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Conscious Elders Network

Introduction to the 

Declaration on the Doctrine of Discovery

For several months, we Elder Activists for Social Justice Team in CEN have been studying the systemic racism and oppression that Indigenous/Native peoples endure in the United States today, and the roots of this injustice in history.  We learned, some of us for the first time, about the Doctrine of Discovery dating from the 15th century and still enshrined in law today. 

This international legal principle, arising from as early as the Middle Ages in European Christendom, has justified the subjugation of non-Christian nations and peoples and “the propagation of the Christian empire” (Pope Alexander VI, 15th century) throughout the world.  Retroactively labeled the “Doctrine of Discovery”, this “doctrine” came to be codified as law through several Papal Bulls, particularly the Papal Bull Romanus Pontifex of 1454 and the Papal Bull Inter Caetera of 1493 (right after Columbus “discovered America”), the latter bull dividing parts of the New World between Spain and Portugal and advancing the already approved slave-trade. 

Over the past 500 years the Doctrine of Discovery has established patterns of domination and dehumanization that have become institutionalized in language, thought, and behavior in our cultural and legal systems. The transference of this “doctrine” into the U.S. judicial system occurred in 1823 (Johnson & Grahm's Lessee v. M'Intosh & Wheat), and this legal principle continues into the 21st century. It was recently invoked against Indigenous Peoples’ land rights in a 2005 Supreme Court case.

At the September 2016 gathering of the Conscious Elders Network, a group of us proposed a resolution of support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their efforts to protect their sovereignty, water, culture, life ways, and sacred sites. This CEN Resolution was approved unanimously by the people attending the Gathering.

As we learned more about the Doctrine of Discovery and its continuing influence on the sovereignty and rights of Indigenous peoples today--and the efforts of various religious groups to repudiate and dismantle this Doctrine--we decided to write a Declaration for the Conscious Elders Network, and ask members of our Network to sign it, in order to make a strong public statement of repudiation, and to strengthen our collective awareness and commitment to rid our society and legal system of this destructive and unjust relic of our colonial past.  

Please read the Declaration carefully and, if you are aligned with its message, add your signature to it. In addition to posting it here on our website, we will seek other means of publicizing our commitment to the dismantling of the Doctrine of Discovery with its current harms to our Native communities. 

Declaration on the Doctrine of Discovery

March 28, 2017

The Conscious Elders Network (CEN) is an educational, non-profit U.S. organization fostering a budding movement of vital elders dedicated to actively addressing the demanding challenges facing our country. As conscious elders, we honor the interconnected, interrelated and interdependent community of Life, and so we advocate for ecological integrity, social, racial and economic justice and peaceful coexistence for all people, for all species, for all time.

As elders we raise our voices to protect our beautiful Mother Earth for the sake of the children, grandchildren and future generations. We affirm that we have a moral responsibility to leave a thriving and healthy world for our descendants. As conscious elders, we recognize the escalating planetary crisis threatening our ecological and cultural well being as an inevitable consequence of humanity's lost reverence for life. We choose to reimagine the future, by merging the “told” history of the United States with the untold legacy of our indigenous ancestors, insights from all wisdom traditions, and the discoveries of modern science. In this way, we will revive our sense of kinship with life and Earth, inspiring us toward compassionate life-affirming activism. We honor the wisdom and spirituality of Original Peoples, committed to effective care for the Earth and its inhabitants.

Within our focus on social justice, we encourage each other to deepen our understanding of the sources of these challenges, to shed our complicity, to ally with those who have suffered, and to do our part to change ourselves and the culture, so that Mother Earth and all her children of all her species can thrive again.

We are examining how we have participated in the silences of our national narrative, and exploring the various systems of domination and destruction that have persisted in our country and in our historical narratives. These abusive power structures contribute to the many social injustices that we face as a nation and continue to hurt people in so many ways. When we look unflinchingly at the history of the United States, we learn that our early colonizers decimated the Original Nations and Peoples, leaving only a small fraction of the over 90 million that were reportedly here in 1491, before contact with European explorers, conquerors and missionaries.

We are coming to a fuller recognition of the trauma perpetrated through enslavement and centuries-long attempts to exterminate Indigenous cultures and peoples by settlers, colonizers and evangelizers, and the resulting centuries of corruption of all earth's inhabitants' bodies, minds, hearts and spirits. We have learned that an international legal principle, arising from as early as the Middle Ages in European Christendom, has justified the subjugation of non-Christian nations and peoples and “the propagation of the Christian empire” (Pope Alexander VI, 15th century) throughout the world. Retroactively labeled the “Doctrine of Discovery”, this “doctrine” came to be codified as law through several Papal Bulls, particularly the Papal Bull Romanus Pontifex of 1454 and the Papal Bull Inter Caetera of 1493 (right after Columbus “discovered America”), the latter bull dividing parts of the New World between Spain and Portugal and advancing the already approved slave-trade.  

Over the past 500 years the Doctrine of Discovery has established patterns of domination and dehumanization which have become embedded, inculcated, habituated, and institutionalized in language, thought, and behavior in our cultural and legal systems. This highly destructive and death-dealing mindset continues even today to destroy people, cultures, and the ability of Mother Earth to nurture us all.  This “doctrine” became law in the U.S. in 1823, a law which was invoked as recently as 2005 in a Supreme Court case involving, and against, Indigenous Peoples' land rights.  Even as we write this declaration, we note with great sadness the recent events surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline. And we acknowledge other ongoing and current harms legitimized by the Doctrine of Discovery/Domination: sex trafficking, chattel slavery, wage slavery, poverty, racism, classism, genocide, white privilege, patriarchy, emigration, climate disruption, environmental toxins, destructive extractive practices, and more.  We must not remain silent any longer!

Humbly, we elders are working to emerge from under the historical and current domination and extraction mindset, in order to bring about deep awareness, reconciliation, healing, and transformative change. We seek to stand in solidarity with the most impacted, their descendants and those on the front lines, and listen to their stories of suffering and endurance. We know that much is demanded of us at this time of ecological and human crisis.

Therefore, we members of the Conscious Elders Network hereby repudiate the “Christian” Doctrine of Discovery/Domination as a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases, and deny that it can ever have been right or justified. In accordance with our values of respect, compassion, integrity, justice, nonviolence, and reverence for life, we resolve to expose its historical reality and impact. Furthermore, we advocate the energetic dismantling of the Doctrine of Discovery and its current harms with as much effort and focus as the empire builders used to establish it over 500 years ago.

One Earth. One Humanity. One Future.

7 signatures

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