tale of the Three Dictionaries'
By Steve Melendez, Paiute
President, American Indian Genocide Museum
In 2007 the Houston Public Library had a used book sale. There were bargains galore on every subject you could imagine. We would go every year and in the history section you could always find books on Native Americans. When I first got to Texas in the 1970s, I had a bit of a culture shock because it seemed like there were no Native Americans. One of the books I would always see at these used book sales was entitled The Indians of Texas. What really got my attention was the chapter called “Extermination”. The title of that chapter pretty much put the history of Texas in a nutshell. It answered my question as to why there were so few Indians in Texas. For example, when the second President of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, delivered his first message to the Texas Congress, on December 21, 1838, he spoke of, “…an exterminating war upon their warriors, which will admit of no compromise and have no termination except in their total extinction or total expulsion”.
As a young boy, I used to wonder how we once owned everything and now the whites own practically everything. As it turns out, the answer is as complex as it is diabolical. It seems that this idea of extermination of a race of people took a century of the English studying how the Spanish did it and by the time Texas was settled, they had another century to learn from the mistakes made in the thirteen original colonies along the east coast. The trick for the English was to do it, but not to be found guilty of doing it. Even before the English landed at Jamestown in 1607, they had a plan to play one tribe against another. Soon after arriving at Jamestown, John Smith suggested to the chief, an alliance to go and fight his enemies. The chief wisely responded that he could fight his own battles. American history is a history of deception. In 1578, Richard Hakluyt, the lawyer wrote, “Nothing is more to be endeavored with the Inland people than familiarity. For so may you best discover all the natural commodities of their country, and also all their wants, all their strengths, all their weaknesses, and with whom they are at war, and with whom confederate, with peace and amity, and which known, you may work many great effects of great consequence…if change of religion or civil wars should happen in the realm, which are things of great benefit”.
Today, the deception of hiding history takes on the form of books being removed from libraries or edited to hide the truth. At the book sale in 2007, I came across a Black’s Law Dictionary 7th Edition. To begin with, I had no idea there was such a thing as a “law dictionary”. The first word I looked up was the word, “treaty”. The definition was, “an agreement, league, or contract between nations or sovereigns” and also said it was the “supreme law of the land” as stated in article 6 of the U.S. Constitution. This book was very enlightening and thorough because it also said that a treaty had to be ratified by the Senate and signed by the president of the United States. In the appendix of this book, it also had one of the U.N. Declarations. I believe it was on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. I could be wrong because I no longer have the book. My brother, Arlan was on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at the time and I thought he needed it more than I did. I remember trying to get him to at least say something about the Western Shoshone and their Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863 and I thought this book would influence him. I finally found another one on Amazon.com but it was the Sixth Edition printed in 1990. It was in this old dictionary that I finally came across this definition of the word, “discovery”. With a little investigation, I found that this very important definition is missing from the Eighth Edition. Out of curiosity I texted my brother and asked him if this definition of “discovery” was in his Seventh Edition of Black’s Law Dictionary. The definition I was looking for said, ”Discovery, International Law: As the foundation for a claim of national ownership or sovereignty, discovery is the finding of a country, continent, or island previously unknown or previously known only to its uncivilized inhabitants”. Well, it wasn’t in his dictionary. It appears to me, that they, the powers that be, printed this racist and discriminatory law only for the 500 year anniversary of Columbus’ alleged discovery of America. This definition is found only in the 1990 printing of Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition. When the lawyers representing William M’Intosh presented their position before the Supreme Court in 1823 they said, the Indians were, “an inferior race of people, without the privileges of citizens”. Why do we have such a racist law hidden in out of print law books today? Because the Supreme Court took that argument right out of the mouths of the land speculators such as M’Intosh and made it it’s own. It validated colonial law and ruled, “…discovery gave exclusive title to those who made it”. The speculators loss was the federal government’s gain of plenary power over all land.
If you think about America’s hidden history of genocide, the mandate for race wars is hidden in this law of discovery. If you have a stranger suddenly showing up on the horizon, strutting around like he owns the place, or course the landowners who have lived here for thousands of years are going to fight. If we don’t learn from history and teach it to our children, as the philosopher, George Santayana once said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. The effects of this law played out again recently at Standing Rock, with the Indians being called trespassers and terrorists. The effects of this law can be seen in every action this government takes towards the Indians. As they used water cannons on the Indians in freezing temperatures, they were offering $1.3 billion dollars in exchange for their treaty rights. The amount of money was based on “the time of taking”, a euphemism for “the time of discovery”. The original $17 million (one dollar an acre) has grown with interest since the 1970s. Along with the cash, they are now offering “trust land”, another euphemism for, “the right to occupy federal land”. The BIA officials would say, “Take the money, you are not selling the land.” That is what the BIA officials told the Paiutes and Western Shoshone of Nevada, “Take the money, you are not selling the land”. There is a reason our ancestors gave men like these, the name, “forked-tongued devils”.
What is “trust Land”? In order to discover the stark reality of the situation, you can either believe Sen. Harry Reid or you can look up the legal definition of “Indian land”. According to Black’s 8th Edition it is, “Land owned by the United States but held in trust for and used by American Indians”. We must realize that the law of discovery, (Johnson v. M’Intosh), is not just one law but a mindset of racist Jim Crow laws in the 21st Century. Now, you can either believe the white man bearing gifts or you can look up the forked-tongued definition of, “Indian title” as found in Black’s 6th and 8th Editions. The Eighth Edition definition says, “’A right of occupancy that the federal government grants to an American Indian tribe…” but censored was a phrase found in the Sixth Edition which read, “it is mere possession not specifically recognized as ownership and may be extinguished by the federal government at any time.”
It is like the fairy tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” with the Indian chief parading down the street thinking he is covered with fine garments of sovereignty until the little boy shouts, “The Emperor has no clothes on!”
The grand scheme behind Richard Hakluyt’s 1578 plan of, “civil wars” being “of great benefit” has always been, as it is now, death by semantics. They wanted the Indians dead but they wanted them to kill themselves off. Today, it is a war of words. The tale of the three dictionaries illustrates the constantly moving, ever changing definitions which are the semantics of dispossession. Gone from the 8th Edition, but present in the 6th Edition is the phrase defining “Indian Reservation”. It says, “public domain …under the superintendence of the government which retains title to the land”.
The white man owns everything because he “discovered” it? Anything that unreasonable should not be law, and anyone who does not protest the government’s refusal to honor treaties is a part of the bamboozlement. Thirty eight years ago, I wrote to the Nevada State Journal that the government had tricked the Indians into filing a lien against the government’s title with the formation of the Indian Claims Commission, which we now know, was based on this doctrine of discovery.
I think if we can get our leaders to as least say something about an obviously white supremacist law, it would go a long way in forcing America to fulfill its promise of liberty and justice for all.
Steve Melendez, Paiute
President, American Indian Genocide Museum