Mobilized Efforts Working to Revoke the Doctrine of Discovery

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Numerous faith communities have been calling for the revocation of the 1493 Doctrine of Discovery since 2007, and Pope Francis’ new encyclical focusing on climate change being driven by multinational corporate capitalism is fueling the debate.

This Doctrine provided the moral rationale for the genocide that colonial European powers inflicted upon indigenous populations. It set the stage for the indigenous people to be perceived as subhuman savages, and set forth the perspective that Christian nations have a divine right to possess indigenous peoples’ land and natural resources.

Over five-hundred years later, the Doctrine continues to impact current issues facing indigenous populations, in which they’re continually marginalized. Since 1823, the Doctrine has been used in several United States court cases to invalidate indigenous land possessions, with the most recent citation in the 2005 City of Sherill, NY v. Oneida Nation case.

The United Nations, in their Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, enacted in 2007, say, “all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust.”

Since then, over a dozen faith communities have called for the Doctrine of Discovery to be revoked, including the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the World Council of Churches, and the Loretto Community.

A congregation of religious women and laypeople, the Loretto community collaborated with a member of the Osage Nation to create a 2012 resolution against the Doctrine. By fall of 2013, they partnered up with twelve other Catholic groups calling the Pope to rescind the Doctrine.

Still, the papacy hasn’t acted. Last August, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of US nuns, also approved a resolution against the Doctrine.

Pope Francis’s recent encyclical appropriately addresses the need to prevent further environmental degradation, and opens discussions regarding the current capitalist models where ‘the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.’ The 1493 Doctrine should be acknowledged as having provided the legal and moral footing for colonial capitalism, which is the root cause of the current economic globalism and environmental destruction we face today.

A revocation would signify to indigenous people globally that the Catholic Church truly cares about the systemic causes of climate change and the plight of the poorest of the poor, by admitting that they originally provided the moral justifications for the theft of indigenous land, and the slaughter of tens of millions.

The Romero Institute has also begun a petition calling for the revocation of the Doctrine. You can sign the petition by visiting our website:

Please consider becoming a member of the Romero Institute and our project, Lakota People’s Law Project, so we can continue our vital work in fostering the renewal of indigenous people in South Dakota, and the rest of the United States.

To learn more about faith communities mobilizing against the Doctrine, read:

The Romero Institute is an interfaith law and policy center exposing systemic injustice and implementing permanent solutions. Formerly the renowned Christic Institute, the nonprofit Romero organization employs law, investigation, research, public education and grassroots organizing in its work.

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