What Are We Going To Do With White People? (Tink Tinker, wazhazhe / Osage Nation)

Out of respect for Dr Tinker’s writing style, the editor has chosen to keep the author’s footnotes intact. Readers should know that they often expand and clarify the text in addition to pointing to sources. Readers may also be interested in Tinker’s earlier piece on The New Polis tracing the history of a book of Christian history that was bound in the flayed skin of an American Indian and displayed publicly for 80 years.

White people. Pioneers? Immigrants? Settlers? What will we Natives call this Beast—who rises up out of the sea? That is, those who came from across the big waters (suggestively using their own religious mythology).[1]  I propose we call this category eurochristian.

Teaching in a liberal christian school of theology for three and a half decades, I persistently argued that colonialism is Christianity. Christianity is colonialism. They go hand in hand so that the violence of colonialism is the violence of Christianity. Often enough, students, training for christian ministry would object with one or more strategies for rescuing their christian tradition, but I was not talking about their church or their faith. I was actually talking about something even more deeply rooted, their culture and worldview. 

Like all academics, I want to insist on certain usages of language and the accompanying conventions in the interests of maximum accuracy. Most significantly is the choice I have made with regard to references to the socio-political (i.e., military, social, legal, ecclesial, and philosophical) opponents of the Native Peoples on this continent when these Others began their long and sustained invasion of our lands. In one sense, everyone knows who or what we’re talking about when we say, “White folk,” or just “Whites.”

While this may summon immediate images or emotions in each person’s mind, it really does not identify very much other than where tensions in the social whole are at the moment. The use of the color White functions only loosely as metonymy. Somehow, we must move beyond the color code system of racialization. 

Eurochristian, then, is a socio-political signifier that I find much more descriptive and accurate than the usual adjectives that are applied. Actually, the one thing these so-called White people have in common is deeply rooted in a complex cultural whole that we might call worldview—in a technical sense—which distinguishes them much more discretely as a complex whole than the tone of their skin or any other morphological feature. 

As an American Indian, referring to these oppositional Others as White or euro-western or euro-american, settlers or pioneers, etc., are all descriptors that have a certain usefulness, even as each is an inventive fiction and proves to have generated significant negative affects. White, for instance, is a term, an adjective, that these invaders constructed for themselves, probably in the european seventeenth century, and unquestionably as part of their self-justifying invention of legally owning other human beings kidnapped from Africa.

Yet, the metaphor “White” certainly fails to accurately describe these european invaders, just as the color “Black” can only suggest a large group of human beings with darker skin—who happen to originate from the african continent. None of these humans actually have “black” skin; indeed, they have black skin only by definition.

The corollary is true for so-called White people, who are only white by legal definition.[2] Indeed, the range of skin tone eventually even overlaps one another, so that the more powerful group was forced to invent yet other fictions, fictions with legal force, to help differentiate themselves, fictions like the “one-drop rule.”[3]

If the color-code is always ambiguous and can only be decoded in terms of surface level physiognomy, at best, then how will we determine difference rather than simply falling into patterns of stereotyping? The Elizabeth-Warren-ist DNA gambit surely is also deeply ambiguous and certainly fails to prove community belonged-ness or cultural competency, let alone demonstrate behavioral performance in an American Indian cultural whole.

Indeed, DNA results are merely a more pseudo-empirical-hard-scientific game-playing example of NewAge past-lives claims. DNA result can never determine whether or not one is an active participant in one or another community and has nothing to do with culture or worldview. DNA, for instance, does not make one American Indian or African or Irish. Moreover, culture and worldview are never measured in terms of gradation–typical of the DNA small percentages reported for applicants.

A human person lives out of only one culture and one worldview and not some combination of eight or twelve or whatever the test might report. DNA profiles are the foolish side of modern eurochristian science and only prove the reality of homo ludens, the human at play.[4] We have to remember that blood quantum gradation was a colonialist device invented by eurochristians (to wit, the BIA) to help them control their colonial empires.

As we strive for greater precision in referencing “White people,” there seem to be three things these invasive Others generally hold in common: 1) their attachment to or historical derivation from one or another european denominational construct of Christianity; 2) their derivation as invaders from one or another european countries; where 3) they were deeply embedded in cultures that was shaped by the customary and habitual thinking and acting of all its inhabitants over time.

Thus, the social whole was indelibly marked by a millennium or more of the development of european Christianity and its concomitant, inherently christian, socio-political thought and action, something that continues in their development of a “new” european society in north America.[5]

So, proposing to use eurochristian as that more accurate descriptor captures not only present cultural realities but ties the reality back to its historical roots. In making this move, I am determinedly not making a “religious” claim per se. Nor am I interested in rehashing the oversimplified weberian doctrinal identification of puritan ethics with capitalism.

Rather, I propose eurochristian as a deeper cultural-sociological designation—even when a particular eurochristian person may identify as post-christian or non-religious; or may have converted to hinduism or Buddhism or even to atheism.[6]  I am naming a cultural whole that is indeed deeply rooted in a religious tradition, even as postmodernist claims are made for secular humanism.

The secular whole of north America is indeed eurochristian—inclusive of its social, economic, scientific, academic, and political currents. While marxian thinkers might prefer to frame the socio-political whole (including racism) in terms of economics, I would argue that marxism itself is equally deeply rooted in the eurochristian culture and worldview.

My argument for using the appellation eurochristian works to avoid the classic casting of Indian-eurochristian relations as merely a race problem. It goes without saying, of course, race is a nasty problem in the eurochristian postcolonial/neocolonial/colonial world these days, especially for American Indians. I, however, really want to press beyond racialization.

For starters, as has become increasingly apparent, race is another eurochristian invented discourse. We are today clear that race does not exist in any biological or scientific fact; rather race leaps into full color in the socio-political contexts of daily life—and, we hasten to add, academic discourses. On the other hand, American Indian folk have long tried to point out that Native Peoples in the american landscape defy any attempted categorization as a racial whole.

If race is indeed a thing, then American Indians are some 500 plus races just in the north american continent. The lumping of all Indians into a single race category is merely a eurochristian racist convenience done to enhance colonialist control, particularly with the unspoken goal of making colonialist occupancy permanent. The notion of American Indians as a race, then, is a hyper-inventive act. 

At the same time, Indian folk will insist that despite morphological differences and surface structure cultural differences that Native folk in the Americas share a common deep structure worldview that is quite disparate from the eurochristian worldview. Much of the nineteenth century liberal colonialist effort (i.e., non-exterminationist) was directed at trying to impose the eurochristian worldview and culture on Indian Peoples and to snuff out the Indian worldview and cultures.[7]  

By using eurochristian as a more accurate classification, we avoid the color code, which is foundational to racializing. Instead, we are naming a cultural/worldview whole as more deeply formative for thinking, acting, and identifying. Hence, we need much more focused analysis on critiquing that cultural whole.

Why would a human group with a particular shade of skin color find the need to kill or abuse another human group with a different skin shade, darker or lighter? What logic might drive that sort of communal action? There is nothing in skin color or the color code that would appear to trigger racialized hatred or color-based supremacy.

When we shift the analysis to geographical origin combined with what seems to be the most formative aspect of thought development for people in that geographical region, then we begin to see pieces of the puzzle fall into place. We can surely trace the cultural arrogance of a community that thinks its own worldview to be either normative truth or superior to others.

Of course, we know that the overlay of european colonialism with Christianity fronted a persistent christian supremacy throughout the eurochristian colonial projects.[8] Adherence to the eurochristian worldview, then, becomes in the colonialists’ mind the singular center of value in the universe.

In naming this eurochristian cultural/worldview classification, I am actually building on the critical legal description of their own supreme court chief justice John Marshall who specifically calls this invasive Other christian. He clarifies this as a legal definition in his unanimous decision in Johnson v. M’Intosh in his codification of the so-called Doctrine of Discovery.

The use of the adjectival “euro” then gives this metaphor an additional sense of discreteness. Indeed, it is largely the european strain of christian thinking and cultural grammar that came to dominate the violent colonization of the globe from 1492 to the present. The absurdity of Marshall’s legal invention, of course, is embedded in roman catholic canon law, particularly in pope Alexander’s bull of 1493.

Namely, the first emissary of a christian prince to set foot on a territory not yet ruled by some other christian prince has the whole right to conquer, occupy and rule that territory, which leads Lenape scholar Steve Newcomb to insist that it be appropriately called the Doctrine of christian Discovery.[9] 

My argument here is that the affectation of christian identity continues to shape the social whole, even a more secular or post-christian social whole. As my colleague Roger Green might insist, christendom is not yet dead; rather, secularization / secular society is another name for christenDOMination.[10]

I must admit that I am not as inventive as I first thought. At some point, I remembered hearing a UCLA historian (and self-proclaimed churchman) lecturing in Berkeley back in the 1970s who proposed a somewhat analogous line of thought. Lynn Townsend White, Jr., was a historian of medieval Europe with a focus on technologies and science. White became convinced early in his academic career that the looming environmental crisis was directly connected to european christian thinking that had generated the new technologies that ever increasingly place humans in a hierarchical ascendancy over nature, with a mandate to use nature for the good of the human.[11]

Our science and technology have grown out of Christian attitudes toward man’s relation to nature which are almost universally held not only by Christians and neo-Christians but also by those who fondly regard themselves as post-Christians.[12]

This, argues White, made for a persistent sentiment across european cultures and across time, from theology to the natural sciences, that anything in the world not human was intended to be used for human good or comfort. While that cultural foundation of christian anthropocentrism is today being challenged ideologically by many eurochristian folk at the grass roots level, both u.s. foreign policy and the greater whole of the military-industrial complex continues to function wholeheartedly on that anthropocentric core. As a result, Indian peoples and our allies across the continent (and on other continents) are persistently finding ourselves acting in resistance to one extractive industry after another (oil and gas pipelines and mining are the biggest intrusions into Native territories) in order to protect Native lands and communities.

I want to build on White’s analysis of the development of a cultural whole inclusive of religion and science (and all the university discourses in between) over a couple of millennia. For me, as for White, the issue is not the religious affiliation of particular colonialist folk. Rather, I propose the use of eurochristian to name the cultural systemic whole that has generated a class of euro-western persons and ways of thinking, particularly in north America. While some may find the designation simplistic, I argue that it is much less simplistic and much more accurate that the widely used color code system. 

How it works….

Often enough in historical examples from this continent, the connection is transparent and is a direct connection to Christianity itself as a discrete cultural expression. Territorial “Colorado” Governor John Evans was a renowned methodist layman who had been raised in a quaker household. His military associate, u.s. army Col. John Chivington, the murderer in charge at the Sand Creek Massacre, was an ordained methodist minister (on leave of ministerial call) and co-founding trustee with Evans of what quickly became the largest colorado methodist church, Trinity Methodist Church, the year before in downtown Denver.[13] 

Chivington’s adjutant during the Sand Creek Massacre, Major Jacob Downing, leader of a prior genocidal attack himself and later Chivington’s defense attorney, was also raised quaker and was also a member of the same methodist church as Evans and Chivington in Denver.[14] Their christian attachment was deeply imprinted on their identities and can in no way be separated out from their murderous intentions toward Indian Peoples.

If we can quickly conclude that these same men’s devotion to the abolitionist cause comes from their explicit faith connection, why would we even hesitate to connect their equally devoted commitment to killing Indians to their faith? In this scenario, of course, there is a more transparent connection to religion, but the deeper cultural (and, hence, less transparent) connection undoubtedly has more sway in their devotion.

But these men were not alone—neither in their murderous desires nor in their deep religious attachments. Even the rowdies and drunks recruited by Chivington to make up the temporary federal unit of the Colorado Third had that deep christian imprint on their psyches. Yet when we refer to these invasive european folk as euro-christian, we are not casting them merely as faithful members of christian congregations.

Rather we are trying to get at the deep structure sense of being, something that might not be self-conscious in every individual’s surface structure thinking but is nevertheless intimately involved in the production of each person’s thinking and languaging. In the same way, it leaves an indelible imprint on the entire horde of those who came from Europe across the great waters. 

The literature has used various language to refer to this invasive Other: colonists and colonials (but never colonialists!?), immigrants, settlers, White People, or perhaps describing them in terms of their country of origin as english, spanish, etc., and eventually even “american.”  Sometimes we can usefully get at the underlying issues through an analysis of the category of Whiteness. These metaphors all share certain inadequacies that nevertheless served to obfuscate the reality experienced by Native Peoples.

Of course, these Others were indeed colonialists, invaders and occupiers (what Memmi labels “usurpers”[15]), but their own histories have functioned persistently to erase that stigma and its history of violence.

Obviously, metaphors inculcate a certain imprecision, even as they pretend precision. On the one hand, we use them in order to help define as clearly as possible, at least with a semblance of accuracy. At the same time, we use them to conceal the actualities at hand. So the term “settlers” might conjure up romantic images of trekkers (dutch: Voortrekkers), wandering across the southern Africa terrain to establish euro-christian settlements in Zulu territory—after the english colonialist government had restored Zulu hegemony there.[16]  

In the U.S. the equally problematic vision, of course, is one of covered wagons, prairie schooners, making their way in long wagon trains across the american west, circling their wagons in order to defend themselves from (largely non-existent) Indian attack.[17]  Pioneers might just as readily generate images of buckskin clothed frontiersmen wandering up and down the Ohio River Valley and establishing the first White colonialist homes in distinctly Indian territories. And indeed, the historical context did involve a huge cadre of euro-christian people—from Europe—moving across the american terrain looking for places to “settle.”

While these colonialists were always squatters technically, the first of those hordes did indeed function more literally as pioneers—that is, as military peonage establishing military frontiers and advance settlement outposts as particular places for the hordes of colonialists to come. And they did establish colonies across the continent, albeit on someone else’s land. That is the semblance of accuracy. 

In any case, calling these folk either “pioneers” or “settlers,” or even “colonial americans,” conveniently erases the lived experiences and enduring trauma of invaded and displaced Native Peoples and erases the crime of squatting on someone else’s land. And it is clear that the vast majority of the descendants of those who came, are quite happy to have that past shrouded in such romance, since it alleviates any need for self-evaluation or self-analysis.

It continues to function in a way that gives languaging to discourses ranging from religious to governmental policy to legal and philosophical that either erases the aboriginal presence of Native Peoples and their “rights” or comfortably explains the Native loss in seemingly (at least structurally patterned) rational and reasonable discourse, usually blaming the victims in the process. 

But then these same “settlers” created a set of other discourses, including especially legal discourse, to explicitly justify their taking of Indian land. In 1823, for instance, the supreme court of the new united states republic decided a landmark principal inventing legal ownership of American Indian lands by eurochristian invaders in the aforementioned Johnson v. M’Intosh decision. Their chief justice, John Marshall, wrote the opinion for a unanimous court: because they are savages and not christian, he argues, Indians have no legal right to sell their land to anyone. Indeed, as savages they have no “ownership” in the soil but merely a “right of occupancy.”

Thus, squatting is conveniently converted to “settling,” legalized by the squatters’ own courts. At the same time, by this law only a christian sovereign state (e.g., the united states) had the right to take over Indian lands (by negotiation, treaty, purchase, or outright military conquest) and disperse them as property to its euro-christian citizens, a right invested in the state according to what Marshall called the “Doctrine of Discovery,” a religio-legal doctrine created by a catholic pope out of whole cloth back in 1493 to validate the euro-christian takeover of Native lands in other countries (other than Europe).[18] 

To carry the descriptive process a step further, according to Anthony Hall, this transfer of Indian lands to a christian government creates the legal foundation for the first time for a commodity called private property in America.[19] More to the point in Marshall’s opinion, it was christianity that gave these citizens the moral and legal right to take over the continental expanse of Indian occupied lands. And, Marshall continued, Indians should be deeply grateful because they received civilization and Christianity in exchange for losing their lands. Thus, the deciding descriptor in the mind of these colonialists that differentiated Indian from european was attachment to christian values and beliefs. 

If we take their own (legal) discourse seriously, we should call them eurochristian. “Pioneer” has lost its incisive (source metaphor) meaning of peons fighting for an imperial army out on the frontiers of empire in order to extend the boundaries of their lord’s sovereign territories.

Immigrants migrating from one christian state to the territory of another christian state fails to capture the actualities of what is or was at stake for Native Peoples being violently displaced. And the word “settler” moves even beyond immigrant in concealing the violence involved, conjuring up in its place romantic and bucolic visions of homesteads, farms, gardens and warm kitchens.

All these usual appellations function to dismiss or conceal the historic violence or to reduce those countless instances of violence to benign banalities. The other common appellation is euro-american, although I have always preferred amer-european insofar as it highlights the european-ness of american folk.

While these appellations might seem accurate as far as they go, they miss what was for John Marshall a critical base identity, namely, the identity of these invaders in terms of their conscious self-identification as religious. And because they were christian, they classified themselves as civilized and then castigated the colonized Other as uncivilized and savage by default. In Marshall’s famous opinion the underlying notion of christian supremacy becomes completely and unashamedly transparent.

Whether one continues to identify as christian or not, the cultural whole is indelibly shaped by a couple of millennia of intense christian development on the european continent and then on the american continents—along with an important sense of christian religious and cultural supremacy whose development dates back a millennium. The deep structure cannot shake off the values and core metaphors quite so easily as one can convert at the surface structure to some other religious identity.

For instance, u.s. foreign policy continues to this day to be shaped around eurochristian manichaean notions of a cosmic conflict between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil. The Self then identifies as the Good; the ever-shifting Other is always cast as the Evil—from communists; to so socialists; to the muslim threat (now again but also back during the deadly christian crusades) — to Native Peoples and their attachment to the Land so desired by and invaded by the eurochristian hordes, and finally to those countries of brown peoples to the south. 

For the first hundred years and more, we are told, the u.s. congress spent a quarter of its legislative docket each year dealing with the “Indian Problem.” By 1883 a federal policy think tank was created to solve the Indian Problem once and for all by shaping governmental laws and policies, a group euphemistically known as the Lake Mohonk “Friends of the Indians,” which met annually over more than three decades.[20] 

For their part, needless to say, Indian folk were sure that the problem was a White Problem. The usage of “Indian Problem,” however, was indeed a marker for the outstanding White Problem—marking that in turn as the Indians’ Problem. Since they were good christian people, the Whites’ problem (i.e., the Indian Problem) was how to create a corpus of discourse to legally justify the invasion of Indian lands, rationalize the massacre of Indian communities, legalize the theft of Indian resources and lands and leave themselves morally guilt-free.

This meant inventing a particular legal and theological language: including creating new laws, producing new academic discourses in history and the new discipline of anthropology (and, of course, in the new discipline of comparative religions[21]) — inventing christian denominational policies of pacification (by conversion) — and developing federal governmental policies of pacification and containment. Only then could the colonial invader finally find refuge in the underlying american mythos that “the Indians had it coming to them.”

But the lingering Indians’ Problem, one that continues into today, is: how will we, Indians and non-Native allies, talk about these invaders?” If this sounds confusing, it is because obfuscation was always a key ingredient in the colonialist plan. 

By the 1970s the liberal academic establishment had begun to turn away from the casual use of what had become innocuous sounding but were now increasingly politically incorrect terms, like pioneers or immigrants that functioned to conceal the violence of colonialization. As the connotation of the word settler also became increasingly problematic because it too served to conceal the whole history of invasion and colonialism, some scholars moved toward talking about “settler colonialism.” Pointing to the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand as the classic exemplars helped to differentiate settler colonies from those colonies where euro-christian invaders came merely to exploit the resources of continents without attempting to displace the aboriginal population from that context; in “settler colonialism” contexts the colonizer invaded with a flood of immigrants from their own European countries, and they came to stay and build their own towns and cities on Native lands.[22] 

But “settler colonialism” does its own concealing—just as the new liberal White / eurochristian usage of that era, Native Americans, offered eurochristian liberals a useful and confusing obfuscation of Native realities. After all, said some, are not all american immigrant/settler/pioneer folk now native americans? So, others settled on calling these colonizer-invaders “euro-american” (usually with an initial capital letter on both euro and american) or amer-european.

So the use of “amer-european” insures we do not forget that we are dealing with europeans and european culture no matter how much Turner would have us believe that “american” culture [meaning, for Turner, White eurochristian culture] was completely transformed by fighting Indians on the “frontiers.”[23]

We still must ask who are these so-called settlers, then? These pioneers, immigrants, etc.? The self-designation that emerged out of the 17th century, which presumed the White christian need  and inherent right to reduce kidnapped african “indentured” servants to perpetual slavery, was to call themselves White.[24]  They did not yet call themselves as a group “european,” preferring to refer to each smaller grouping by the names of the european countries from which they came — english in the northeast, Virginia and the Carolinas, dutch in New Amsterdam, and spanish in the south and southwest, etc.

Eventually, as a group, they became “american,” but over the long term that failed to identify those involved in invading the Americas along with the concomitant killing of the Natives in order to exploit their resources and take their lands. No, the accession of so many foreign immigrants to the title american, including eventually african folk freed from perpetual bondage, made that term less discrete when trying to reference the colonial invaders themselves. So, the designation “White,” lovely White as Ben Franklin insisted, even as a wholly invented category, perdured as a colonially useful signifier to distinguish european christian folk and their perceived privileging from all the other sorts of ethnicities that began to flood north America, even at first from catholic irish folk and the more “swarthy” complected southern european folk.[25] 

We know that the euro-tradition of naming was intended to give the namers power over what was named. Hence the birth of rampant taxonomy in academic / intellectual thinking beginning in the period in Europe that euro-christian folk call the renaissance. Likewise, the european legal tradition of naming gives control by over-determining its object, whether self or other.[26] As we have seen, academics and jurists extend those acts of over-determination to naming themselves, beginning in the mid-17thcentury, using the imaginary of skin color to legally distinguish euro-christian from african. And likewise, we have seen John Marshall’s explicit but fictive legal rationale for the european conquest and occupation of Indian soil based on the eurochristian “superior genius” and christian identity.[27]

By 1868, Marshall’s christian identity/White supremacy/christian supremacy doctrine was once again operationalized as federal Indian policy. Ulysses Grant tried to reform the Indian Service by calling on different christian denominations to appoint Indian Agents for the reservations, replacing the existing structure marked by political patronage.

The idea was twofold: 1) to provide Native Peoples with the presumed “higher standard” model of eurochristian folk in order to “civilize” Natives; and 2) to avoid the cronyism and corruption of the political appointment system. While it replaced cronyism with presumably more honest agents, however, these proved to be largely untrained and inept.

In any case, this so-called Grant Peace Policy, even as it used the language of civilizing Natives, was really an attempt to pacify Indian Peoples as much as to civilize. In reality, what french colonialism called la mission civilisatrice became a central strategy for pacification and control. And the attempt continued unabated.

A decade after Grant, at the federal policy think-tank on Indian issues hosted at Lake Mohonk, bureaucrats and politicians chimed in persistently calling for the conversion of Indian people to Christianity—Christianity without stipulation of denominational particularity. The focused intent of the “Friends of the American Indian” conferences was to finally supplant Indian cultures, Indian Native languages, Indian value systems, the Native notion of egalitarian community-ism, etc. with eurochristian “civilization.” That led to a comprehensive but ultimately destructive u.s. federal government policy of boarding schools, teaching english as every Indian’s primary language, teaching radical eurochristian individualism and the euro-christian religion itself,[28] and ultimately led to the radical re-distribution of remaining Native lands to eurochristian farmers and eurochristian corporate interests.[29]  

This brief, but complex, reading of American Indian history under colonialist attack leads me to this socio-cultural descriptive usage of eurochristian as more specific and descriptive and more accurate than the other more common possibilities. And remember that I use the adjectives christian in this regard as a socio-cultural descriptor and not as a religious identifier.

If we were using it as a religious adjective, it would raise all sorts of other questions. People largely cannot agree on what the word ‘christian’ actually means, who is christian and who is not. I want to argue that all european heritage folk are indeed sociologically and culturally christian, even if they might not any longer accept that designation as a religious descriptor, or even including those, as White already argued in 1967, who might want to call themselves post-christian.

On the other hand, european folk, and european-derivative folk like those in the u.s., have been shaped by nearly two millennia of christian social and cultural life together. That is to say, some definitive aspects of christianity through the past centuries of european development have permeated the entire social life of people, including the academic and the business worlds, and this is eventually definitive of the values held in the social whole, including scientific values and knowledge and the critical/analytical languages of the arts and social  sciences.

To call the worldview of this colonizing Other eurochristian is to argue for a descriptor that identifies conventional behaviors that are habitual and self-understood across the colonizer’s population. So, american folk today are particularly eurochristian in terms of societal habits of behavior and thought.

My insistence here has to do with my more general argument that distinguishes “worldview” from ideology. The latter, I would argue, can and most often does involve human choice, a clear disposition for one ideology over another. The former, in my view, is not at all a matter of personal choice. Rather, it consists of conventional behaviors and perspectives that are embedded in each person from birth and reinforced by social norms in the larger community (the social whole) where one lives out life, just as much as one develops language abilities in the language of one’s birth.[30] 

Worldview is perhaps best measured by what one does and how one does it rather than what one thinks or believes. For instance, one does not think or believe in one’s language of birth. One merely speaks it automatically without thinking it through. One’s imagination happens again automatically in one’s birth language.

These worldview actions are habitual in one sense, and as soon as one learns to perform, say, ten acts habitually in another culture, one must also realize that there are another billion or so habitual actions about which Natives to that culture are almost unaware but automatically perform and to which outside observers often remain relatively blind. That begins to get at the substance of worldview.

The english colonialists may have criticized the “Black Legend” of the spanish conquistadors, but they habitually perpetuated those same sorts of crimes in their own invasion of America just as readily without a second thought.

Committing the atrocities against pagan Natives was a presumed eurochristian right and the usual method of adjudicating territorial rights for eurochristian occupancy. The conventional and habitual foundation that ties together spanish, dutch and english invaders is the glue of the general societal christian discourse, including the church institutions themselves but not dominated by them. We should add that this deep structure embed of culture and worldview is not unique to eurochristian folk. Rather, it has analogies in all other human community contexts.

One prominent example is that many of my korean friends (colleagues and graduate students) have reported to me the impossibility of removing the confucian deep structure from any contemporary korean whether that person be self-identified as buddhist or christian.  That is, the vast majority of the habitual actions of korean buddhist or korean christian folk are rooted in the confucian foundation of their culture. One of my doctoral students, korean born and educated, wrote a dissertation on mudang, the korean indigenous religious tradition, arguing that korean people are equally imprinted by mudang, regardless of their formal religious affiliation. So, it is also with eurochristian folk—and equally so with American Indian folk whose habitual actions are rooted in Native traditions, languages and culture.

Indeed, it is the case that the worldviews of eurochristian and Indian are distinctly disparate.[31] As Seneca scholar Barbara Mann would remind us, “none of the metanarratives of the two cultures coincide.”[32] And then she concludes: “It should be clear by now that the value systems of Europe and Iroquois could not have been (or still are) further apart….”[33]

This difference between worldviews leads to the argument that culture and worldview give us a firmer ground for critical analysis than do morphological signifiers like skin tone or the metonymic use of the color White. As we name eurochristian worldview and culture, we open up important avenues of academic investigation that can begin to clarify why these colonialist Others have acted the ways we can historically observe.

Under the close scrutiny of cultural analysis, the deep affect of the eurochristian worldview becomes more transparent. For example, we might more fruitfully analyze the american eurochristian rigid attachment to their “second amendment” and the right to bear arms in terms of deep culture and habitual responses to the world as rooted in worldview. Historically it seems to derive from a particular aspect of that amer-eurochristian worldview born on this continent. It was most likely, I would argue, a response to the perceived threat of Native resistance to eurochristian invasion and violence. 

At the same time, eurochristians (to wit, both eurochristian scholars and the general eurochristian public:  media, movies, popular books, etc.) have habitually caricaturized American Indians as warlike, blood thirsty savages who live warrior cultures. Yet that begs the question. We might in turn ask which culture was the more warlike in reality, opening up analyses of why eurochristian folk developed such ferocious war making technologies. Why exactly did europeans kill some eleven million of one another in the early 17th century (just at the time they were invading north american lands) to determine which version of christian supremacy might rule the european continent?

On close examination, however, it certainly seems that european proclivities for making war is deeply rooted in their cultural and particularly their religious identity. Indians have long been appalled at the intense sacrifice of human life—and other life—in euro-christian warfare.

Even as early colonialist Henry Spelman criticized virginia Natives for their lack of killing instincts, Europe was beginning a long war to determine which brand of their religion was true and deserved to rule the continent. The Thirty Years War, we are told, resulted in a war casualty figure as high as eleven million people across central Europe. This war was preceded by the french civil war, again over religion, between catholic and protestant huguenot adherents (1562-98) that cost some three million lives. These long and deadly religious wars, we must remember, come on the heels of a half millennium of Holy Wars, crusades, declared by the popes ruling christendom through the middle ages and fought against non-christian peoples (the infidel!) and so-called euro-christian heretics (lithuanians, albigensians).

The one thing Jared Diamond gets right in his highly flawed disaster of a book, is that euro-christian folk had far outpaced Natives in the Americas in that one crucial category of war technologies, of efficient expertise in killing other human beings.[34] But then, they had plenty of practice, centuries of practice. 

To justify their own violence in the americas, these eurochristian invaders developed an imaginary in which the american Native Peoples were even more violent than themselves. Demonstrating the principle of “projection,” which would be developed much later in their own psychological discourse, for the eurochristian invaders back then, and professional historians yet today, Indians became bloodthirsty “savages” — warlike, practicing “warrior cultures,” even though the Native languages of Native Peoples completely lacked language for war or warriors.

At other times, the invaders could describe Natives’ lack of civilization in their inability to engage in useful warmaking., Spelman, who was one of the english peonage on the ground in Virginia (from 1608-1623), reports with utter disdain, “they [Natives] might fight seven yeares and not kill seven men….” Spelman’s commentary on the military prowess of the Indian peoples that the english were actively trying to displace and replace concluded that Indian warfare had no “dissipline” about it.

When they fought there was never any “greater slawter of nether side But…having shott away most of the arrows and wantinge Vital weare glad to retier.”[35] That’s the eurochristian take on Indian “warfare” revealing simultaneously the eurochristian deep taste for bloodshed—a true war culture.

For an Osage village, the death of a single person in a military contingent meant that the whole group was not allowed to reenter the village on their return until they had explained themselves to the nohonzhinga and then performed the necessary ceremony to reenter civilian life.[36] These examples alone should discourage the usual eurochristian self-justifying imaginary of the “warrior cultures” of Native Peoples.[37]

At this point we need to be clear that this interest in and efficient development of war technologies has nothing to do with skin color, or the color White in particular. Rather it seems more closely related to the long theological interest in “just war” theories that stretch from Augustine to Vitoria and beyond. Undoubtedly, the eurochristian proclivity for warmaking is also rooted in the historic shift from an oppressed minority community to an imperial cult following the so-called conversion of Constantine. 

While it becomes clear that these european and american White folk are at an end point trajectory of centuries of cultivated violence, there is nothing inherent in skin color that might be identified as generative of that history of violence. Any productive study must get at cultural factors that might give us a better vantage point for deeper critical analysis. Hence my argument for naming the cultural whole as eurochristian rather than continuing to use some masked metaphoric invention of skin color as if that color coding really meant something. 

We do need to substantially shift our language usage in reference to these eurochristian folk and their history on this continent. It is time to abandon the color code, the use of the word White, words like settler and pioneer, to get at the starker historical truth, to begin to talk history from the vantage point of Native Peoples, of those who were invaded and dispossessed. It is time to stop erasing that violence with those coded words intended to soften the invasive impact .

I know that in making this case for designating America’s colonialist invaders as eurochristian, I leave myself open to protests of having overdetermined the relationship of religion to euro-western or amer-european culture; or to have over generalized some underlying definition of what christian signifies. To the first, I would reply that even the category “religion” has been invented and deployed by eurochristian academia most closely for their own colonialist academic purposes.[38] 

I understand that but remain wholly uninterested in religion, per se, at this point. Nor do I use the word.[39] Rather I am solely interested in how the long development of christian discourses (both theology and the corollary political/legal discourses) have shaped the thinking and the vision; the creativity and the legal thought. Indeed, the culture and the worldview of the contemporary eurochristian world and its plethora of discourses. Such are so-called White people: eurochristian folk, one and all.

Tink Tinker is the Clifford Baldridge Emeritus Professor of American Indian Cultures and Religious Traditions and a citizen of the wazhazhe udsethe (Osage Nation). His career spanned 34 years at Iliff School of Theology where he also taught in the Iliff/DU Joint Doctoral Program. During his tenure at Iliff, Tinker also provided (pro bono) leadership for the Four Winds American Indian Council, a local urban Indian community project.


[1] While there are almost countless traditions vying for a stamp of authenticity, it seems clear that some Native people in 1519 Mexico connected the arrival of the spanish conquistadors with their own ancient expectation that the god/goddess Quetzalcoatl would return to life by emerging out of the sea. An early eastern mediterranean christian community had a similar apocalyptic expectation of, in this case, an evil beast emerging out of the sea. Rev. 13:1. American Indians have long used the descriptor “those who came over the big waters (Atlantic)” to refer to euro-christian invader peoples and their descendants.  

[2] Ian Haney Lopez, White by Law 10th Anniversary Edition: The Legal Construction of Race (Critical America), (NYU Press; Anniversary edition, 2006).

[3] F. James Davis, Who Is Black? One Nation’s Definition (1991), reports that in the u.s. “a black is any person with any known African black ancestry.” Cited from PBS-Frontline: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/jefferson/mixed/onedrop.html. This gave rise to the so-called one-drop-rule that was prevalent through the first half of the 20th century and was legally codified in several state laws. About 1960 a New York journalist interviewed “Doc” Duvalier, the dictator of Haiti. When he asked what percentage of Haitian population was White, Duvalier responded, “100 per cent.” When the reporter expressed incredulity, Duvalier answered, “You know that one percent rule you have in the U.S.? We have that here too.” While the one-drop rule was never a federal law, the state of Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act in 1924, determining that a person with “any” black blood was legally categorized as colored. The category of White person was reserved for one “who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian.” https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Racial_Integrity_Act_of_1924. The case of Susie Guillory Phipps in Louisiana was not resolved until 1983. Frances Frank Marcus, “Louisiana Repeals Black Blood Law,” NYT, July 6, 1983, online at: https://www.nytimes.com/1983/07/06/us/louisiana-repeals-black-blood-law.html

[4] Johann Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (english translation: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1949 [orig., 1938]), makes the argument that the play element must be an important part of understanding the human being and culture. Sam Gill carries Huizinga a giant step further and makes play the analytical essential in his own discipline and discourse:  “No Place to Stand: Jonathan Z. Smith as Homo Ludens: The Academic Study of Religion Sub Specie Ludi,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 66/2 (1998): 283-312. In this essay, Gill casts the corpus of his own teacher’s interpretive work as a structured form of play. This seems to be a clear admission on Prof. Gill’s part that he has really only been trolling us all these years—but with a great benefits package. 

[5] We should add here that the argument could be made that american jewish folk are also culturally eurochristian—by long association. At least Howard Winant makes the collateral argument that american jewish folk are White. See his The World Is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy Since World War II (Basic Books, 2001).

[6] One colleague, responding to my critique of the eurochristian social whole, protested my critique did not apply to himself because, after all, he was an atheist. In my response, I argued that his atheism was indeed formed by negating what he knew culturally and habitually around him all his life, namely the christian male sky god and all of the cultural whole that revolves around that sedimentary notion. You, I replied finally, must be a christian atheist (i.e., a eurochristian atheist).

[7] See Ward Churchill, Kill the Indian, Save the Man: The Genocidal Impact of American Indian Residential Schools (City Lights Press, 2004); and particularly note my introduction in that volume: TT, “Tracing a Contour of Colonialism: American Indians and the Trajectory of Educational Imperialism,” xiii-xli.

[8] See, for instance: Luis Pagan Rivera, Evangelización y violencia: La conquista de América (San Juan: Cemí, 1990, 1992); A violent evangelism: The Political and Religious Conquest of the Americas (Westminster/John Knox, 1992). And T. Tinker, Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and American Indian Genocide(Fortress, 1993).

[9] Steve Newcomb, Pagans in the Promised Land (Fulcrum Publishers, 2008).

[10] Roger K. Green, “Is Theological Education Becoming Post-Christian?” (see Green’s upcoming post) crafted the neologism christenDOMination in a paper presented at the American Academy of Religion, San Diego CA, November 2019, in press. Newcomb does a thorough job of tracing the etymology of dominium and all its derivative forms in his Pagans in the Promised Land, chapter Three. Particularly important is the meaning of the source metaphor “dom,” to conquer or subdue, in Latin and the earlier Sanskrit. Newcomb cites the analysis of dominium in William Brandon, New Worlds for Old: Reports from the New World and Their Effects on the Development of Social Thought in Europe, 1500-1800 (Ohio State Press, 1986). 

[11] White’s clearest statement on the connection of christian thinking with the ecological crisis was his 1967 article in Science: “The historical roots of our ecological crisis,” Science155: 1203–1207. But one can trace his movement in that direction in earlier writings: Medieval Technology and Social Change(Oxford University Press, 1962); and “Christian myth and Christian history,” Journal of the History of Ideas3:2 (1942): 145–158.

[12] White, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” Science, 1206. 

[13] Trinity United Methodist Church, 1820 Broadway, Denver, Colorado. It should be noted here that Trinity as a congregation has done a good deal of work to confront these aspects of its own history. 

[14] This was reported to me by Jeff Campbell, an interpretive ranger at the Sand Creek Massacre National Monument last summer. Campbell is a first-rate investigative researcher with a lifetime record in crime investigation (N.M. Attorney General’s Office), and he has spent many years focusing on the murders at Sand Creek in 1864. 

[15] Albert Memmi, Colonizer and Colonized (Beacon, 1965; french orig., 1957), 6, et inter alia.

[16] See particularly Anne McClintock’s description in chapter ten: “No Longer in a Future Heaven: Nationalism, Gender and Race” in her  Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (Routledge, 1995). The classic is: Oliver Ransford, The Great Trek (John Murray, 1972).

[17] See Gregory’s depiction of the “circle the wagons” fallacy in his chapter “Circle of Lies,” in Leland Gregory, Stupid History: Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness, and Misconceptions through the Ages (Andrews McNeel, 2009), 209ff. For the american romance, read virtually any Wallace Stegner novel (to wit, Elizabeth Cook Lynn, Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner and Other Essays: A Tribal Voice, University of Wisconsin, 1996) or any of the (ostensibly) history books by “historian” Stephen E. Ambrose. 

[18] Newcomb, Pagans in the Promised Land.

[19] Anthony J. Hall, Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism (McGill-Queen’s Native and Northern Series), McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.

[20] For a selection of the documents that came out of these annual Lake Mohonk conferences, see Francis Paul Prucha, Americanizing the American Indians: Writing by the “Friends of the Indian,” 1880-1900 (University of Nebraska Press, 1973). Note particularly the german born U.S. secretary of the interior, Carl Schurz’s attempt to deal with the issue: Schurz, “Present Aspects of the Indian Problem,” North American Review cxxxiii (July 1881): 6-24; excerpted by Prucha: pp. 13-26. See also T. Tinker, “Tracing a Contour of Colonialism: American Indians and the Trajectory of Educational Imperialism,” in Ward Churchill, Kill the Indian, Save the Man: The Genocidal Impact of American Indian Residential Schools (City Lights Press, 2004), pp. xiii-xli.

[21] David Chidester has described the development of comparative religions as a distinctly imperial project. Academic anthropology likewise excellently served the colonial power brokers wherever eurochristian colonialism spread out over Indigenous Lands. See Chidester, Empire of Religion: Imperialism and Comparative Religion (Univ. of Chicago, 2014).

[22] Note Jennifer Harvey’s title for Chapter Two, “A Colonial Settler Nation and A Slaveholding One,” in her otherwise superb book, Whiteness and Morality: Pursuing Racial Justice through Reparations and Sovereignty (Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 51-69. And in spite of advancing a questionable cognitional categorization, this chapter is a fine description of the problematic of race, racialization, and colonization.

[23] Such was the thesis of Frederick Jackson Turner in his famous 1893 essay on the “closing of the frontier.” Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” 1893. First delivered at the American History Association, meeting auspiciously in Chicago at the Columbian World Exhibition. It was republished in several variations, and is widely available on-line. This is one location:  http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1893turner.html. Turner was an early academic racist. 

[24] Although Ed Simon reports an earlier usage in England in 1613. See his essay: “How ‘White People” Were Invented by a Playwright in 1613,” Aeon (12 September 2017): https://aeon.co/ideas/how-white-people-were-invented-by-a-playwright-in-1613

[25] Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (Rutledge, 1995). One should also note the on-going debate that Ignatiev’s book generated.

[26] In terms of the colonialist need to rename geographical locations with eurochristian appellations, one should certainly note Stephen Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (University of Chicago Press, 1991).

[27] I.e., Marshall reduces Native Peoples to those “…over whom the superior genius of Europe might claim an ascendency” (J. v. M’I., 573).

[28] See again the selection of primary sources in Francis Prucha, Americanizing the American Indian; and particularly the short essay by T. Tinker in Churchill, op cit.

[29] The devastating Dawes General Allotment Act (1887() came directly out of the Lake Mohonk policy deliberations.

[30] To wit, David Lewis, Convention: A Philosophical Study (Harvard University Press 1969); Max Köbel, “Lewis, Language, Lust and Lied,” Inquiry 41 (1998): 301-15.

[31] See, for example, my essay “Why I Do Not Believe in a Creator,” in Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, edited by Steve Heinrichs (Herald Press, 2013), 167-179.

[32] Barbara A. Mann, Iroquoian Women, The Gantowisas, 63.

[33] Ibid, 210. 

[34] Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (W.W. Norton, 1999). Diamond rightly notes the advanced war-making technologies that had been developed in christian Europe and gives an explanation of that development. On the other hand, he fails to report and even denies the advanced state of agriculture in the Americas and that 60-65% of our modern world’s food production are post-colonial, post-1492, and american Native in origin. Jack Weatherford, Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World (Ballantine, 1989). Indeed, by Weatherford’s measure (and many others) it was Indian technology and particularly agriculture that enabled eurochristian folk to generate the industrial revolution in Europe. The potato alone totally transformed the european economy after the sixteenth century. 

[35] Spelman lived with the Powhattan during 1609-1610 and was active in the english virginia colony until 1623. His Relation of Virginia was written during this time period—right at the beginnings of the long protestant-catholic war in Europe.  Spelman’s text, “Relation of Virginia.” is now available on-line at: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/jamestown-browse?id=J1040.

[36] Francis La Flesche, War Ceremony and Peace Ceremony of the Osage Indians (Bureau of American Ethnography, 1939).

[37] Cherokee/ Muskogee scholar Tom Holm’s Strong Hearts, Wounded Souls: Native American Veterans of the Vietnam War (Univ. of Texas, 1996) is still a classic American Indian study of Indian notions of military defense of one’s people.

[38] Chidester makes this point wonderfully and exhaustively: David Chidester, Empire of Religion: Imperialism and Comparative Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

[39] TT, “Religious Studies: The Final Colonization of American Indians,” Journal of Cultural and Religious Theory (). In Press.

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