The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church met in Linthicum Heights, Md. at the end of October and adopted two resolutions for us to consider. One of these, AN/LMM 003 Ongoing Work in the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, we have discussed during the week of Columbus Day, 2014, but it’s worth repeating. First, let me present the wording of the whole resolution for you:
Resolved, That the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, meeting in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, October 24-27, 2014, reaffirms its support of General Convention Resolutions 2009-D035, Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, and 2012-A128, Examine Impact of Doctrine of Discovery, and of the work of the church as it addresses the issues of historical trauma caused by the colonizing dispossession of the lands of indigenous peoples and the disruption of their way of life; and be it further
Resolved, That the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church reaffirms its support of the ministry and advocacy of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society staff in the Offices of Ethnic Ministries, Government Relations, Faith Formation, Global Relations, Racial Reconciliation, Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement, and other departments as they engage grassroots, tribal, governmental, and Episcopal individuals and entities to do the ongoing work called for in repudiating and examining the impact of the Doctrine of Discovery, including the historical and generational trauma from the Residential Boarding School era; and be it further
Resolved, That the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church reaffirms its commitment to ongoing education of and advocacy with the members of the church regarding the historical reality and impact of the Doctrine of Discovery and elimination of the Doctrine’s presence in the church’s contemporary policies, programs, and structures; and be it further
Resolved, That the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church encourages the dioceses, the bishops, the clergy, and the lay leaders of the church to renew their efforts of education, advocacy, and self-reflection in the spirit of living into the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery as an active affirmation of the Baptismal Covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being and of Mark of Mission IV, which states “To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.”
I’ve been working with resolutions now for a few years but perhaps there are some of you who are unfamiliar with the background of the Doctrine of Discovery. This principle of international law began with a papal decree issued by Pope Nicholas V to King Alfonso V of Portugal in 1452. The document sanctioned and promoted the conquest and colonization of lands inhabited by non-Christians. It also allowed the exploitation of the people living in these territories. According to this document, Pope Nicholas directed King Alfonso to “capture, vanquish, and subdue the saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ,” to “put them into perpetual slavery,” and “to take all their possessions and property”
It would be one thing if this document only had influence on the king of Portugal but it was used as a basis for our own domestic policy as late as 1887. This document provided grounds for the government of the US to:
Circumvent the terms of solemn treaties that the U.S. entered into with Indian nations, despite the fact that all such treaties are “supreme Law of the Land, anything in the Constitution notwithstanding.”
Steal the homelands of Indian peoples living east of the Mississippi River, by removing them from their traditional ancestral homelands through the Indian Removal Act of 1835.
Use a congressional statute, known as the General Allotment Act of 1887, to divest Indian people of some 90 million acres of their lands. This act, explained John Collier (Commissioner of Indian Affairs) was “an indirect method – peacefully under the forms of law – of taking away the land that we were determined to take away but did not want to take it openly by breaking the treaties.”
Steal the sacred Black Hills from the Great Sioux nation in violation of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie which recognized the Sioux Nation’s exclusive and absolute possession of their lands.
Pay the Secretary of the Interior $26 million for 24 million acres of Western Shoshone lands, because the Western Shoshone people have steadfastly refused to sell the land and refused to accept the money. Although the Western Shoshone Nation’s sovereignty and territorial boundaries were clearly recognized by the federal government in the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty, the government now claims that paying itself on behalf of the Western Shoshone has extinguished the Western Shoshone’s title to their lands (Newcomb, Steve. “Five Hundred Years of Injustice.” Shaman’s Drum. Fall 1992, p. 18-20.).
With this as background, let me direct you to the previous Nuts and Bolts post which includes links for the World Council of Churches Statement on the Doctrine of Discovery and Its Enduing Impact on Indigenous Peoples, a Pastoral Letter from our Presiding Bishop, a study guide – “Looking at Columbus Day through the Lens of Our Baptismal Vows” and a short video on the lasting impact of the Doctrine of Discovery. You can find all these resources at –
It’s very evident that the actions of our American predecessors did not line up with our understanding of our Baptismal Covenant. Now that we are aware of the pain and suffering our government’s policies brought to the indigenous peoples living here, it’s time to work to foster healing and reconciliation. I’m good at finding the background information but I am not sure where to go from here. What do you think? What ideas do you have to bring this issue to the forefront in an effort to live out the Five Marks of Mission? Here’s one idea for our congregations if you are yet unsure of what special theme you’d like to use for Advent – http://www.episcopalchurch.org/sites/default/files/downloads/advent_2_dod_four_directions_and_magnificat.pdf
And, if you already have your Advent all planned out, here’s a resource for Lent – http://www.episcopalchurch.org/sites/default/files/downloads/dod_lent_2012.pdf
Let’s help each other, please, to make this work of healing real in our Household!
Let us pray:
Creator, we give You thanks for all that You are
and all that you bring to us within your creation.
In Jesus, you placed the Gospel in the Center of the
Sacred Circle through which all creation is related.
You show us the way to live a generous
and compassionate life.
Give us your strength to live together with respect
and commitment as we grow in your spirit,
for you are God, now and forever.
~ Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council