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Production Opens Sisters’ Eyes to Doctrine of Discovery

January 9, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – The Doctrine of Discovery, a series of 15th-century papal bulls that gave European Christian explorers the right to subdue native, non-Christian people, still has an impact on the rights of indigenous peoples in the Americas, particularly in the area of land rights.

A group of about 50 Adrian Dominican Sisters heard more about this sobering situation on January 5 when they viewed The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code. The presentation was hosted by the Laudare Mission Group, a group of Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates who are part of the Chicago-based Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter.

Sister Marilee Ewing, OP, a member of the Laudare Mission Group, welcomed the audience, noting that the presentation was part of Mission Group and Chapter’s efforts to educate the Sisters and Associates on the Doctrine of Discovery. The ultimate goal is to reaffirm the 2014 Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) plea that Pope Francis rescind the bulls “to repudiate the period of Christian history that used religion to justify political and personal violence against indigenous nations and peoples.”

Directed by Sheldon Wolfchild and co-produced by author Steven T. Newcomb, the production explores the origins of the Doctrine of Discovery and its implications, even today, through Supreme Court rulings that deal with land ownership. 

The Doctrine of Discovery originated in a time when non-Christians were seen as enemies of Christianity. The papal bulls charged European settlers into the Americas and Africa with converting the native peoples. A 1452 directive by King Alfonso permitted the settlers to subdue the native people of Africa who would not convert, and to “reduce them to slavery and take away their property,” according to the production.

In U.S. law, the Doctrine of Discovery was used as a precedent to keep Native Americans from claiming land that was taken from them. Chief Justice John Marshall, in the 1823 case Johnson v. McIntosh, ruled that colonists who claimed to have discovered tribal land had title to that land. As recently as 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court used the Doctrine of Discovery. In City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, the court allowed the City of Sherrill to sell what had been tribal land, claiming that the tribe did not have sovereignty over the land.

“This showing tonight was the first step in educating our Congregation about the Doctrine of Discovery,” said Sister Anele Heiges, OP, also a member of Laudare Mission Group. Sister Anele led a question and answer and discussion session after the presentation. 

Sister Marilee noted that the issue of the Doctrine of Domination – and efforts to rescind it – is directly related to the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ 2016 General Chapter Enactment on relationships and diversity.

Feature photo: Sister Marilee Ewing, OP, welcomes Sisters and friends to the Weber Center Auditorium to view The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code.

Dominican Midwest Spring Assembly Focuses on 15th Century Doctrine of Discovery

By Sister Kathy Klingen

May 18, 2016, Chicago – Seventy Sisters in the Dominican Midwest Chapter came together April 30 at the Mercy Meeting Place in Chicago for the optional Spring Gathering to share personal stories from ministry with the American indigenous peoples; study the history of papal bulls that relegated Indians to the margins in the United States; and ask themselves, “What can we do?”

Sisters Sue Gardner, JoAnn Fleischaker, and Ellen Kennedy shared tangible artifacts, prayer, and stories of their experiences with the Indian tribes. Other Sisters in the Chapter have also ministered among tribes in the United States and Canada, notably Sister Joyce Rybarczyk, who served in Watersmeet, Michigan, for more than 40 years, and Sister Kathleen Walli, who lived and ministered with the Menomonee Indians in upper Michigan for 14 years. 

Artifacts from Sisters’ experiences of ministering with Native Americans. Photo by Sister Jane Zimmerman

The injustices to children in boarding schools, parents and their sacred prayers cannot be forgotten. With incredible knowledge and wisdom, Sister Anele Heiges spoke of the “Papal Bulls from 1452, 1453, and 1493, which authorized only Christian monarchies as sovereign, and encouraged them to vanquish and place in perpetual slavery/servitude any heathens, pagans and other non-Christians and bring them under Church dominion.  The papacy authorized military conquest to assist conversion to Christianity.”  

As of 2007, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples acknowledges many rights, yet is not explicit on sovereignty issues, Sister Anele said. Therefore, indigenous leaders want Pope Francis to rescind the Bulls that justify imperialism.  

Sister Kathy Nolan, Director of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Office of Global Mission, Justice, and Peace, shared a petition being circulated by the Romero Institute, asking Pope Francis to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery.  

Sister Kathy Klingen, OP, Chapter Prioress, leads the assembly in a ritual. Photo by Sister Jane Zimmerman

“The Doctrine of Discovery, issued as three 15th-century papal bulls, continues to adversely dictate policy decisions directed towards indigenous peoples and their land,” Sister Kathy said. “This doctrine, created centuries ago, still acts as both the spiritual and legal endorsement of the exploitation and slaughters of Indigenous peoples, and the justification for imperialist economic ventures.”

A petition by the Romero Institute calls for the revocation of the Doctrine of Discovery. The petition reads, “We respectfully ask you, Pope Francis, to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery, which vested moral and spiritual authority in Colonial powers to brutally and violently conquer Indigenous lands.”   

Article Submitted by Sister Kathy Klingen, OP

Feature photo: Sister JoAnn Fleischaker, OP, shares her experiences of ministering with American Indians. Photo by Sister Jane Zimmerman



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