Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery in your Meeting

Charter to William Penn- March 4, 1681
Challenging Racism

"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 landslands 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

·        Boulder Monthly Meeting 2013

·        Butternuts Monthly Meeting 2010

·        Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting 2012

·        Cobscook Monthly Meeting 2010

·        Germantown Monthly Meeting 2012

·        State College Monthly Meeting 2010

·        Vancouver Island Monthly Meeting 2010

Quarterly Meetings

·        Bayou Quarterly Meeting 2015

Yearly Meetings

·        Baltimore Yearly Meeting Indian Affairs Committee 2010

·        Baltimore Yearly Meeting Indian Affairs Committee 2012

·        Canada Yearly Meeting's 2016 minute on Reconciliation

·        Intermountain Yearly Meeting 2014

·        New England Yearly Meeting 2013

·        New York Yearly Meeting 2012

·        New York Yearly Meeting Indian Affairs Committee 2010

·        Philadelphia Yearly Meeting 2013

·        Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's Indian Committee

If your monthly, quarterly, or yearly meeting is doing work on the Doctrine of Discovery not shown here, please contact [email protected] so that it can be lifted up on this webpage. 

Image source: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission 

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