On July 2, 1494, Spain and Portugal divided between them a prize that at the time was conveniently named the “New World”.
The trophy to be split was the heavily populated Continent of America, discovered thousands of years earlier by brown-skin Native Americans, but newly revealed to white Europeans.
As far as Europe was concerned, the fresh territory (first believed to be a group of islands) was free for the taking. As such, Iberia’s two mighty monarchs sought ownership and so, a treaty settled the matter between the super powers. In his book, “History of the World”, Author J. M. Roberts writes that Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borja), one of the most controversial Renaissance popes, handled the document’s coordination.
Explicitly, all lands in a line of longitude 370 leagues west of Cape Verde Islands belonged to Spain, including Antilia (the islands visited by Columbus) and all lands west of that indicator. Lands east of the boundary belonged to Portugal. (That explains why Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking country in America; since, that country juts out to the east of the marker.) In all, Pope Alexander VI issued three important documents called the Alexandrine Bulls of Donation, providing additional details regarding the land dispersal.
Consequently, the Treaty of Tordesillas set the stage for Europe’s domination of almost the entire world. Believing it was their God-given right, Europeans overpowered entire populations and exploited vast amounts of natural resources on their path of conquest.
England, a Christian nation itself, first abided by the Pope’s decision. However, after the Protestant Reformation, they also wanted a share of the global pie. So, by 1583, Newfoundland became the first English overseas colony. It was the initial stepping stone positioned to eventually add northern America (today’s Canada and northeastern U.S.) to the British Empire. In all, Italian Explorer John Cabot delivered half of the lands west of the papal boundary to England.
Yet, this mercenary apportionment of America exposed one basic flaw. That is, it ignored the natural possession of the land by the original Native American inhabitants. Reinforcing their will by the gun, sword, and bloody boot, the white immigrants from Europe declared America’s brown-skin inhabitants undeserving of land possession.
(Note: It is in dealing with this point that for those of us who have both European and Native American lineages, the document plays a provocative role in our family tree.)
To be sure the Continent of America was not the only European target of opportunity. With their formidable technology, Europeans quickly subjugated diverse societies around the world they deemed inferior and reason enough to be conquered.
Yet, as human development goes, the opposite is true. Objective-minded historians suggest that the Mexica civilization in many ways was greatly superior to those of Egypt, China, and Rome. (That’s a small consolation to descendants of the conquered.)
To be sure, indigenous populations in other parts of the world fought back and regained control of their own destinies. For instance, the Chinese chased the English out of Hong Kong. India stopped the British Raj (Rule) in 1947. Likewise, in Africa, countries propelled themselves on a liberation trajectory that continues into the 21st Century.
In all, many global regions once conquered by Europeans (Asian, African, and Arabian) have reclaimed their native lands. Not so in America.
Regrettably, while some American countries once controlled by Spain are led by Native American people, their brethren in what is now the U.S. haven’t been so lucky. Sadly, it’s here where a distinct European-based domination mindset rule still holds First Americans as captives in their ancestral land, as are Native Hawaiians in Hawaii and Native Alaskans in Alaska.
More specifically, the Sioux Nations received a second dose of evil called the 1887 Dawes Act. In enacting this law, the U.S. decided the Sioux still had too much land and reduced the size of Indian Reservations. Using devious manipulation tactics, the U.S. government opened up “excess” Indian land to white settlers. Worse, as recently evidenced by U.S. officials’ harsh conduct during the oil pipelines controversies, it appears that the U.S. is unwilling to abandon its tyrannical grip policy.
At this point, two stark reminders are in order, courtesy of Author Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., from his book, “500 Nations”.
(l) “To non-Native Americans, the railroad symbolized progress and civilization… (On the other hand), the Plains People, whose hunting grounds the iron horse invaded, understood its threat to their survival.”
(2) In explaining the reasons why in a state of extreme anxiety the Oglala Lakota people developed the Ghost Dance ritual, Red Cloud (Mahpiya Lúta) (1822-1909) spoke thus: “The people were desperate from starvation – they had no hope. We felt we were mocked in our misery and had no one to speak for us… We were faint with hunger and maddened by despair. We held our dying children, and felt their little bodies tremble as their souls went out and left only a dead weight in our hands… The white men were frightened and called for soldiers. We had begged for life, and the white man thought we wanted theirs.”
Still, U.S. General Philip H. Sheridan (no friend of Native Americans) ironically said this about the officially mandated injustice, “We took away their country and their means of support, broke up their mode of living, their habits of life, introduced disease and decay among them and it was for this and against this that they made war. Could anyone expect less?”
Likewise, Southwest Native Americans and Spanish Mexican-descent land grants descendants got their second dose of evil when the U.S., in violation of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, refused to return their homesteads and lands after the U.S.-Mexico War, 1846-1848. At an impasse today and refusing to forget or surrender their inheritance, New Mexico and Texas Spanish land grant claimants still search for justice!
To summarize, the Treaty of Tordesillas began it all and is indeed the greatest evil that befell Native Americans. Additionally here in the U.S., unjust government treaties repeated the injustice and pushed Native American men, women, children, and their cultures over the proverbial cliff. That’s why Chief Red Cloud’s words still ring true today: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they kept but one. They promised to take our land and they took it.”