The “Doctrine of Discovery” is a philosophical and legal framework dating to the 15th century that gave Christian governments moral and legal rights to invade and seize indigenous lands and dominate Indigenous Peoples. The patterns of oppression that continue to dispossess Indigenous Peoples of their lands today are found in numerous historical documents such as Papal Bulls, Royal Charters and U.S. Supreme Court rulings as recent as 2005. Collectively, these and other concepts form a paradigm of domination that legitimates extractive industries that displace and destroy many Indigenous Peoples and other vulnerable communities, as well as harm the earth.
The Doctrine of Discovery can be seen as a “power and principality” based on the following ideas that grew out of Christendom.
The Three “E’s” provide a helpful way to summarize the destructive results of the Doctrine of Discovery.
The painful truth is that 500+ years of international policies that unfairly took advantage of Indigenous Peoples continue to give advantage to us (North Americans, Christian, or those of European descent) This situation tends to other continents as well.
In the country of Suriname (South America), gold mining companies given access to indigenous land have poisoned the water sheds with mercury, threatening the lives of all beings dependent on water for survival – from fish to human communities.
Currently, the U.S. senate is considering a land swap in Arizona that trades reservation land sacred to the Apache Indians for copper mining interests owned by an Australian company.
Fracking for oil and natural gas and the threat of tar sands oil pipelines on or near Native land holdings threaten groundwater in North Dakota.
The list is long and continues to grow.
Here are some questions to explore how our lives today may be connected to the legacies of the Doctrine of Discovery: enslavement, extraction and extinction:
For an overview of the Doctrine of Discovery in international and US law, check out the Wikipedia article on the Doctrine of Discovery.
This is a growing list. Please let us know of any other resources we should add!
A Blog Series on the Doctrine of Discovery, published by Mennonite Church USA
By Coalition Co-Chair Sarah Augustine
An interview with Coalition Co-Chair Sarah Augustine
Blog by Jenn Carreto
Indigenous Law Institute
Here are 3 studies that look specifically at ways the Church can engage in the reconciliation process: adopt and comply with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery; respect Indigenous spirituality. Honoring the call of Indigenous peoples from around the world, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has specifically summoned, not only the State, but all churches to embrace the TRC’s Calls to Action.
Short articles written by both Indigenous and Settler authors, combined with poetry and visual arts provide a rich, engaging and accessible resource for individual and group conversation. Study guides are included in each volume. Several Coalition members are among the contributors.
Get a copy of the series at CommonWord Bookstore and Resource Center.
By Vine Deloria Jr.
By Robert J. Miller
By Steven T. Newcomb
By Blake Watson