THE INDIANS AND THE WHITE MAN….Whose Land Is It?


(A point of view we seldom hear but worth consideration.)

At this point the following questions might be asked: What about the Indians? Weren’t they here first? Didn’t we (the white race) take this land away from the Indian? Doesn’t the Indian have the rightful title to America?

Since we are dealing with a conflict between two nations or races, the white race and the Indian race, we need to turn to the Law of Nations or International Law for the solution. The following are some basic maxims of the International Law:

FIRST: That every nation possesses and exclusive sovereignty and jurisdiction in its own territory.

SECOND: That no state or nation can by its law directly affect or bind property that lies outside of its own territory, or persons not resident therein.

THIRD: That whatever force the laws of one country have in another depends solely on the municipal laws of the latter.(5)

The first principle listed here would seem to suggest that all of America was the possession of the Indians prior to the age of discovery of the white race. However, the Indians never laid claim to all the “territory” of America because they had no understanding of its size and boundaries. The Indian only claimed the land he was inhabiting and that which he used for hunting, burial, etc. At the time of discovery (circa 1500 A.D.), the American Indian numbered about 700,000 inhabitants, sparsely scattered over what is now America. Thus the Indians never had a legal claim to much more than 3% of the land at any one time. So it can be said that the Indians did have a legal claim to America, 3% of it, which was considered their “own territory.”

In light of this, it cannot be said that the white race violated the second principle of International Law either, since 97% of America was not legally the “property” of anyone. When America was claimed by the English, French, and Spanish, they claimed the entire breadth and width of the land, from sea to sea, from one boundary to the next. However, the lands that the Indians occupied within these European claims were still Indian land.

It must also be addressed as to whether the white man encroached upon and took possession of the lands that were legally claimed by the Indian. The third maxim of International Law says we have to look at the Indian’s law, and that whatever measures or acts the white man took in regards to Indian land must be pursuant to Indian law. The following are some of the laws that were generally held by the Indians:

1. It was a law common among Indians that the stronger of two tribes or people (nations) has the right to conquer and subdue the weaker.

2. Under Indian common law it was understood that land claims existed by inhabiting the land and by any use of the land.

3. When any land was unoccupied or not used for one year, the land was free for anyone to claim and settle.

This first law of the Indian could actually render all other arguments of land rights academic. This law was almost a way of life with the Indian, which is why they were always warring among themselves. The wars and conflicts between the white race and the Indian race throughout history were numerous, and the fact that the white race was the stronger cannot be doubted.

According to the third Indian law listed, the white man, or any man or nation, had the right to possess the vast lands that were uninhabited or unclaimed by the Indian in America. Since the Indians never claimed the American continent from Atlantic to Pacific the lands claimed by right of discovery are valid. Thus, the only legal conflict that can exist lies with the 3% of land the Indian had a legal claim to in America, in accordance to the second Indian law listed.

In spite of the legal right the white race has to America we often are confronted with the anti-American propaganda that the white race wronged the Indian by attacking and killing them and driving them out of their land. We thus need to look at the first conflicts that existed between the Indians and the colonial settlers. A summary of these first conflicts shows they were always initiated by the Indians:(6)

• Shortly after the first colony was established at Jamestown in 1607, the settlers were attacked by the Indians, who wounded seventeen men and killed one boy.

• After the above conflict, peaceful relations prevailed, due to the wise policy of the Captain John Smith and the good will of Powhatan, head chief of the Indian Confederacy. When Powhatan died in 1618, his brother Opechancanough, who disliked the English, began to plot war. In March 1622, the Indian tribes went on the warpath, and swept through a line of settlements marked by a trail of blood. In the white settlements, nearly 400 men, women, and children, were cruelly put to death before the ravages of the Indians could be checked.

• For 22 years after the massacre of 1622 there was peace. But Opechancanouch, at last head chief, only waited for another opportunity. In 1644, there was a civil war in England, and he through the expected moment was at hand. The massacre he waged left over 300 white settlers slain in two days. Again the white took up arms in defense, and in 1646 the aged chief himself was taken and killed – there was never again a general uprising in Virginia.

• In the Plymouth colony, a peace compact was established between the Indian chief Massasiot and Governor Carver. As time went on, the friendly old chief died. When his son, King Philip, came to be ruler of the Wampanoag tribe, trouble began to brew for the colonists. Urged on by his braves, King Philip began sending messages to friendly tribes, inviting them to join in a mighty war on the “pale faces”. The war that followed was a terrible one. The Indians, avoiding the white troops, dodging them, and never meeting them face to face in the open field, carried on the contest in their savage way of massacring the helpless, and burning villages. Many a fair and quite settlement was made desolate. Women and children were ruthlessly murdered, and burned in the houses. But by the end of 1675 the force of the Indians was broken.

• In the New Haven colony the situation with the Indians (the Pequets) was similar. At first there were peaceful relationships between them and the white settlers. During 1637, the Pequots attempted to organize a confederacy, but unable to secure the help of the Narragansetts due to the influence of Roger Williams, they took the warpath alone. They did not come out in open to battle, but waylaid a party of whites and killed thirty of them. In response to this, a small party of English, along with some seventy friendly Indians, attacked the Pequet stronghold, killing over 450 of that tribe. The great Pequet tribe was crushed, and nearly forty years of Peace ensued.

History reveals that all the early hostilities and wars between the American Indians and the white settlers, were instigated or started by the Indians without just cause. Even though the white settlers had legal title to the land by way of purchase or claim of unoccupied lands, the Indian was always the one to disrupt peaceful relations with attacks, massacres, and wars. The retaliation by the white settlers were merely acts of self defense and self preservation in accordance with the law of nature. Thus it was the Indian who was the intruder and violator of land rights and of his own law. It was the Indian who, in the beginning, wronged the white man. The Indian’s treachery, barbaric and warlike manner, and sneak attacks on the colonists was positive proof of the anti-social nature of the red man. This exhibit of the Indian’s character caused much distrust of the Indian, and became the “code of conduct” which the Indians continued to live by and uphold in the future.

Thus, the white race has a rightful and legal claim and title to America pursuant to international law, the Indian’s law, the law of nature, and by a combination thereof.

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