During the Papal visit to Canada in the summer of 2022, observers and news-watchers likely caught glimpses of banners and heard chants to reject or repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. For some, this may have been a first introduction to the Doctrine; for others it represented decades of work to bring the Doctrine out of the shadows and into the light.
Then in Holy Week of 2023 came an announcement from the Vatican responding to this long-standing call. The Vatican said the concepts undergirding the Doctrine of Discovery “have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith,” but the “Church is also aware that the contents of these [papal] documents were manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers in order to justify immoral acts against Indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities.”
In 2016, Mennonite Church Canada delegates, in line with many other denominations and congregations before and after them, passed a resolution to “repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery as it is fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and our understanding of the inherent dignity and rights that individuals and peoples have received from God.”
This is a good and important naming of what we reject, but what then are we for? What opportunity do we have to dismantle the Doctrine’s legal and institutional enmeshment of “superiority” in Canadian and global society, as described by Dave Scott in the feature.
Now that the Doctrine has come into the light of awareness for a broader public, what role does the church have in undoing in the name of Christ, what was done in the name of Christ.
During a webinar of Indigenous people and ecumenical allies in 2019, I shared an idea that I had heard often. The idea is that the future of relations between Indigenous peoples and their many neighbours is like science fiction work. We don’t have a right relationship to return to in the long history of colonization; we cannot retrace our steps or walk back time. We are invited to create a new and previously unimagined future together as neighbours.
A Haudenosaunee elder called me out! How dare I ignore what has been on offer from Indigenous peoples from day one—the Wampum offered to European newcomers as a bond of peace. In other areas, similar bonds of peace and sharing were called treaties. It is not Indigenous communities of Turtle Island that bear any responsibility for the table of peace not being offered; it is the generations of settlers who ignored, forgot or were never told about these promises. It is they who need reminding of what has been on offer and understood as the good way from time immemorial.
Distrust and fear is not the table of peace. Hoarding resources is not the table of peace. Failure to respect and honour commitments is not the table of peace.
What then might we be for? We are for being good, honest and generous neighbours. We are for everyone having enough food, justice, safety, respect, warmth, clean water and meaningful vocation. What would need to be addressed, undone or built up to find our way back to the deep promise of peace? May God so inspire and lead us beyond repudiation to the building of peace.
Jonathan Neufeld is the Indigenous relations coordinator for Mennonite Church Canada and co-chair of the steering committee of the U.S.-based Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery.