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The “Doctrine of Discovery,” enunciated by popes, kings, and governors, represents a belief that Native people, those who lived on the land for generations, had no claim to it once it was “discovered” by Christian settlers. The doctrine, with its psychological, spiritual, and physical impacts on both Europeans and native peoples, integrated racism into our very founding as a country and justified violence.

In their own words:

In 1452, Pope Nicholas V authorized the Portuguese “discoverers” to invade non-Christian lands and to “capture, vanquish, and subdue all … pagans and other enemies of Christ…to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery … and … to take away all their possessions and property.”

In 1492, “by the Authority of Almighty God” Pope Alexander VI granted to the monarchs of Spain and their heirs forever, “all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, towards the west and south … from the Arctic pole … to the Antarctic pole …. And we…appoint… you and your said heirs …. lords of them with full and free power, authority, and jurisdiction of every kind.”

In 1755 the Secretary of the Province of Massachusetts proclaimed: “I declare the Penobscot Tribe of Indians to be enemies, …and I do hereby require his Majesty’s subjects … to embrace all opportunities of … killing and destroying all…the…Indians…. For every scalp of a male Indian brought in as evidence of their being killed, a bounty of forty pounds. For every scalp of such female Indian or male Indian under the age of twelve years, that shall be killed and brought in as evidence…, twenty pounds.”

Colonel John Chivington, a former Methodist minister, carried out the infamous Sand Creek Massacre, murdering 200 unarmed Cheyenne and Arapaho people – almost all of them women, children, and elders – who were supposed to be under the protection of the U.S. Cavalry stationed at Fort Lyon. Colonel Chivington stated: “I have come to kill Indians, and I believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians.”

Many faith groups have publicly denounced this doctrine and few, if any, U.S. leaders would espouse this brutal doctrine today. Even so, the doctrine still informs the interpretation and application of U.S. law. In our Native American advocacy work, we work to change the laws that have been so damaging to generations of Native people and to challenge and uproot the perspective that has justified these policies.

The Indigenous Peoples Concern Committee of Boulder Friends Meeting in Colorado has developed workshops and resources for schools, meetings, churches, and others to educate themselves and move forward. See for information. If you hold a workshop, contact FCNL and request copies of this newsletter to distribute to participants.

These quotes are taken, with permission, from the script of a workshop called “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change: Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples,” written by Paula Palmer.