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At the 2012 General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ, delegates of the Unitarian Universalist Association passed a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery and calling on Unitarian Universalists to study the Doctrine and eliminate its presence from the current-day policies, programs, theologies, and structures of Unitarian Universalism.

"BE IT RESOLVED that we, the delegates of the 2012 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association, repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery as a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases having no place in the modern day treatment of indigenous peoples."

What is the Doctrine of Discovery?

The Doctrine of Discovery is a principle of international law dating from the late 15th century. It has its roots in a papal decree issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1452 that specifically sanctioned and promoted the conquest, colonization, and exploitation of non-Christian territories and peoples. Hundreds of years of decisions and laws continuing right up to our own time can ultimately be traced back to the Doctrine of Discovery—laws that invalidate or ignore the rights, sovereignty, and humanity of indigenous peoples in the United States and around the world. Watch a five minute introductory video to learn more.

Why Does it Matter?

The Doctrine is woven into the fabric of United States law via nineteenth century case law that is still used as precedent. It is still the basis used by courts today to violate existing treaties with Native peoples and take away their mineral and water rights. As people of faith, we are called to understand and dislodge the Doctrine of Discovery and its present-day effects, and advocate for our government to fully implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an aspirational declaration passed by the United Nations in 2007 and to which the United States became a signatory in 2010.

What Can Unitarian Universalists Do?

In the months leading up to the 2012 General Assembly, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Board and UUA headquarters staff honored the request of our immigration justice partner organizations and led the association in a period of study and discussion about the Doctrine of Discovery. The UUA Board and staff strongly urge Unitarian Universalist congregations, groups, and individuals to continue to learn more and take action on the 2012 resolution.

  • Study and discuss the Doctrine of Discovery: Visit this page for study and discussion resources on the Doctrine, including a discussion guide for Unitarian Universalists.

  • Honor Indigenous Peoples Day as part of your congregational year.
  • Read and discuss Beacon Press’s newly published An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Written by Indigenous scholar and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, provides an opportunity for Unitarian Universalists to respond to the 2012 General Assembly resolution to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. An online discussion guide (PDF, 18 pages) helps groups and congregation delve together into the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual challenges of seeing their nation’s history through an unfamiliar and painful lens. It is hoped that discussion groups will find the capacity and the encouragement to take follow-on action afterward. The guide provides plans for a single session or a series of three.
  • Learn about your local context.
    • Native peoples who lived and still live in your region
    • Past and present Native treaties and policies
    • Challenges faced by Native peoples in your area
  • Sustain relationships with Native organizations and groups in your area.
    • Find out how you can be of service
    • Consult on community matters
  • Expand your awareness and support of Native culture.
    • Visit Native cultural centers, attend events open to the public, and support local Native artists, programs, and tribal colleges
    • Show/read and discuss films, documentaries, books, and articles by Native producers and authors (check out Indigenous Peoples Day for suggestions or subscribe to Indian Country Today)
    • Invite Native speakers to services, forums, and workshops
  • Find out what other congregations are doing: Check out the recipients of spring 2013 seed grants for taking action!

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