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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.