Category Archives: Doctrine of Discovery

Christian Doctrine of Discovery

Across Border Impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery


March 22, 2015

Last week’s entry Reestablishing Heritage Languages: Sustainable Thinking brought about a question. “Let me or us perhaps know Dave what you know about whether the DOD operates in some way south of the border with Mexico to the extent it does on the other side.” The question comes from the writer of Erasing Borders, Doug Smith, a worthwhile reading!

Any longer, most every nation economy has the virtues of the Doctrine of Discovery embedded in their business, environmental, and political structures. In the America’s alone, though the political and cultural structures of nations north and south of the US border are different, the economic drive is much the same. Like a cancer, the DOD has tendrils entrenched in every American government, their law, business, religion(s), and environmental policies. The easiest sector to notice the DOD is in economy and business.

The DOD has always been about gaining wealth for governments through the extraction of resources. Those who financed Portugal’s Vasco da Gama, Spain’s Columbus, Balboa, Cortés, Pizarro, and Coronado, England’s Cabot, Drake, and France’s Cartier had one goal, find resources, extract the, (or develop a plan of extraction) those resources, and bring them resource. Finding examples of how the DOD operates south of the US border become easier when one is sympathetic with the idea that the primary component of the DOD is extracting resources.

For comparison sake, consider a recent US example. The land of Oak Flat sits just outside the landscape of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Continue reading

Reestablishing Heritage Languages: Sustainable Thinking


March 15, 2015

At the Winter Talk conference in Tulsa in few weeks ago, I found myself listening to Dr. Richard Grounds, founder of the Euchee Language Project. He spoke about how the Doctrine of Discovery encouraged the loss of indigenous languages. This loss, he noted, is more than the loss of words and phrases, it is the loss of culture and ways of being. Furthermore, because the loss of language (and in turn culture) in the America’s is intentional (and historically supported) by non-indigenous governments, it is one of many cogs in a wheel of indigenous genocide. A point of Grounds is language is more than words; it is the way a people think and live.

When I heard language is the way a people think, I wandered from Grounds talk for a moment. The wandering took me to a time when a Spanish instructor of mine said, “you’re getting a handle on the language the moment you quit translating (in your head) from English to Spanish.” Because languages do not translate word for word, idea for idea, exactly, then Dr. Grounds comment about language being the way a people think has me thinking language is an important consideration for those who engage in the work of anti-racism and the dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery (DOD).

The way a people think holds great implications for US people. Let’s say a Spanish speaker is learning US English (Fair to accept US English is unlike English spoken elsewhere in the world?). The speaker is middle-age and has spent their life speaking only Spanish. They have always expressed their thoughts, values, morals through the Spanish language. Continue reading

How Do We Talk About Our Unpeopling A People?


February 15, 2015

Last fall I came across an article about a partnership between Disciples Center for Public Justice (Center) and Disciple Home Ministries (DHM). In this article the author wrote,

This…ministry deals with such diverse issues and concerns as criminal justice reform, human trafficking, gun violence, capital punishment, and the rights of Native Americans in the United States and First Nations in Canada.

My first read through I wanted to say, great! Second read though had me saying, again? Fair enough, I read church articles through a pair of glasses with one anti-racist lens and one Christian Doctrine of Discovery lens. Sometimes they have trouble focusing, but sometimes they lead to a question or comment.

This time, the again led to comment. I find the above sentence problematic because the author created a list of items. I have no problem with the first four items, “criminal justice reform, human trafficking, gun violence, capital punishment.” The kicker is the fifth item, “and the rights of Native Americans in the United States and First Nations in Canada.” By including the rights of Native Americans and First Nations in the list, the author converts Native American and First Nation (Native) people from people to items.

Grasping at straws? Well, consider the first item. Criminal justice reform is concerned with the rights of all people, African-American, Latino, White, Asian, etcetera. There is no mention of concern for African-American, Asian, or Latino rights. Continue reading

Engaging Justice Prior To Movement Status


January 4, 2015

When speaking about the Christian Doctrine of Discovery and asking folk to consider if their life-ministry-vocation is to help the movement by raising their communities awareness of the CDOD’s structural injustice, a question sometimes asked (perhaps it isn’t as much a question as it is a comment), “what movement?”

I think we all have an ingrained desire to participate in justice. Justice may look very different to each of us and sometimes we find ourselves as if across a wall from one another believing ours is the justice side. Regardless of which side of the wall we find ourselves, we want justice for our friends, neighbors, and relations. To make it so, we often prefer being part of a movement. In other words, we want to do justice, but we would a whole lot rather not do it alone.

Not being alone has much to with the question. Though many are engaged in raising awareness of the CDOD, there currently in no single organized movement. There is the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, but most people don’t see themselves related to such a world structure. Then there are churches who have begun asking questions and wondering what change might look like within their own organizations, like the Methodist, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, and Disciples of Christ churches. And there are a few universities with groups who are actively engaged in questioning the CDOD. Continue reading

Landscape Americans


November 30, 2014

Driving down the Columbia Gorge, Belinda and I searched for a radio to pass time. We came upon an interview with an American Indian woman. She was in the middle of making a point that Native Americans know their heritage better than non-Indians, and this has a lot to do with traditional story telling practices. In making her point, she said that while Native Americans could go back generations, Americans can seldom tell a story beyond that of their grandparents.

I turned to Belinda and commented she had missed on this one. Not on the idea that many Americans can no longer tell a story beyond their grandparents—I think that is true enough, but in saying “Americans,” she included folk she did not intend. As she went on, it was clear her comment was focused on white folk of European heritage. However, in saying “Americans” she includes all folk of the America’s: American Indians, First Nation peoples of Canada, Indigenous of Mexico and Central America and South America, Greenlandic Inuit, and Alaska Natives. Belinda pushed back saying well you know what she meant. Yes, true enough, however, we need to claim inclusive language that honors both heritage and the reality of the landscape. With neither of us backing down, we had just enough to drive a conversation for the rest of the journey.

This last Sunday of Native American Heritage month I am thinking to honor heritage, place of birth and/or place of adoption must be distinguish and honored as well. Continue reading

Considering Weakness and Apathy


November 9, 2014

I found Bill Running Wolf Davis’ essay Disciples Missional Tokenism to American Indians: Legacy of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery posted on the Facebook Page Disciples Exchange last October 9. During the essay Running Wolf raises a number of questions and makes a few comments about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Disciple(s)) historical and ongoing commitment to American Indian justice. Running Wolf (RW) doesn’t cut Disciples much slack in his essay; so, Facebook being the nonconfrontive space it is, few non-Indians risked commenting on RW’s thoughts. Being fair though, it takes more than a few sentences to ponder the many issues RW raises.

RW centers his thoughts on the Disciple denomination. However, I find many of his comments apply to every American Christian church: Catholic, Methodist, Mormon, Episcopal, Mennonite, et cetera. Additionally, I agree with a number of his observations and question a few. Seems like perfect stuff for conversation, and since this is Native American Heritage Month, I thought I would use RW’s essay to spur a few thoughts of my own over the course of the month.

Running Wolf’s essay opens with a quote from D. Duane Cummins 2009 book Disciples: A Struggle for Reformation. The quote is the concluding paragraph of Cummins’ Native American section. Continue reading

Abolish Columbus Day?

14.10.13October 13, 2014

Christopher Columbus arrived on the island of Jamaica on May 5, 1494. The Jamaican Tanos people went from sixty thousand to zero in fifty years. To replace the Tanos, Spaniards brought slaves from Africa. Because of a lack of perceived riches, the Spaniards were gone a 150 years after arriving.

The first Europeans to connect with West African coastal people were Portuguese traders. As the fifteenth century ended, Spanish, Dutch, British, and French had all established a presence in West Africa. The Berlin Conference on the Congo in 1884-85 created an all-out European scramble to claim and colonize West African land and peoples.

Well it is Columbus Day again. Isn’t that somewhat hard to believe? After all, if anyone of any consequence—person or group—thought the actions of Columbus were worth a damn, retailers would have had their promotions out a month ago. When I was in elementary school, few gave Columbus Day a second thought and there were promotions. Today, though, folk are beginning to believe Columbus Day needs replacement, say, with something along the line of Indigenous Day (The mayor of Seattle is signing to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day today.). Maybe that is good… Continue reading

Active Awareness


September 21, 2014

Some eras are of awareness, others action. The Christian Doctrine of Discovery is in an era of awareness. As denominations, the United Nations, and World Council of Churches take a stand on the Doctrine of Discovery, folk are slowly beginning to question what it is and how it affects them and their neighbor. Knowledge of the Doctrine of Discovery calls for action, but until enough folk understand the historical and modern ramifications of the Doctrine of Discovery there will be no meaningful action. That is to say, there is significant action in bringing folk into awareness, but meaningful action—action that changes lives through societal structural change—is ahead of us, but not now.

When the era of action occurs depends on how well this generation helps folk understand the impact the Christian Doctrine of Discovery (DOD) has had on their life, the life of their children, and the life of their neighbor. Such awareness takes time.

My high school years were those of the early seventies; the Red Power Movement was at its height; Vine Deloria Jr.’s 1973 book God is Red had just published; and I took an elective class on American Indians. I and many folk read God is Red and learned about the DOD in the seventies, however structural changed never occurred. Bottom line, even though folk knew about the DOD, few had the ears to understand Deloria’s words. It took me another thirty years and life on the reservation before I began to grasp what Deloria was getting at. This inability to hear occurs because folk come to the DOD with a normalized mindset that does not lend itself to accepting ideas that may call them to change existing conditions. This crawl to awareness can change, but folk will need to engage in discernment of the DOD’s effects in their communities. Continue reading

Busting Reclamation Anvils


September 6, 2014

The Yakama Nation is in the process of reclaiming jurisdiction in five areas of civil and criminal justice. Since 1953 Washington State has held authority over school attendances, public assistance, domestic relations, juvenile delinquency, and motor vehicle operations by way of a federal law known as Public Law 280. In 2012 the Nation filed a petition with the State, which led to then-Governor Gregoire to sign a bill approving a procedure for the Nation to reclaim jurisdiction in those five areas. January of this year saw Governor Inslee issue a proclamation return jurisdiction to the Nation.

When Belinda and I first started looking for land to buy on the reservation in 1999, a number of folk questioned our sanity (That is, after we answered the slew of questions that came along wondering how we could buy land on the reservation in the first place.). They questioned our buying because one day the Yakama Nation might regain total jurisdiction and that might lower land prices. The background question seldom asked was, could you really trust the Tribe to support your best interest?. The second question is a hard one to answer and one to grabble another day. The first one though is much easier.

When Governor Inslee wrote his proclamation, he said jurisdiction could return to the Yakama except for when it involves non-Indians operating motor vehicles on the reservation. The State would retain jurisdiction in these civil cases and well as in criminal cases involving “non-Indian defendants, non-Indian plaintiffs, and non-Indian victims.”

What Inslee withholds in his proclamation is foundational to why non-Indians have little worry (if they are going to worry) about the Yakama regaining total jurisdiction of the land “within the exterior boundaries of the Yakama Reservation (See Proclamation).” Continue reading

A Better Memory, Can We Handle It?


June 7, 2014

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and other sorts of U.S. media figured they had a great story this week with the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. The Post, like others, spoke of how there is “no trace of remembrance on 25th anniversary of protests.” Listening to folk talking about this brought back a number of images for me. As those images bounced around in my head, I also found myself getting upset with those speaking about how could anyone forget, or well, that’s China’s government for you.

Really?! How can such a time in history be forgotten or hidden from the people? Too often, and this is one of those times, U.S. citizens have a good time looking at and complaining about the inadequacies of others when they should be comparing and contrasting those atrocities with their own.

Don’t remember Tiananmen Square? How about the Sand Creek massacre? Or President Lincoln and Mankato, Minnesota where the largest mass execution in the U.S. took place? Or Wounded Knee 1890? Or Wounded Knee 1973? Or Pine Ridge 1975 and Leonard Peltier?

The images of Tiananmen Square continue to disturb me. They are images of how a society holds people at bay when they call out for recognition and freedom. And while I want to speak about the need to remember those images, I also want to say that we, the people of the United States, have as much to remember as the people, the media, and the political leaders of China. The U.S. does well at silencing our own and this silencing isn’t only of the past.

There may not be an image of a lone man in front of tanks on the National Mall, but we have our own. Consider the Cleveland Indian Mascot or the Washington Redskins name, or the Atlanta Braves Tomahawk Chop; are they not the same as Tiananmen Square? Perhaps one might think not, but one, ask American Indians what they think, and two mull over the last time folk in your office or congregation had a serious conversation about poverty on reservations, the high rate of American Indian suicides, or the Supreme Court’s silencing of American Indian voice and rights. Continue reading