Friday, February 22, 2013

Methodists repudiate the doctrine of discovery

The founding amnesias of America and Israel with regard to indigenous people are striking. One must erase others, because if native Americans and Palestinians are human, then these settler regimes have committed great crimes. See here, here and here. That is a boundary line. Recognize that we are all human beings and it is impossible to celebrate genocide, as, for example, the monuments between Denver’s State Capitol and the City and County Building do. See "Sand Creek, Sandy Hook and the Inauguration" here.


As Montequieu put it in book 15 of his 1748 Spirit of the Laws:
“We cannot regard black people to be human, because if we regard them as human, the suspicion would arise that we are not Christians.”


The members of the Methodist church in Denver, led by John Chivington, Ralph Byers, editor of the Rocky Mountain News which proclaimed Sand Creek the “greatest victory in the history of indian wars” and Governor John Evans, were members of “the hundred daysters” who butchered women, children and old men at Sand Creek.


That massacre was one of several, Bear Creek in Idaho against the Shoshone on January 29, 1863, also of California volunteers led by General Patrick Edward Connor (the role of mobilized, racist civilians in these two massacres is striking), and Wounded Knee December 29, 1890 (h/t Richard Clemmer-Smith). See here.


The ethnic cleansing across the country carried out by the US government and settlers was a process of aggression. Given the strength – though not the justice – of an imperial United States, many indigenous tribes sought to make peace. They were often cheated, in broken agreement after broken agreement, denied lands on which to hunt, cordoned off or settled on reservations or “farm lands,” and then starved.


Some rebelled.


The slaughter of the Hungate family by some Native Americans – their bodies exhibited in Denver to mount a fury againt “the Red fiends” (Chivington’s words) was a response to the murder the month before of Lean Bear - Awoninahku (1813–1864) by US troops. Lean Bear had gone to Washington, met with Lincoln, had peace papers in his hands as he walked to show the soldiers he was at peace, and was shot down.


It was fight or die. Many fought back.

Contra Chivington who desperately claimed that the massacre "pacified" the West, Sand Creek generated the long and fierce "Indian Wars" which destroyed Custer and culminated, a quarter of a century later, with the massacre at Wounded Knee.


Aggression aganst nonwhites – nonhumans, those without souls according to the Pope – had been labeled “discovery” since the 1450s. The pope divided the world among Spain and Portugal. See the Papal decree Romanus Pontifex of 1493 below and the account of Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (h/t Andrew Reid and Duncan Campbell).


But Methodists and the World Council of Churches have now repudiated the doctrine of discovery. My friend George Tinker spoke at the Methodist conference April 27, 2012 in Tampa, Florida about a need for continued repentance of which there is a brief segment here. The whole meeting was devoted to recognizing and mourning the crimes against indigenous people, and Tinker’s speech, including naming the crimes of Governor John Evans, begins at around minute 40 here.


With long struggles against racism (including the publication during the civil rights movement of Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, struggles such as Wounded Knee, and demonstrations), the times have changed. The crimes of aggression and genocide are now clear to many. One has to be the prisoner of the racist idea that the murder of people is only a concern of indians to resist it.

This Tuesday, in the room about Sand Creek at the Colorado History Museum, an old racist who had this view, coupled with a celebration of “the Southern War of Independence,” started a conversation with me - as if white men would obviously agree about this...


Later I saluted Silas Soule, an abolitionist who helped free Dr. Doy a white participant in the underground railway captured by Missouri slave-owners. See here. Soule was also a Federal soldier who refused to fire on people at Sand Creek and let them escape through his lines, warned Chivington against the attack the night before (Chivington threatened him), told the truth to the Federal government about the massacre producing the hearings, and was murdered in Denver (he was then a police officer) the week after he testified, by a soldier from one of the cavalry militias which waged the massacre. For Soule's testimony, see here.

On orders from higher up, the sheriff left the jail open and he escaped.

A white woman named Diane then spoke to me about the need for recognition, mourning and healing.


The atmosphere in that room is electric.


When Ari Kelman, an historian at the University of California Davis, spoke about his fine new book A Misplaced Massacre, some 700 people showed up for three sessions.

The first session sold out, and he agreed to do another and then another.


In chapter two, Kelman emphasizes the response of indigenous people to cant from federal and Republican politicians about healing during the dedication of the recent Sand Creek Massacre Memorial.

There was a request, for instance, not for a memorial but for health care, food, aid for education.


One may easily underestimate how alive this issue is in Colorado, how much the times have eroded this founding amnesia, how much the people who lived here are now recognized, not through shadowy names for conquered territories and missing people, say, Arapahoe Road, but as humans.


2014 is 150 years since the Sand Creek Massacre. It is time for all Americans to mourn what was done to indigenous people – to rename many of these old memorials to genocide and build new ones to those who fought against it – and make a new start.


The World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of 349 churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service
Document date: 17.02.2012
Statement on the doctrine of discovery and its enduring impact on Indigenous Peoples
WCC Executive Committee

14-17 February 2012
Bossey, Switzerland

1. Indigenous Peoples have the oldest living cultures in the world. Three hundred to five hundred million Indigenous Peoples today live in over 72 countries around the world, and they comprise at least 5,000 distinct peoples. The ways of life, identities, well-being and very existence of Indigenous People are threatened by the continuing effects of colonization and national policies, regulations and laws that attempt to force them to assimilate into the cultures of majoritarian societies. A fundamental historical basis and legal precedent for these policies and laws is the “Doctrine of Discovery”, the idea that Christians enjoy a moral and legal right based solely on their religious identity to invade and seize indigenous lands and to dominate Indigenous Peoples.

2. Around the world, Indigenous Peoples are over-represented in all categories of disadvantage. In most indigenous communities people live in poverty without clean water and necessary infrastructure, lacking adequate health care, education, employment and housing. Many indigenous communities still suffer the effects of dispossession, forced removals from homelands and families, inter-generational trauma and racism, the effects of which are manifested in social welfare issues such as alcohol and drug problems, violence and social breakdown. Basic health outcomes dramatize the disparity in well-being between Indigenous Peoples and European descendants.

3. The patterns of domination and oppression that continue to afflict Indigenous Peoples today throughout the world are found in numerous historical documents such as Papal Bulls, Royal Charters and court rulings. For example, the church documents Dum Diversas (1452) and Romanus Pontifex (1455) called for non-Christian peoples to be invaded, captured, vanquished, subdued, reduced to perpetual slavery and to have their possessions and property seized by Christian monarchs. Collectively, these and other concepts form a paradigm or pattern of domination that is still being used against Indigenous Peoples.

4. Following the above patterns of thought and behaviour, Christopher Columbus was instructed, for example, to “discover and conquer,” “subdue” and “acquire” distant lands, and in 1493 Pope Alexander VI called for non-Christian “barbarous nations” to be subjugated and proselytized for the “propagation of the Christian empire.” Three years later, England’s King Henry VII followed the pattern of domination by instructing John Cabot and his sons to locate, subdue and take possession of the “islands, countries, regions, of the heathens and infidels . . . unknown to Christian people.” Thereafter, for example, English, Portuguese and Spanish colonization in Australia, the Americas and New Zealand proceeded under the Doctrine of Discovery as Europeans attempted to conquer and convert Indigenous Peoples. In 1513, Spain drafted a legal document that was required to be read to Indigenous Peoples before “just war” could commence. The Requerimiento informed Indigenous Peoples that their lands had been donated to Spain and that they had to submit to the Crown and Christianity or they would be attacked and enslaved.

5. In 1823, the U.S. Supreme Court used the same pattern and paradigm of domination to claim in the ruling Johnson & Graham’s Lessee v. M’Intosh that the United States as the successor to various “potentates” had the “ultimate dominion” or “ultimate title” (right of territorial domination) over all lands within the claimed boundaries of the United States. The Court said that as a result of the documents mentioned above, authorizing “Christian people” to “discover” and possess the lands of “heathens,” the Indians were left with a mere “right of occupancy;” an occupancy that, according to the Court was subject to the “ultimate title” or “absolute title” of the United States. The Johnson case has been cited repeatedly by Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and United States courts, and the Doctrine of Discovery has been held by all these countries to have granted European settler societies plenary power (domination) over Indigenous Peoples, legal title to their lands, and has resulted in diminished sovereign, commercial and international rights for Indigenous Peoples and governments. Europeans believed this was proper based on their ethnocentric, racial and religious attitudes that they and their cultures, religions and governments were superior to non-Christian European peoples.

6. Consequently, the current situation of Indigenous Peoples around the world is the result of a linear programme of “legal” precedent, originating with the Doctrine of Discovery and codified in contemporary national laws and policies. The Doctrine mandated Christian European countries to attack, enslave and kill the Indigenous Peoples they encountered and to acquire all of their assets. The Doctrine remains the law in various ways in almost all settler societies around the world today. The enormity of the application of this law and the theft of the rights and assets of Indigenous Peoples have led indigenous activists to work to educate the world about this situation and to galvanize opposition to the Doctrine. Many Christian churches that have studied the pernicious Doctrine have repudiated it, and are working to ameliorate the legal, economic and social effects of this international framework. Starting in 2007, for example, with the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, followed by the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York in 2008, and in 2010 by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, individual churches began adopting resolutions and minutes repudiating the Doctrine. In 2009, at its 76th General Convention, the Episcopal Church adopted resolution D035 – “Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.” In 2010, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada adopted resolution A086 – “Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.” In 2011, various Unitarian Universalist churches and Quaker organizations are adopting and considering adopting resolutions and minutes repudiating the Doctrine. This issue of the Doctrine of Discovery has also been brought to the forefront of world attention by Indigenous Peoples working with international bodies.

7. Considering the fact that the Doctrine of Discovery will be the theme for the 11th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in 2012, churches and the international community need to be sensitized on this issue. The Doctrine of Discovery: its enduring impact on Indigenous Peoples and the right to redress for past conquests (articles 28 and 37 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) will be discussed at the UNPFII from 7 to 18 May 2012; this event will bring together representatives of Indigenous People’s organizations and networks around the world. Churches and ecumenical networks of the WCC will be mobilized to be part of the 11th session of the UNPFII in 2012.

In this context, the executive committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting at Bossey, Switzerland, 14-17 February 2012,

A. Expresses solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the world and supports the rights of Indigenous Peoples to live in and retain their traditional lands and territories, to maintain and enrich their cultures and to ensure that their traditions are strengthened and passed on for generations to come;

B. Denounces the Doctrine of Discovery as fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and as a violation of the inherent human rights that all individuals and peoples have received from God;

C. Urges various governments in the world to dismantle the legal structures and policies based on the Doctrine of Discovery and dominance, so as better to empower and enable Indigenous Peoples to identify their own aspirations and issues of concern;

D. Affirms its conviction and commitment that Indigenous Peoples be assisted in their struggle to involve themselves fully in creating and implementing solutions that recognize and respect the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples and to exercise their right to self-determination and self-governance;

E. Requests the governments and states of the world to ensure that their policies, regulations and laws that affect Indigenous Peoples comply with international conventions and, in particular, conform to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169;

F. Calls on each WCC member church to reflect upon its own national and church history and to encourage all member parishes and congregations to seek a greater understanding of the issues facing Indigenous Peoples, to support Indigenous Peoples in their ongoing efforts to exercise their inherent sovereignty and fundamental human rights, to continue to raise awareness about the issues facing Indigenous Peoples and to develop advocacy campaigns to support the rights, aspirations and needs of Indigenous Peoples;

G. Encourages WCC member churches to support the continued development of theological reflections by Indigenous Peoples which promote indigenous visions of full, good and abundant life and which strengthen their own spiritual and theological reflections.


Methodists express repentance for massacre of Native Americans

MAY 13, 2011
Ecumenical News International

In a spirit of repentance, the United Methodist Church is making good on a pledge to support a learning center at the Western site of an 1864 massacre of Native Americans led by a Methodist minister.

The UMC’s General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, based in New York City, announced that it has gived $50,000 to the National Park Service for developing a center at the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, near Eads, Colorado. The donation will be used to fund research materials and other public education initiatives.

The donation is the latest in a series of acts in which the 12-million-member denomination has apologized for the action of Colonel John Chivington, a Methodist minister who led a Nov. 29, 1864, attack against members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples along the banks of Sand Creek.

Some 165 people — most of them women, children and the elderly — were killed. As a result of the massacre, Cheyennes and Arapahos abandoned all claims to what was then the Territory of Colorado.

“This effort is only a single step in a very complex and emotional journey for our church,” the Rev. Stephen Sidorak, Jr., general secretary of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, said in a recent statement. “We have played an unfortunate role in history in regards to Native Americans and our recognition of our involvement is long overdue.”

Sidorak told ENInews that Northern Cheyenne peoples today “are quite struck by the fact that animals have returned to the massacre site, evidence of the healing of the land, a victory of life over death.”

The UMC is preparing for a formal “Act of Repentance to Indigenous Persons” during the meeting of its top legislative body, the United Methodist General Conference, to be held April 25- May 4, 2012, in Tampa, Florida.

That service, the general commission said, “is intended to be an acknowledgment of wrongs done to indigenous persons and the beginning of a process to heal relationships between indigenous communities and the church.”

The UMC’s 1996 General Conference formally expressed regret for the Sand Creek massacre and issued a public apology for the “actions of a prominent Methodist.” The denomination authorized a donation to the Sand Creek Massacre Learning Center in 2008.

“The Learning Center will enable descendants, visitors and researchers to study the causes and consequences of this tragedy and its relevance to contemporary events in the hope of preventing similar occurrences in the future,” Alexa Roberts, superintendent of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, said in a statement.

Chivington reportedly said: “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians. I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians.” Almost twenty years after the event, he was unrepentant, declaring: “I stand by Sand Creek.”

Such acts and words continue to wound, Sidorak said, explaining: “We will never get a grip on our need for repentance until we grasp the breadth and depth of the historical injuries sustained by indigenous ancestors and the lasting wounds inflicted upon their descendants.”


The Bull Inter Caetera (Alexander VI), May 4, 1493.


Columbus' discovery in 1492 of supposedly Asiatic lands in the western seas threatened the unstable relations between the kingdoms of Portugal and Castile, which had been jockeying for position and possession of colonial territories along the African coast for many years. The king of Portugal asserted that the discovery was within the bounds set forth in Papal bulls of 1455, 1456, and 1479. The king and queen of Castile disputed this and sought a new Papal Bull on the subject.

Pope Alexander VI, a native of Valencia and a friend of the Castilian king, responded with three bulls, dated May 3 and 4, which were highly favorable to Castile. The third of these bulls, the bull Inter caetera, is reproduced below, in an English translation published in European Treaties bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, Frances Gardiner Davenport, editor, Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917, Washington, D.C., at pp. 75-78. The original text in Latin is in the same volume, at pp. 72-75.

Though later bulls were issued on the subject of Portugese and Spanish colonial rivalry, the bull Inter caetera became a major document in the development of subsequent legal doctrines regarding claims of empire in the "new world." The bull assigned to Castile the exclusive right to acquire territory, to trade in, or even to approach the lands lying west of the meridian situated one hundred leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands. An exception was made, however, for any lands actually possessed by any other Christian prince beyond this meridian prior to Christmas, 1492.

English Translation

Alexander, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to the illustrious sovereigns, our very dear son in Christ, Ferdinand, king, and our very dear daughter in Christ, Isabella, queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Sicily, and Granada, health and apostolic benediction. Among other works well pleasing to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this assuredly ranks highest, that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself. Wherefore inasmuch as by the favor of divine clemency, we, though of insufficient merits, have been called to this Holy See of Peter, recognizing that as true Catholic kings and princes, such as we have known you always to be, and as your illustrious deeds already known to almost the whole world declare, you not only eagerly desire but with every effort, zeal, and diligence, without regard to hardships, expenses, dangers, with the shedding even of your blood, are laboring to that end; recognizing also that you have long since dedicated to this purpose your whole soul and all your endeavors -- as witnessed in these times with so much glory to the Divine Name in your recovery of the kingdom of Granada from the yoke of the Saracens -- we therefore are rightly led, and hold it as our duty, to grant you even of our own accord and in your favor those things whereby with effort each day more hearty you may be enabled for the honor of God himself and the spread of the Christian rule to carry forward your holy and praiseworthy purpose so pleasing to immortal God. We have indeed learned that you, who for a long time had intended to seek out and discover certain islands and mainlands remote and unknown and not hitherto discovered by others, to the end that you might bring to the worship of our Redeemer and the profession of the Catholic faith their residents and inhabitants, having been up to the present time greatly engaged in the siege and recovery of the kingdom itself of Granada were unable to accomplish this holy and praiseworthy purpose; but the said kingdom having at length been regained, as was pleasing to the Lord, you, with the wish to fulfill your desire, chose our beloved son, Christopher Columbus, a man assuredly worthy and of the highest recommendations and fitted for so great an undertaking, whom you furnished with ships and men equipped for like designs, not without the greatest hardships, dangers, and expenses, to make diligent quest for these remote and unknown mainlands and islands through the sea, where hitherto no one had sailed; and they at length, with divine aid and with the utmost diligence sailing in the ocean sea, discovered certain very remote islands and even mainlands that hitherto had not been discovered by others; wherein dwell very many peoples living in peace, and, as reported, going unclothed, and not eating flesh. Moreover, as your aforesaid envoys are of opinion, these very peoples living in the said islands and countries believe in one God, the Creator in heaven, and seem sufficiently disposed to embrace the Catholic faith and be trained in good morals. And it is hoped that, were they instructed, the name of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, would easily be introduced into the said countries and islands. Also, on one of the chief of these aforesaid islands the said Christopher has already caused to be put together and built a fortress fairly equipped, wherein he has stationed as garrison certain Christians, companions of his, who are to make search for other remote and unknown islands and mainlands. In the islands and countries already discovered are found gold, spices, and very many other precious things of divers kinds and qualities. Wherefore, as becomes Catholic kings and princes, after earnest consideration of all matters, especially of the rise and spread of the Catholic faith, as was the fashion of your ancestors, kings of renowned memory, you have purposed with the favor of divine clemency to bring under your sway the said mainlands and islands with their residents and inhabitants and to bring them to the Catholic faith. Hence, heartily commending in the Lord this your holy and praiseworthy purpose, and desirous that it be duly accomplished, and that the name of our Savior be carried into those regions, we exhort you very earnestly in the Lord and by your reception of holy baptism, whereby you are bound to our apostolic commands, and by the bowels of the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, enjoin strictly, that inasmuch as with eager zeal for the true faith you design to equip and despatch this expedition, you purpose also, as is your duty, to lead the peoples dwelling in those islands and countries to embrace the Christian religion; nor at any time let dangers or hardships deter you therefrom, with the stout hope and trust in your hearts that Almighty God will further your undertakings. And, in order that you may enter upon so great an undertaking with greater readiness and heartiness endowed with the benefit of our apostolic favor, we, of our own accord, not at your instance nor the request of anyone else in your regard, but of our own sole largess and certain knowledge and out of the fullness of our apostolic power, by the authority of Almighty God conferred upon us in blessed Peter and of the vicarship of Jesus Christ, which we hold on earth, do by tenor of these presents, should any of said islands have been found by your envoys and captains, give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages, and all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances, all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered towards the west and south, by drawing and establishing a line from the Arctic pole, namely the north, to the Antarctic pole, namely the south, no matter whether the said mainlands and islands are found and to be found in the direction of India or towards any other quarter, the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde. With this proviso however that none of the islands and mainlands, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, beyond that said line towards the west and south, be in the actual possession of any Christian king or prince up to the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ just past from which the present year one thousand four hundred and ninety-three begins. And we make, appoint, and depute you and your said heirs and successors lords of them with full and free power, authority, and jurisdiction of every kind; with this proviso however, that by this our gift, grant, and assignment no right acquired by any Christian prince, who may be in actual possession of said islands and mainlands prior to the said birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ, is hereby to be understood to be withdrawn or taken away. Moreover we command you in virtue of holy obedience that, employing all due diligence in the premises, as you also promise -- nor do we doubt your compliance therein in accordance with your loyalty and royal greatness of spirit -- you should appoint to the aforesaid mainlands and islands worthy, God-fearing, learned, skilled, and experienced men, in order to instruct the aforesaid inhabitants and residents in the Catholic faith and train them in good morals. Furthermore, under penalty of excommunication late sententie to be incurred ipso facto, should anyone thus contravene, we strictly forbid all persons of whatsoever rank, even imperial and royal, or of whatsoever estate, degree, order, or condition, to dare, without your special permit or that of your aforesaid heirs and successors, to go for the purpose of trade or any other reason to the islands or mainlands, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, towards the west and south, by drawing and establishing a line from the Arctic pole to the Antarctic pole, no matter whether the mainlands and islands, found and to be found, lie in the direction of India or toward any other quarter whatsoever, the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south, as is aforesaid, from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde; apostolic constitutions and ordinances and other decrees whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding. We trust in Him from whom empires and governments and all good things proceed, that, should you, with the Lord's guidance, pursue this holy and praiseworthy undertaking, in a short while your hardships and endeavors will attain the most felicitous result, to the happiness and glory of all Christendom. But inasmuch as it would be difficult to have these present letters sent to all places where desirable, we wish, and with similar accord and knowledge do decree, that to copies of them, signed by the hand of a public notary commissioned therefor, and sealed with the seal of any ecclesiastical officer or ecclesiastical court, the same respect is to be shown in court and outside as well as anywhere else as would be given to these presents should they thus be exhibited or shown. Let no one, therefore, infringe, or with rash boldness contravene, this our recommendation, exhortation, requisition, gift, grant, assignment, constitution, deputation, decree, mandate, prohibition, and will. Should anyone presume to attempt this, be it known to him that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, in the year of the incarnation of our Lord one thousand four hundred and ninety-three, the fourth of May, and the first year of our pontificate.

Gratis by order of our most holy lord, the pope.

June. For the referendary, For J. Bufolinus,

A. de Mucciarellis. A. Santoseverino.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is the UMC saying that the millions of oppressed citizens of the old world should have stayed home and endured their situations with a stiff upper lip in the 1700 & 1800s at the hands of Czars, German princes, famines in Ireland and Italy, etc., etc. while a few Native Americans controled an entire continent?

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