National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald
The Anglican Church of Canada’s governing body has approved a landmark resolution today repudiating and renouncing the Doctrine of Discovery. It also pledged a review of the church’s policies and programs to expose the doctrine’s historical impact and to end its continuing effects on indigenous peoples.
The resolution, passed at the 2010 General Synod meeting here, said the Doctrine of Discovery is “fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our understanding of the inherent rights that individuals and peoples have received from God.”
The Doctrine of Discovery was a principle of charters and acts developed by colonizing Western societies more than 500 years ago.
It begins with “the very simple idea in the Western tradition that is if you discover place, you have control and ownership over that place,” said National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald speaking to the resolution. “It had to be an uninhabited place. How do you apply that to the Americas where there were millions and millions of people?”
The Doctrine of Discovery was also based on the idea that “indigenous peoples in the Americas were uncivilized because they didn’t have any of the traditions and institutions of Western society,” noted Bishop MacDonald. They were no better than “beasts of the forest…savages…weak and destined to not survive,’ ” he said. This doctrine also formed the basis for the Indian Residential Schools that took aboriginal children from their homes in an effort to assimilate them, said Bishop MacDonald.
“It’s a kind of thinking, a way of life that has clouded the minds and hearts of people around the world far too long. Today, if we repudiate the idea that this land was uninhabited, we will say something very important.”
Ironically, the vision of Elijah Harper, considered one of Canada’s grand chiefs, and other elders was that “this great land could accommodate many peoples…and that if we all came together and worked together, we would indeed create one of the greatest nations for all time.” This is still the vision and dream of the elders, said Bishop MacDonald.
Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery means that Canada will now be able to “recognize its destiny, both in church and state, to be a nation of first nations and of all the people who have come since then,” said Bishop MacDonald. “It’s not about saying, ‘everybody go back to Europe or any other place.’ It is about is [the fact] that we can live together in honesty, truthfulness and hope.”
The Episcopal Church as well as Quaker and Unitarian congregations in North America passed similar resolutions repudiating the Doctrine last year. A number of synod members spoke in support of the resolution.
The Rev. Susan Hermanson, Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI), said she realized the import of the resolution, particularly as it relates to the struggles of First Nations people opposed to mining in Williams Lake. “If I vote in favour of this resolution, I must stand with my First Nations brothers and sisters who know what’s right for the territory they live on,” she said.
Catherine Speechly-Pell, diocese of British Columbia, said she was “absolutely astounded” that the General Synod had not, during the start of its meeting, recognized the aboriginal land it was standing on. “We walked in here like we own this place,” she said.
The diocesan bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, called the Doctrine of Discovery a “Eurocentric and arrogant idea,” adding, “I’m happy to repudiate it even though I never did believe it.”
The resolution also requests that every diocesan bishop of the church issue the synod’s proclamation in every parish and to share this “with all the nations and peoples located within their dioceses.” It also requested the primate to share the declaration with the United Nations.
In a related development, the synod approved a resolution endorsing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007. It also requests that the church’s General Secretary call on the Canadian government to endorse this declaration “in compliance with the will of the majority of the Members of Parliament,” which endorsed it in 2008.
Synod also voted to establish June 21 as the National Aboriginal Day of Prayer in the church’s calendar. This day is to be celebrated on June 21 “or the nearest convenient Sunday,” and liturgy will be developed and authorized.
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