Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 2009, pp. 147-148


Copyright 2009 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska- Lincoln


In recent decades, scholars have reshaped our understanding of conquest, and as a result the idea of conquest is an unsettling one. Robert J. Miller's original and important work should launch a similar transformation for the idea of discovery. Associate Professor at the Lewis & Clark Law School and Chief Justice, Court of Appeals, Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde Community of Oregon, Miller persuasively argues that the principle of international law known as the Doctrine of Discovery provided the legal rationale and framework for the westward expansion of the United States. It, too, he argues, accounts for the troubling history of "domination and conquest of the Indian nations" by the United States.

Miller contends that the evolving Doctrine of Discovery, although apparently never explicitly codified, was well understood by leading political figures throughout the AngloAmerican world. Miller himself identifies ten elements of the doctrine, by which competing European empires and eventually the United States worked out which among them had a legitimate, preemptive, and exclusive claim on the future right to purchase specific lands from the Indians inhabiting them, should those Indians ever decide, or be somehow persuaded, to sell.