“If you have come to help me, you are are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” 

From the ‘collective wisdom’, Lila Watson, Aboriginal woman of Australia. “Mawiyane!”

What is the Doctrine of Discovery?

The Doctrine of Discovery is the worldview that a certain group of people have dominion over lands because of their religious and gender identity. When white European Christian male explorers came to the Americas in the 15th century and onward, they were acting under the authority of the Church of Europe to colonize and Christianize the “new world”. This Doctrine began with three papal bulls* in the 15th century, made its way into U.S. and Indian Property law in the 1823 U.S. Supreme Court decision Johnson v. M’intosh, and its legacy has continued to be felt today. As recently as 2005, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited the landmark 1823 decision in City of Sherrill vs. Oneida Indian Nation of New York. The ruling held that the repurchase of tribal lands did not restore tribal sovereignty. 

Quakers and the Doctrine of Discovery

The history of Quakers and Indigenous people is as long as it is complicated. William Penn, well known for being a friend to indigenous peoples, came to the Americas with a charter granted to him from King Charles II. This Charter purported to grant Penn land that was already inhabited by the Lenape nation. However, because the land had not been colonized and cultivated by Christendom, the land was seen as empty and Penn’s for the taking. Thus began a difficult and painful history between Friends and indigenous peoples that resulted in the colonialization of indigenous land, cultural genocide of indigenous cultures in Quaker boarding schools, and the relocation of First Nation people off of their tribal lands—lands many Friends now call home. The legacy of colonialization still affects all of us today, and Friends around the country are co-creating a path towards racial and economic justice with indigenous peoples as ways open towards the beloved community. 

What can I do?

The Towards Right Relationship Project has created a Resource kit that provides concrete actions Friends can take to the journey towards healing. Additionally, Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly meetings all over North America have taken steps to dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery. On this webpage, you can find some of the actions being taken by many different meetings to challenge the Doctrine of Discovery. We have also provided resources for friends wanting to find out more about the Doctrine of Discovery and how to get involved.

Monthly Meetings

Quarterly Meetings

Yearly Meetings

*A papal bull is a formal document or charter written by the Pope.

Additional Resources

Please contact The Ministry on Racism to add resources to this page. 

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