Webinar addresses Doctrine of Discovery

October 21, 2020 | News | Volume 24 Issue 22
Amy Rinner Waddell | B.C. Correspondent
Participants in a Sept. 29 webinar on the Doctrine of DIscovery are, clockwise from top left: Ted Swartz, owner and director of Ted and Co. TheaterWorks; Michelle Milne, actor with Ted and Co.; Henry Krause of the MC B.C. Indigenous Working Group; and Alison Casella Brookins, playwright of We Own This Now. (Screenshot by Ross W. Muir)

A Sept. 29 webinar helped 260 participants learn more about the Doctrine of Discovery and how a proclamation made more than 500 years ago still has repercussions for Indigenous peoples today. 

The theatre group Ted and Co., based in Harrisonburg, Va., was invited to bring its We Own This Now production to British Columbia, but COVID-19 put those plans on hold. Instead, actors Ted Swartz and Michelle Milne, and playwright Alison Casella Brookins interacted with 260 participants during the online event, “A webinar conversation on the Doctrine of Discovery: Honouring our connections to the land.”

The Doctrine of Discovery is a philosophical and legal framework dating back to the 15th century that gave European Christian governments moral and legal rights to invade and seize Indigenous lands and dominate Indigenous peoples if the people living there were deemed “heathens, pagans or infidels.”

Mennonite Church Canada has responded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to repudiate the doctrine and to learn more about ways to address the wrongs the doctrine has inflicted on Indigenous peoples.

Cohosting the event were Henry Krause and Carla Niemi of the MC B.C. Indigenous Working Group. Columbia Bible College students from David Warkentin’s The Church in Mission class also took part.

Moving to a world that is more just and empathetic, and righting the wrongs of the past were the focuses of the conversation, as well as a call to action.

Swartz said, “It’s important to bring Indigenous people into the conversation.” He encouraged people to “be in community where you are; be connected to the people you are with.” 

Two participating Columbia students offered these comments:

  • “I was really impressed by the passion that each person on the panel spoke on this subject, and how they weren’t afraid to call people out and say that we still have to take action,” said one. “They weren’t afraid of challenging the listeners to ask what our next step will be and how we will support the cause in our own way.”
  • “One thing that really stood out to me was accepting the wrongs in the past, and moving forward to reconciliation, which starts first in the church,” said another. “Learning and participating in the webinar about the Doctrine of Discovery really opened my eyes to what has happened in the past that I had no idea about.”

Ted and Co. hopes to eventually bring its live presentation of We Own This Now to the West Coast. It has previously presented it in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. 

This article appears in the Oct. 26, 2020 print issue, with the headline “We Own This Now.” Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in B.C.? Send it to Amy Rinner Waddell at bc@canadianmennonite.org.

Related stories: 
Leon's Island
Expanding the reconciliation tent

Participants in a Sept. 29 webinar on the Doctrine of DIscovery are, clockwise from top left: Ted Swartz, owner and director of Ted and Co. TheaterWorks; Michelle Milne, actor with Ted and Co.; Henry Krause of the MC B.C. Indigenous Working Group; and Alison Casella Brookins, playwright of We Own This Now. (Screenshot by Ross W. Muir)

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the ongoing commitment of peace activists in Canada to a revisionist history known as the Doctrine of Discovery will make for many more seminars and webinars, and will result in no measurable change for those it purports to assist. For all the coin and words expended in this cause, the result is much running on a treadmill that never achieves a finish line. Is this not Christian faith as planned futility?

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