Native Village Youth and Education News
October, 2009


Episcopal Church repudiates Doctrine of Discovery
Urges US adoption of UN Declaration

By Gale Courey Toensing
Condensed by Native Village

California: It is a first-of-its-kind action in the Christian world. The National Episcopal Church has passed a landmark  resolution called “Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery." The bill disavows the Doctrine of Discovery and urges the U.S. government to endorse the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“It’s a historic event,” said Steven Newcomb, Shawnee/Lenape about the church's resolution. Newcomb is from the Sycuan Education Department, the Indigenous Law Institute, and a columnist for Indian Country Today. His work on the Doctrine of Discovery sparked the Episcopal Church to pursue the resolution.

The Doctrine of Discovery was part of international law based upon 15th century papal bulls and 16th century charters by European monarchs. It basically gave white Christian Europeans approval to claim the lands and resources of non-Christian peoples.  It also allowed Europeans to kill or enslave them. In other words, it sanctioned the genocide of the "New World's native people.

The Episcopal church hopes “Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery" will help bring changes across the world. One goal is to overturn a 1823 U.S. Supreme Court ruling based on the Doctrines of Discovery. In "Johnson V. M'Intosh," the court ruled that because of the Doctrine of Discovery,  American Indians have a mere right of occupancy to their lands. This ruling is foundational to U.S. Indian law.

But the church calls the 1823 law and Congress’ assumption of power over Indian nations, as  "illegitimate and immoral" and says it strips American Indian nations of their inherent sovereignty.

"Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery" was passed unanimously by the Episcopal House of Bishops and by an overwhelming majority of the House of Delegates during the church’s 76th General Convention July 8 – 17 in Anaheim. The bill says the doctrine is "fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our understanding of the inherent rights that individuals and peoples have received from God.”

The resolution is timely: The U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has called for a study of the Doctrine of Discovery and its historic and continuing effects on indigenous people. The study is to be completed when the forum convenes in 2010. 

“The Episcopalian Church’s resolution will no doubt factor into that study,” Newcomb said.

Regarding  “Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery", the Episcopal Church plans to

Share the document with its churches, governments within its boundaries, and the U .N.;
Eliminate the doctrine within the church’s contemporary politics, programs and structures, and urge the U.S. government to do the same;
Ask Queen Elizabeth to publicly repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery;
Encourage all Episcopal churches to support indigenous peoples' efforts to regain their inherent sovereignty, human rights, and respect as as peoples and nations.

Doctrine Artwork: Marty Two Bulls, Sr.

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