“Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery”
History is written by the victors and never tells the whole story. It is always one-sided and is told in a way to make the acts of the victor to be righteous and divinely approved. However, history and truth cannot be equated. History always whitewashes injustice.
This past Monday, the second Monday of October, is an example of correcting the mistakes of history. It is not that we can undo the wrong that was done, but we can at least atone.
In celebrating the Native American Day, we remember over 574 nations that existed in 1492 when Columbus mistakenly landed in Haiti while searching for India. In his ignorance and arrogance, he could not comprehend the possibility that there were other lands on the globe beyond what they knew then. Actually, we are not surprised because they believed that the earth was the center of the universe, and the world was flat. The result of his mistaken journey caused nothing but pain, suffering, and death to the people who welcomed him and their subsequent generations for over the past 500 years.
The flawed history of how Christopher Columbus “discovered” America has been taught in schools in the U.S. as if there were no people on these lands before the three ships touched the shores. The doctrine of discovery ignores thousands of years of the rich history of the people of these lands. By dismissing their history, we become complicit in dehumanizing the native peoples and accepting the sin of colonization as normative behavior.
Since 1990 there has been a movement to repudiate the doctrine of discovery and was passed by the United Methodist Church in 2012 and 2016 by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Both denominations have confessed for their part in sins committed to native peoples for the past 500 years. To repudiate the doctrine of discovery does not mean we cannot study the history of Columbus accidentally landing on the shores of the Caribbean islands. Still, we can also recognize the existence of the native peoples and the atrocities that were committed against humanity in the name of conquest and economic greed.
The repudiation then is the first step of our confession of sin that was committed against thousands of nations and over 60 million people that were living in what is now North and South America. This is also recognizing that over 16 million square miles of land was stolen, and millions of people enslaved for centuries who were never paid reparations for wrongs that were done to them.
Beyond repudiation, we must address our racist attitudes against native peoples, including the foolish idea that we should just forget the past and start fresh today. Some people believe that they are not responsible since we were not the ones who committed these sins, and the ones whom the wrongs were done against have been long gone, so we do not have any responsibility to undo the past wrong. This is systemic racism. Even though the wrongs were perpetrated by someone else, those who benefited from the past wrongs have the moral obligations to address the generational effect of systemic racism.
Addressing the sins of genocide perpetrated against the native peoples begins by repudiating the doctrine of discovery.