The “Doctrine of Discovery” is a philosophical and legal framework dating to the 15th century that gave Christian governments moral and legal rights to invade and seize indigenous lands and dominate Indigenous Peoples.
The Doctrine of Discovery is enshrined in the US legal paradigm, where case-law is based on a series of Supreme Court decisions from 1823. The patterns of oppression that continue to dispossess Indigenous Peoples of their lands today are found in numerous historical documents such as Papal Bulls, Royal Charters and U.S. Supreme Court rulings as recent as 2005. Collectively, these and other concepts form a paradigm of domination that legitimates extractive industries that displace and destroy many Indigenous Peoples and other vulnerable communities, as well as harm the earth.
What is the religious justification for this doctrine? Together, we will explore a theological framework for decolonizing the Doctrine of Discovery and identify concrete steps toward seeking repair.
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Sarah Augustine is the Executive Director of the Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery, a national coalition with global reach. From 2007-2022 she directed a Dispute Resolution Center in Central Washington. She has served on the faculty at Heritage University, Central Washington University and Yakima Valley College, and has served as Adjunct faculty at Goshen College.
Sarah received a BA in Sociology and Psychology (1996) and an MA in Whole Systems Design with an emphasis in group conflict transformation (2006). She has represented the interests of Indigenous community partners to their own governments, the Inter-American development bank, the United Nations, the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, The World Council of Churches, the World Health Organization, and a host of other international actors including corporate interests.