Minute Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery

This minute was passed by New England Yearly Meeting at Annual Sessions in 2013.

Minute 2013-52

Committee on Racial, Social & Economic Justice clerk Rachel Carey-Harper (Barnstable), expressed appreciation and gratitude for the wisdom and guidance of Jamie Bissonette Lewey, Mother Bear and other tribal people in New England who have invested much energy and love in their commitment to stay with us on this journey, sharing their experience of the Doctrine of Discovery. She read to us a revised version of the minute on the Doctrine of Discovery. The presiding clerk asked that friends speak out of worship about their learning and experience with the Doctrine of Discovery and many brought messages.

We know that to simply say “we repudiate this doctrine” does not do enough. We need to make amends, we need to learn more and we need to find out how to do more. What would it mean to truly live in a way that acknowledges and works to rectify this terrible injustice? We need to move from empire to beloved community, knowing the history of Papal Bulls to justify the claiming of land and how clearly this way of thinking underlies the charter granted to William Penn, as well as many other examples of the ways that this doctrine continues to inform so many aspects of how we live in the world now, our policies, practices and possessions. It is important to reflect on the local specificities of the history of the doctrine of discovery here in New England: from whence come the titles to our meetinghouses? A Friend from Bolivia, an Aymara woman who knows from deep personal experience what it means to live under the Doctrine of Discovery, has gradually come to see and feel the presence of this doctrine not only in Bolivia but here among Quakers in the United States. This is not just a historical question; it is a present question, it is a future question. At its heart is failing to see the Light in all people, failing to see that all people have needs, failing to see people at all. Every day we give ourselves permission to do things that rest upon our privileges and we can, daily, personally take responsibility for how we live with each other, recognizing that no one of us is any more precious than anyone else. We cannot change the past, but we can change how we record history and the stories we tell, so that the truth of our actions is openly explored. We need to recognize that there is much work to do in our own Quaker communities, in our souls. We share this world.

After this period of worship Friends approved the following minute:

The Doctrine of Discovery was used to justify Christians’ “right” to dominate, exploit and claim the lands of non-Christians that they “discovered.” In the days of European exploration and colonization, governments relied on the Doctrine of Discovery, which has its roots in racism, to commit great harm against native peoples. This doctrine has justified policies of deception, forced removal, sterilization, enslavement and genocide. The doctrine has not disappeared or been revoked. It has the force of law globally and serves as a framework of oppression fully intact in U.S. federal Indian law today. In 2012 the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) focused on encouraging global repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery. 

We as New England Yearly Meeting repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. We are beginning a journey to consider the moral and spiritual implications of how we benefit from and have been harmed by the doctrine as individuals and meetings. The workings of this doctrine are invisible to most of us. Our first work is to remove the logs from our eyes so that we may see. We need to learn more, find ways to seek forgiveness and ask how the Spirit might lead us. We have heard powerful testimonies to how these issues have affected our lives. We encourage consultation with Indigenous Peoples to restore the health of ourselves and our planet. We recognize that this is our work to do. On this path, respectfully traveled in love, our goal is true healing so the Light of God can be answered in everyone. Our intention is to walk toward being in right relationship with the whole human family and the planet.