What is the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery?

This last Sunday there was an insert included in the bulletin calling us to action regarding the Doctrine of Discovery.  At General Synod 29 held this last summer an amendment passed titled, "CALLING FOR THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST TO REPUDIATE THE DOCTRINE OF DISCOVERY WHICH AUTHORIZED THE GENOCIDE OF NATIVE PEOPLES AND THE THEFT OF NATIVE LANDS."  What does that mean to us, and why should we be concerned?  As we find "Columbus Day" on the calendar this week, we should be asking what discovery means, and what, if any rights or privileges it carries.   
~ Eldonna Hazen
Many Americans grow up learning that this continent was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus. The concept of discovery, as if the land was empty prior to arrival and its indigenous inhabitants were somehow "less than" the explorers is, at its heart, racism and cultural superiority. 
The doctrine of discovery, a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, originated from various church documents in Christian Europe in the mid-1400's to justify the pattern of domination and oppression by European monarchies as they invasively arrived in the Western hemisphere.  It theologically asserted the right to claim the indigenous lands, territories, and resources on behalf of Christendom, and to subjugate native peoples around the world.
The U.S. Supreme Court used the doctrine to assert that the United States, as the successor of Great Britain, had inherited authority over all lands within our claimed boundaries. This decision allowed our government to legally ignore or invalidate any native claims to property and resources. To this day courts continue to cite this legal precedent. It is still being used by courts to decide property rights cases brought by Native Americans against the U.S. and against non-Natives.
The repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery by General Synod 29 provides an invaluable teaching moment for our congregations to understand systemic and continuous impact of racism on the daily lives of indigenous peoples in the U.S.  A short video can be found at https://vimeo.com/123430194. More in-depth information is available at www.ucc.org/dod

Posted on October 13, 2015 at 9:50 am in Featured Content.

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