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Milwaukee Monthly Meeting Minute to Renounce the Doctrine of Discovery

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The Doctrine of Discovery (discoverer takes all) was the pre-eminent ideology used to assert that European nations had the right to claim and seize Indigenous lands, establish territorial power and subordinate or destroy Native peoples. European explorers and sponsors believed they had the right and duty to establish dominion in the name of Christianity and Christian sovereigns. That belief became a reality, and the Doctrine became the basis for European governments’ claims to and to control over Indigenous territories.

Why are we concerned about an ideology formulated in the 15th century? We find it necessary to make a public statement of renunciation because this ideology is embedded in our country’s law. The United States Supreme Court decisions and federal government actions continue to utilize this doctrine to minimize the tribes’ control over their land and self-governance. As Quakers, we abhor this doctrine and its destructive aftermath, just as we abhor the ideology of racial superiority and its attendant practices and injuries. The Doctrine is the antithesis of the Quaker testimonies of peace and equality.

The Doctrine of Discovery invokes Christianity as a primary argument legitimizing depredations against Native peoples. Therefore it is the responsibility of faith communities to explicitly withdraw such implied or assumed permission, as our government continues to rely upon the Doctrine and its moral cover of religious faith. Renouncing the Doctrine is a step in a long-term legal strategy leading to a more fair, just and equitable country.

In 2007, the United Nations passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a moral counterweight to the Doctrine of Discovery. As a human rights instrument, it establishes a standard for the treatment of Indigenous peoples and can be a vehicle in assisting them in combating discrimination, marginalization, and oppression. Quakers participated in and supported the passage of the Declaration as a means to address present injustices and prevent future ones.

Following the lead of Indigenous leaders, multiple Quaker Yearly/Monthly Meetings, other denominations and the World Council of Churches, Milwaukee Monthly Meeting renounces the Doctrine of Discovery.

We seek Spirit’s guidance on a process the outcome of which we do not clearly foresee.  The lack of clarity should not stop us from renouncing that which is unjust and harmful.

We also seek Spirit's guidance to restore right relationship with native peoples in our region. We commit to forming a working group, under the care of Peace and Justice Committee that would lay out suggested actions and report back to Meeting.

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