NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) — Do you remember the first time you heard about the Doctrine of Discovery?
Lynda Hollinger-Janzen, co-host of 'MissionWary?,' a podcast series from Mennonite Mission Network, learned about the term through participating in the Trail of Death pilgrimage in 2019. Her co-host, Travis Duerksen, first heard the term during his orientation with Mission Network's Journey International program in 2014.
The Doctrine of Discovery itself, however, is quite old. The doctrine stems from religious documents created by popes in the 15th century. In these documents, European Christian rulers claimed the "divine right" to dispossess Indigenous peoples of their ancestral lands and human rights. International and domestic legal systems around the world were built upon this doctrine, and their effects continue to harm Indigenous communities today.
In the second episode of 'MissionWary?,' Duerksen and Hollinger-Janzen talk with Katerina Friesen, a pastor and educator who works to promote healing from structural trauma and violence, about the harm done to Indigenous peoples through the Doctrine of Discovery and its connection with mission, past and present.
In this excerpt, Friesen described an image that has helped her understand what the Doctrine of Discovery means today.
Friesen: "So one way that I come at this, when I talk about [the Doctrine of Discovery] or write about it is really — the image of the cross comes up. And some of us may have seen paintings or images of Columbus planting the cross in the soil of a discovered land — what later became flag planting. So this cross, planted in the lands of what are now the Americas, or Turtle Island, as some Indigenous peoples call it, the cross of Christ was really distorted into the cross of conquest. And the Doctrine of Discovery is all about that transformation or that distortion, where the cross came to represent Christian empire and dominion, claiming Indigenous lands and bodies under European Christian rule. So, under the Doctrine of Discovery, this cross has crucified so many times, through forced conversions of Indigenous peoples under the point of death [and] separat[ing] children from their families, through Indian residential schools or boarding schools. It has justified slavery and genocide and turned land into profit, rather than land as something that's sacred."
The first step towards healing, Friesen suggested, is not reconciliation. "With Indigenous peoples and settler peoples, I think we haven't reached that step," she said. "We haven't been 'conciled' yet. So, what does 'conciliation' mean? Lament and repentance are part of that process. Conciliation first comes from that heart change that results in tangible actions of repair and reparation."
"MissionWary?" is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. New episodes are now available! Learn about the complex bond between service and mission, where the call to mission comes from and how stories of mission become the history of mission. To view the complete episode list, click here.