Tuesday, August 11, 2015



Statement of Concern and Leadings The Doctrine of Discovery and the
2007 United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

September 19, 2009

The Indian Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends,

          being aware that beginning in 1491 grave injustices were perpetrated upon Indigenous Peoples by Western Europeans, acting under the authority of Christian Religious institutions and their published policies i.e. Papal Bulls and Doctrines of Discovery,

          being aware also that Quakers, beginning with the Doctrine of Discovery Charter given by Charles II to William Penn, participated in and profited from these unjust policies

          being aware that the sequelae of these policies continue today

We now embrace our concern regarding these truths and seek a way forward to make visible these historic truths and also to begin actions which may lead to truth telling and to steps toward reconciliation and healing justice between Native and Non-Native peoples, being concerned primarily about Quaker witness.

As a first step in our Spiritual discernment we minute our disavowal of the Doctrine of Discovery and our affirmation of the 2007 United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Secondly, we forward this Minute to our Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Committee of Oversight, Peace and Concerns Standing Committee, and attach material explaining the history of the Doctrine of Discovery and an articulation of our current hopes and aspirations for Ways forward in beginning reconciliation practices on the part of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Thirdly, we request that Peace and Concerns Standing Committee forward this minute and the accompanying background materials to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Interim committee for their approval.

Fourthly, we offer ourselves to continue this work, in collaboration with Friends of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, with Friends of other affiliations, with Native Peoples, and with non-native persons sharing these concerns.

Quaker Disavowal of the Doctrine of Discovery and Affirmation of the 2007 United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


“The Doctrine of Discovery”, originally invoked via the “Papal Bulls” by European Christian religious leaders such as Pope Nicholas V, Martin V, Pope Alexander VI, and Pope Leo X, has been used to perpetrate violence upon Indigenous peoples throughout the continents and the centuries. The discovery doctrine was the justification of European monarchs to send royal representatives, explorers and colonizers forth in a conquering manner to take over Indigenous lands and possessions, and to enslave, kill, or subject the Indigenous peoples they encountered.

Following this tradition, England‟s King Henry VII granted a charter to John Cabot and his sons on March 5, 1496. The charter specifically authorized John Cabot and his sons "to find, discover and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians." The Charter also read in part, "John and his sons or their heirs and deputies may conquer, occupy and possess whatsoever such towns, castles, cities and islands by them thus discovered that they may be able to conquer, occupy and possess, as our vassals and governors lieutenants and deputies therein, acquiring for us the dominion, title and jurisdiction of the same towns, castles, cities, islands and mainlands so discovered."

The English subsequently put into effect their conquest of North America with additional charters in which the Christian Doctrine of Discovery was a driving justification. The first, by Queen Elizabeth I, was in 1583 to Henry Gilbert, and the second in 1584 to Walter Raleigh. The letters patent to Walter Raleigh gave him and his heirs the power to discover "such remote heathen and barbarous landes Contries and territories not actually possessed of any Christian Prynce and inhabited by Christian People" and to exploit the resources and people of those lands to the full extent of their power, including "all the soyle of all such landes Countryes and territories so to be discovered or possessed as aforesaid and of all the Cittyes Castles townes villages and places in the same" and the full power to dispose of all this as they wish.

In 1681 King Charles II, by authority of his royal “Rights of Discovery”, granted to William Penn (at Penn‟s request and as payment of a debt) the lands that became the colony of Pennsylvania. Penn and the Quakers thus, willingly and determinedly took "possession‟ of Indigenous lands, and in so doing, helped to inaugurate a history of dispossession, actual and cultural genocide, and unending complicity in and perpetuation of injustice continuing even today.

The history of these events and their underlying philosophies have been taught by the victors and told in ways to disguise or minimize the violent and lasting realities of these Christian Conquerors. Natives and non-natives alike have been profoundly duped and misled by these false histories. Now, Native leaders, scholars and theologians, who have experiential knowledge as well as newly discovered historical data, are revisiting these „colonial truths.‟ Inspirationally, Native and non-Native peoples, Christian and non- Christian peoples, are speaking truth to this misused power and speaking to the need for a Spirit of accountability and reconciliation in the 21st century.

The American Episcopalian Church, in July 2009, openly repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, taking upon themselves the duty and responsibility as faithful Christian practitioners to bear witness to this history, to their complicity in it and to their need to actively expand reconciliatory practices with Indigenous peoples. Their leadership beckons others to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and to endorse the 2007 United Nations "Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples." It is now time that we Quakers, in accordance with our historic testimonies of Peace, Integrity, Equality, and Simplicity, join our Episcopalian brothers and sisters, living our faith into new practice and embracing with gratitude the continuing revelation among us.

Minute of the Indian Committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends

On this day, September 19, 2009, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Indian Committee, renounces the Doctrine of Discovery, the doctrine at the foundation of the colonization of Indigenous lands, including the lands of Pennsylvania. We find this doctrine to be fundamentally inconsistent with the teaching of Jesus, with our understanding of the inherent rights that individuals and peoples have received from God, and inconsistent with Quaker testimonies of Peace, Equality, and Integrity. In like spiritual discernment, we now affirm and support the 2007 United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Further, the Indian Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting conveys to the Peace and Concerns Standing Committee, this disavowal. Appreciating that under this discovery doctrine English, Canadians, and Americans, including Friends, settled in the lands of Indigenous peoples, removed them from their homelands, broke treaties made with these peoples, and aided in multiple ways in the destruction of their sacred cultures, languages, and spiritual practices, the Indian Committee believes that for us to continue to remain silent would be tantamount to our giving continuing approval to these abusive acts of theft and cultural genocide. We request thus that Peace and Concerns Standing Committee support us in urging Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to minute a disavowal of any claimed validity of the Doctrine of Discovery. We request also that Peace and Concerns Standing Committee support us in urging Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to minute its endorsement of the 2007 United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, thus adding our Quaker voice to those urging the United States to endorse the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (Currently only the US, Canada, and New Zealand have voted “No” to the endorsement of this UN declaration! These countries are also primary inheritors of the philosophy and practices of the Doctrine.)

It is the hope and aspiration of the Indian Committee that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, may officially convey these expressions of Quaker concerns to other Yearly Meetings of North America, including Canada Yearly Meeting, to New Zealand Yearly Meeting, and to Britain Yearly Meeting for their consideration and their determination of means to disavow historical practices based on the Doctrine of Discovery. In so doing Quaker witness may become consistent with our beliefs in peace, nonviolence, and reverence for that of God in all persons.

It is the hope and aspiration of the Indian Committee that each monthly meeting within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting be encouraged to reflect upon Quaker historic and present kindnesses, injustices, and ignorance vis a vis Indigenous Peoples, that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting encourage all Friends within Friends General Conference to cultivate joyful and meaningful relationships between Friends and Native Peoples of their region and of North America and to support them in their ongoing quest for survival, respect, and inherent sovereignty.

These above actions would put the Religious Society of Friends on record supporting Indigenous Peoples‟ calls for revocation of historic Royal Charters and Papal Bulls and make official our rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery. Such actions would also acknowledge and make visible to ourselves and to others that our past practices, done in the context and mentality of the times, were in error and contributed to sequelae of spiritual and cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples. Such actions would also serve as a continuing reminder of our need to support and to lead in practices of healing and restorative justice, to walk faithfully with our Native brothers and sisters as they seek healing and justice in the 21st century, including standing with them against the continuation of judicial and legal injustices being perpetrated today, the foundation for which continues to be The Doctrine of Discovery.

(Inspired by the actions of the Episcopal Church of the United States, July, 2009)

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