Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples Project

This Resource Kit was compiled by Paula R. Palmer as a companion piece to the workshop, Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change: Toward Right Relationship with America’s Native Peoples.  The workshop is a 2-hour participatory program that can be presented in faith communities, high schools, universities, and civic organizations.  A 50-minute program, Re-Discovering America: Understanding Colonization, can be presented in middle schools, high schools, and religious education programs.  For more information about these programs and to make tax-deductible donations to support this work, please contact, or visit, or write to Indigenous Peoples Concerns Committee, Boulder Friends Meeting, PO Box 4363, Boulder CO 80306.


  1. Doables: Some suggestions for actions you can take
  2. The Ally Bill of Responsibilities: How to be an ally to Indigenous Peoples
  3. Taking Steps toward Healing
  4. Guswenta, the Two-Row Wampum Belt: A Model for Right Relationship
  5. Resources on the Doctrine of Discovery
  6. Resources on the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

  1. Doables

Here are some actions that can be important steps on the path toward building “right relationship” with Native Americans and all Indigenous Peoples.  Please add your own ideas, and then do at least one of these actions soon.

Learn more…

Current news in Indigenous communities primarily located within the U.S.

Indian Country Today Media Network:

Native News Online:


Everything You Know About Indians is Wrong by Paul Chatt Smith

Conquest by Andrea Smith

Like a Loaded Weapon by Robert A. Williams, Jr.

- The Rehnquist Court, Indian Rights, and the Legal History of Racism in America

The Third Space of Sovereignty by Kevin Bruynell

- The Postcolonial Politics of U.S. – Indigenous Relations

Going Native by Shari M. Huhndorf

- Indians in the American Cultural Imagination

Playing Indian by Phillip J. Deloria

- “will help the reader understand why, from the revelers at Merrymount to the Berkeley tribes of 1960’s, every oppositional current in America has found its way to the people called ‘Indians’.”


Smoke Signals

Business of Fancydancing

Rhymes of the Ghouls

Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery,

Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, by Steven T. Newcomb.  In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, by Walter Echo-Hawk.

An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Not From Here, by Allan G. Johnson

Revolution 101: How to be a Settler Ally


In the schools, you can…

In the political realm, you can…

In your faith community, you can

Support Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations

The Mission of NABS is to work to ensure a meaningful and appropriate response from responsible agencies for those Native American individuals, families, and communities victimized by the United States’ federal policy of forced boarding school attendance and to secure redress from responsible institutions in order to support lasting and true community-directed healing.

The Pawnee Keeper of the Seeds is coordinating these two projects in Pawnee, Oklahoma. They are creating community gardens where young people, adults, and elders work together to save and cultivate the Pawnee corn varieties.  They are raising Funds to build a traditional Earthlodge, where they will store the seeds as their ancestors did. See their Facebook page, and send contributions by check to: Pawnee Nation Elders, 46200 S. 347 Road, Pawnee, OK, 74058. On the memo line, write: Pawnee Seed Preservation Project (or Pawnee Earthlodge Movement).

Founded in 1970, the Native American Rights Fund is the oldest and largest nonprofit law firm dedicated to asserting and defending the rights of Indian tribes, organizations and individuals nationwide. 

Seventh Generation Fund promotes and maintains the uniqueness and sovereignty of our distinct Native Nations by offering advocacy, small grants, trainings and technical assistance to Indigenous communities.  

IEN is an alliance of grassroots Indigenous Peoples whose mission is to protect the sacredness of Mother Earth from contamination and exploitation by strengthening, respecting, and maintaining traditional teachings and natural laws.

The Indigenous Law Institute assists American Indian and other Indigenous communities to work toward a future of restoration and healing. They do this by working to develop a radically new basis for thinking about Native rights, from a Traditional Native Law perspective, and by contending that Native nations and peoples have an inherent right to live free of all forms of empire and domination.

First Peoples Worldwide Funds local development projects in Indigenous communities all over the world.  They create bridges between communities and corporations, governments, academics, NGOs and investors in their regions, and use traditional Indigenous knowledge to solve today’s challenges.

Native Harvest works to continue, revive, and protect our native seeds, heritage crops, naturally grown fruits, animals, wild plants, traditions and knowledge of our Indigenous and land-based communities, for the purpose of maintaining and continuing Native culture and resisting the global, industrialized food system.

This spiritual circle is the continuation of an ancient practice of joint council among the most respected leaders of Indian nations. It nurtures renewal of traditional values and worldviews among Indian peoples, ensures the continuity of Native wisdom, and brings that wisdom to bear on important issues facing all peoples of the earth.

The American Indian College Fund transforms Indian higher education by Funding and creating awareness of the unique, community-based accredited tribal colleges and universities, offering students access to knowledge, skills, and cultural values which enhance their communities and the country as a whole.

  1. The Ally Bill of Responsibilities

This Ally Bill of Responsibilities is reproduced with permission of its creator, Dr. Lynn Gehl, Ph.D., Gii-Zhigaate-Mnidoo-Kwe, Algonquin Anishinaabe, Mekina Ndoodem. Her personal website is  The Ally Bill of Responsibilities is posted at:  Her email address is:

The Ally Bill of Responsibilities

  1. Do not act out of guilt, but rather out of a genuine interest in challenging the larger oppressive power structures;
  2. Understand that they are secondary to the Indigenous people that they are working with and that they seek to serve. They and their needs must take a back seat;
  3. Are fully grounded in their own ancestral history and culture. Effective allies must sit in this knowledge with confidence and pride; otherwise the “wannabe syndrome” could merely undermine the Indigenous people’s efforts;
  4. Are aware of their privileges and openly discuss them. This action will also serve to challenge larger oppressive power structures;
  5. Reflect on and embrace their ignorance of the group’s oppression and always hold this ignorance in the forefront of their minds. Otherwise, a lack of awareness of their ignorance could merely perpetuate the Indigenous people’s oppression;
  6. Are aware of and understand the larger oppressive power structures that serve to hold certain groups and people down. One way to do this is to draw parallels through critically reflecting on their own experiences with oppressive power structures. Reflecting on their subjectivity in this way, they ensure critical thought or what others call objectivity. In taking this approach, these parallels will serve to ensure that non-Indigenous allies are not perpetuating the oppression;
  7. Constantly listen and reflect through the medium of subjectivity and critical thought versus merely their subjectivity. This will serve to ensure that they avoid the trap that they or their personal friends know what is best. This act will also serve to avoid the trap of naively following a leader or for that matter a group of leaders;
  8. Strive to remain critical thinkers and seek out the knowledge and wisdom of the critical thinkers in the group. Allies cannot assume that all people are critical thinkers and have a good understanding of the larger power structures of oppression;
  9. Ensure that a community consensus, or understanding, has been established in terms of their role as allies. Otherwise, the efforts of the people will be undermined due to a lack of consultation and agreement;
  10. Ensure that the needs of the most oppressed – women, children, elderly, young teenage girls and boys, and the disabled – are served in the effort or movement that they are supporting. Otherwise, they may be engaging in a process that is inadequate and thus merely serving to fortify the larger power structures of oppression. Alternatively, their good intentions may not serve those who need the effort most. Rather, they may be making the oppression worse;
  11. Understand and reflect on the prevalence and dynamics of lateral oppression and horizontal violence on and within oppressed groups and components of the group, such as women, and seek to ensure that their actions do not encourage it;
  12. Ensure that they are supporting a leader’s, group of leaders’, or a movement’s efforts that serve the needs of the people. For example, do the community people find this leader’s efforts useful, interesting, engaging, and thus empowering? If not, allies should consider whether the efforts are moving in a questionable or possibly an inadequate direction, or worse yet that their efforts are being manipulated and thus Undermined, possibly for economic and political reasons;
  13. Understand that sometimes allies are merely manipulatively chosen to further a leader’s agenda versus the Indigenous Nations’, communities’, or organizations’ concerns, and when this situation occurs act accordingly;
  14. Do not take up the space and resources, physical and financial, of the oppressed group;
  15. Do not take up time at community meetings and community events. This is not their place. They must listen more than speak. Allies cannot perceive all the larger oppressive power structures as clearly as members of the oppressed group can; And finally,
  16. Accept the responsibility of learning and reading more about their role as effective allies.



  1. Taking Steps toward Healing

In his lectures and his new book, In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Pawnee attorney, Walter Echo-Hawk, draws on many wisdom traditions to offer these five steps toward healing when wrongdoing has occurred and people have been injured by it:

1.  Recognize that harm has been done:  acknowledge that injury or harm has taken place

2.  A real apology is sincerely made and forgiveness requested: the person or institution that harmed another apologizes in a sincere and appropriate way, admits the specific harmful actions they have committed, and asks for forgiveness

3.  Accepting the apology and forgiving the wrongdoer:  the harmed person or community accepts the apology and forgives

4.  Acts of atonement; the process of making things right:  the parties agree on voluntary acts of atonement by the wrongdoer that will wipe the slate clean

5.  Healing and reconciliation:  the atonement acts are carried out in a process that fosters justice and compassion and genuine friendship

Walter Echo-Hawk says completing these steps may take years, decades, or centuries. The important thing is to start with the first step: acknowledge the harm, and commit to working through the next steps toward healing.  It is important to take as much time as necessary, involving all the stakeholders, achieving Unity, in order to complete each step. In chapter 10 of his book, Echo-Hawk describes these steps in detail, and explains how the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples opens a path toward national healing.

Films about reconciliation and healing:

Organizations and Resources:

  1. Guswenta, the Two-Row Wampum Belt:

                                      A Model for Right Relationship

The text below is posted at, the website for Honor the Two-Row.  Please see this website for links to more information.  The Haudenosaunee people and the settler communities in New York are renewing their 1613 treaty, which was recorded in a wampum belt of purple and white beads. As a model for right relationship, the two-row wampum belt can guide and inspire mutual respect and friendship among diverse communities.

Two Row History

The Two Row Wampum belt is the symbolic record of the first agreement between Europeans and American Indian Nations on Turtle Island/North America. 2013 marks the 400th anniversary of this first covenant, which forms the basis for the covenant chain of all subsequent treaty relationships made by the Haudenosaunee and other Native Nations with settler governments on this continent. The agreement outlines a mutual, three-part commitment to friendship, peace between peoples, and living in parallel forever (as long as the grass is green, as long as the rivers flow downhill and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west). Throughout the years, the Haudenosaunee have sought to honor this mutual vision and have increasingly emphasized that ecological stewardship is a Fundamental prerequisite for this continuing friendship.

Here, quoted from his longer paper entitled  “On Treaty-making,” is Chief Irving Powless on the context and importance of the Two Row Wampum:

“In the 1600′s, when the Dutch had settled in what is now Albany and the surrounding area, we were looking at them as people who were coming into our territory with a different language, different culture, different ideas, but a people. Runners came from the Mohawk territory. They came to Onondaga to ask Tadodaho to call a meeting of the leaders of the Haudenosaunee, because we had people coming into our territory. We must decide how we are going to live together with the people who had entered our house and were living in a couple of our empty rooms. They were uninvited and they were destructive……

Under the protocol set up by the Peacemaker, some delegates were chosen, they went to Albany to meet with the leaders of the Dutch to discuss our concerns. After a time our leaders struck an agreement with the Dutch people, an agreement whereas they would live together in peace.

Our leaders informed the Dutch people. “From this day forward we will refer to each other as brothers.”  The Dutch agreed that this would be how we would conduct ourselves and greet each other from that day forward as brothers. The Dutch said to us, “We have pencils and paper, and so we will record this event on a piece of paper.”

We said, “That’s fine for you.” When the Haudenosaunee was formed, we were provided with a process to record events. This process is the use of wampum beads, which are made our of quahog shells…. These beads were then white and purple.

We use these beads for identification, as carriers of messages, and as records of events…..We then informed the Dutch people that we would put our record of this event in a wampum belt.

“We think that in the future, there will come a time when you will not have your piece of paper, But we will still have our belt. Because we are meeting for the health and welfare of our people, we should make sure that this agreement lasts a long time, like forever.”

“Forever” is described by our ancestors in this agreement in the following words: “As long as the grass is green, as long as the water flows downhill, and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.” ….That agreement that we made back then is still effect as far as we are concerned….It is called Guswenta, the Two Row Wampum belt…

A very important concept was expressed at this time, that concept being that we were equal. At this time the Haudenosaunee was a very powerful, powerful people. We realized that you were a yoU.N.g people, that you were just learning, yet we realized that you were equal….

The Two Row Wampum belt is made of white and purple beads. The white beads denote truth. Our record says that one purple row of beads represents a sailboat. In the sailboat are the Europeans, their leaders, their government, and their religion. The other purple row of beads represents a canoe. In the canoe are the Native Americans, their leaders, their governments, and their Way of Life, or religion as you say it. We shall travel down the road of life, parallel to each other and never merging with each other.

In between the two rows of purple beads are three rows of white beads. The first row of white beads is “peace,” the second row, “friendship,” and the third row, “forever.” As we travel down the road of life together in peace and harmony, not only with each other, but with the whole circle of life—the animals, the birds, the fish, the water, the plants, the grass, the trees, the stars, the moon, and the thunder—we shall live together in peace and harmony, respecting all those elements. As we travel the road of life, because we have different ways and different concepts, we shall not pass laws governing the other. We shall not pass laws telling you what to do. You shall not pass a law telling me and my people what to do.

The Haudenosaunee have never violated this treaty…We have never passed a law telling you how to live…

You and your ancestors, on the other hand, have passed laws that continually try to change who I am, what I am, and how I shall conduct my spiritual, political and everyday life.”

(From, Chief Irving Powless Jr. “Treaty Making,” pp.15-34 in Treaty of Canandaigua 1794, Edited by G. Peter Jemison and Anna M. Schein. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers)

  1. Resources on the Doctrine of Discovery

The following description of the Doctrine of Discovery is posted at Doctrine of Discovery? What's that?

Papal Bulls of the 15th century gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they "discovered" and lay claim to those lands for their Christian Monarchs. Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be "discovered", claimed, and exploited. If the "pagan" inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed.

The Discovery Doctrine is a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, initially in Johnson v. M'Intosh in 1823. The doctrine was Chief Justice John Marshall's explanation of the way in which colonial powers laid claim to newly discovered lands during the Age of Discovery. Under it, title to newly discovered lands lay with the government whose subjects discovered new territory. The doctrine has been primarily used to support decisions invalidating or ignoring aboriginal possession of land in favor of colonial or post-colonial governments.

John Marshall, who is most credited with describing the Doctrine, did not voice wholehearted support of the Doctrine even while using it to justify judicial decisions. He pointed to the Doctrine as simple fact, looking at the possession-takings, which were supported by the Doctrine, as acts that had occurred and had to be recognized. The supposedly inferior character of Native cultures was a reason for using the Doctrine, but whether or not this use of the Doctrine was justified was not relevant for Marshall.

This Doctrine governs United States Indian Law today and has been cited as recently as 2005 in the decision City Of Sherrill V. Oneida Indian Nation Of N.Y.


Study this fold-out poster on Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery:

The U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the World Council of Churches both call on faith communities and civic organizations to renounce and repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.  

See the U.N. Permanent Forum Report (March 2014), A Study on the impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery on indigenous peoples, including mechanisms, processes and instruments of redress, with reference to the Declaration, here: 

Following are official statements, adopted by various church bodies, that repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. They can serve as models.   

Statement on the Doctrine of Discovery

 and its Enduring Impact on Indigenous Peoples

Issued by the World Council of Churches Executive Committee

Bossey, Switzerland, February 17, 2012

1. Indigenous Peoples have the oldest living cultures in the world. Three hundred to five hundred

million Indigenous Peoples today live in over 72 countries around the world, and they comprise at least 5,000 distinct peoples. The ways of life, identities, well-being and very existence of Indigenous People are threatened by the continuing effects of colonization and national policies, regulations and laws that attempt to force them to assimilate into the cultures of majoritarian societies. A Fundamental historical basis and legal precedent for these policies and laws is the “Doctrine of Discovery”, the idea that Christians enjoy a moral and legal right based solely on their religious identity to invade and seize indigenous lands and to dominate Indigenous Peoples.

2. Around the world, Indigenous Peoples are over-represented in all categories of disadvantage. In most indigenous communities people live in poverty without clean water and necessary infrastructure, lacking adequate health care, education, employment and housing. Many indigenous communities still suffer the effects of dispossession, forced removals from homelands and families, inter-generational trauma and racism, the effects of which are manifested in social welfare issues such as alcohol and drug problems, violence and social breakdown. Basic health outcomes dramatize the disparity in well-being between Indigenous Peoples and European descendants.

3. The patterns of domination and oppression that continue to afflict Indigenous Peoples today

throughout the world are found in numerous historical documents such as Papal Bulls, Royal Charters and court rulings. For example, the church documents Dum Diversas (1452) and Romanus Pontifex (1455) called for non-Christian peoples to be invaded, captured, vanquished, subdued, reduced to perpetual slavery and to have their possessions and property seized by Christian monarchs. Collectively, these and other concepts form a paradigm or pattern of domination that is still being used against Indigenous Peoples.

4. Following the above patterns of thought and behaviour, Christopher Columbus was instructed,

for example, to “discover and conquer,” “subdue” and “acquire” distant lands, and in 1493 Pope

Alexander VI called for non-Christian “barbarous nations” to be subjugated and proselytized for the “propagation of the Christian empire.” Three years later, England’s King Henry VII followed the pattern of domination by instructing John Cabot and his sons to locate, subdue and take possession of the “islands, countries, regions, of the heathens and infidels . . . unknown to Christian people.” Thereafter, for example, English, Portuguese and Spanish colonization in Australia, the Americas and New Zealand proceeded Under the Doctrine of Discovery as Europeans attempted to conquer and convert Indigenous Peoples. In 1513, Spain drafted a legal document that was required to be read to Indigenous Peoples before “just war” could commence. The Requerimiento informed Indigenous Peoples that their lands had been donated to Spain and that they had to submit to the Crown and Christianity or they would be attacked and enslaved.

5. In 1823, the U.S. Supreme Court used the same pattern and paradigm of domination to claim in the ruling Johnson & Graham’s Lessee v. M’Intosh that the United States as the successor to various “potentates” had the “ultimate dominion” or “ultimate title” (right of territorial domination) over all lands within the claimed boundaries of the United States. The Court said that as a result of the documents mentioned above, authorizing “Christian people” to “discover” and possess the lands of “heathens,” the Indians were left with a mere “right of occupancy;” an occupancy that, according to the Court was subject to the “ultimate title” or “absolute title” of the United States. The Johnson case has been cited repeatedly by Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and United States courts, and the Doctrine of Discovery has been held by all these countries to have granted European settler societies plenary power (domination) over Indigenous Peoples, legal title to their lands, and has resulted in diminished sovereign, commercial and international rights for Indigenous Peoples and governments. Europeans believed this was proper based on their ethnocentric, racial and religious attitudes that they and their cultures, religions and governments were superior to non-Christian European peoples.

6. Consequently, the current situation of Indigenous Peoples around the world is the result of a

linear programme of “legal” precedent, originating with the Doctrine of Discovery and codified in contemporary national laws and policies. The Doctrine mandated Christian European countries to attack, enslave and kill the Indigenous Peoples they encountered and to acquire all of their assets. The Doctrine remains the law in various ways in almost all settler societies around the world today. The enormity of the application of this law and the theft of the rights and assets of Indigenous Peoples have led indigenous activists to work to educate the world about this situation and to galvanize opposition to the Doctrine. Many Christian churches that have studied the pernicious Doctrine have repudiated it, and are working to ameliorate the legal, economic and social effects of this international framework.

Starting in 2007, for example, with the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, followed by the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York in 2008, and in 2010 by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, individual churches began adopting resolutions and minutes repudiating the Doctrine. In 2009, at its 76th General Convention, the Episcopal Church adopted resolution D035 – “Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.” In 2010, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada adopted resolution A086 – “Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.” In 2011, various Unitarian Universalist churches and Quaker organizations are adopting and considering adopting resolutions and minutes repudiating the Doctrine. This issue of the Doctrine of Discovery has also been brought to the forefront of world attention by Indigenous Peoples working with international bodies.

7. Considering the fact that the Doctrine of Discovery will be the theme for the 11th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in 2012, churches and the

international community need to be sensitized on this issue. The Doctrine of Discovery: its enduring impact on Indigenous Peoples and the right to redress for past conquests (articles 28 and 37 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) will be discussed at the UNPFII from 7 to 18 May 2012; this event will bring together representatives of Indigenous People’s organizations and networks around the world. Churches and ecumenical networks of the WCC will be mobilized to be part of the 11th session of the UNPFII in 2012. In this context, the executive committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting at Bossey, Switzerland, 14-17 February 2012,

A. Expresses solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the world and supports the rights of

Indigenous Peoples to live in and retain their traditional lands and territories, to maintain and enrich their cultures and to ensure that their traditions are strengthened and passed on for generations to come;

B. Denounces the Doctrine of Discovery as fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and as a violation of the inherent human rights that all individuals and peoples have received from God;

C. Urges various governments in the world to dismantle the legal structures and policies based on the Doctrine of Discovery and dominance, so as better to empower and enable Indigenous Peoples to identify their own aspirations and issues of concern;

D. Affirms its conviction and commitment that Indigenous Peoples be assisted in their struggle to involve themselves fully in creating and implementing solutions that recognize and respect the

collective rights of Indigenous Peoples to exercise their right to self-determination and self-governance;

E. Requests the governments and states of the world to ensure that their policies, regulations and

laws that affect Indigenous Peoples comply with international conventions and, in particular, conform to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169;

F. Calls on each WCC member church to reflect upon its own national and church history and to

encourage all member parishes and congregations to seek a greater Understanding of the issues facing Indigenous Peoples, to support Indigenous Peoples in their ongoing efforts to exercise their inherent sovereignty and Fundamental human rights, to continue to raise awareness about the issues facing Indigenous Peoples and to develop advocacy campaigns to support the rights, aspirations and needs of Indigenous Peoples;

G. Encourages WCC member churches to support the continued development of theological

reflections by Indigenous Peoples which promote indigenous visions of full, good and abundant life and which strengthen their own spiritual and theological reflections.

Examples of Church Statements Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery and

Endorsing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

A Minute to Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and to Affirm

the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Approved by Boulder Friends Meeting on March 10, 2013

In solidarity with initiatives led by Indigenous leaders and a growing number of religious organizations, the Boulder Friends Meeting repudiates the “Doctrine of Discovery.” For centuries, this doctrine of domination has been used to oppress Indigenous Peoples throughout the world and deny them their rights. The Doctrine originated in 15th and 16th century papal bulls that privileged European Christians over all other peoples.  The popes authorized European monarchs to “invade, 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,” (Pope Nicholas V). The Doctrine of Discovery violates Christian teachings, from their foundation in the Ten Commandments to their expression in the life of Jesus. It also violates our Quaker testimonies of equality, peace, integrity, community, and stewardship.

As citizens of Colorado, we occupy lands that were recognized by treaty as the territories of Indigenous Nations including the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute peoples -- and then taken from them. Consciously or unconsciously, we benefit from historical and ongoing injustices committed against the Native peoples of this land.

Because the Doctrine of Discovery was embedded in the legal foundations of the United States and other countries, it continues to be cited as a precedent. Even today it is used to deny Indigenous Peoples their rights. For this reason, we urge our government and all governments to dismantle the legal structures and revoke the laws and policies that are based on the Doctrine of Discovery.  We accept our own responsibility to work to dismantle the economic, social, cultural, and educational structures of privilege that are rooted in the Doctrine.

In order to build relationships with Indigenous Peoples founded in equity and justice, we affirm and support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The Declaration seeks to ensure that Indigenous Peoples collectively and individually enjoy all the human rights and Fundamental freedoms recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and international human rights law.  The Declaration recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination and establishes a framework for political and social relationships based on equity and mutual respect. Just as Quakers played a role in promoting the passage of the Declaration by the U.N. General Assembly in 2007, we acknowledge that we must also labor to implement it.

(Note:  Quakers might want to read the Charter of King Charles II to William Penn, March 4, 1681, to Understand how the Doctrine of Discovery laid the foundation for the Pennsylvania colony. It is posted at

Episcopal Church, Resolution D035

Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention repudiates and renounces the Doctrine of Discovery as Fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our Understanding of the inherent rights that individuals and peoples have received from God, and that this declaration be proclaimed among our churches and shared with the United Nations and all the nations and peoples located within The Episcopal Church's boundaries. This doctrine, which originated with Henry VII in 1496, held that Christian sovereigns and their representative explorers could assert dominion and title over non-Christian lands with the full blessing and sanction of the Church. It continues to be invoked, in only slightly modified form, in court cases and in the many destructive policies of governments and other institutions of the modern nation-state that lead to the colonizing dispossession of the lands of indigenous peoples and the disruption of their way of life; and be it further

Resolved, that The Episcopal Church review its policies and programs with a view to exposing the historical reality and impact of the Doctrine of Discovery and eliminating its presence in its contemporary policies, program, and structures and, further, that this body directs the appropriate representatives of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies, to inform all relevant governmental bodies in The United States of its action and suggest similar and equivalent review of historical and contemporary policies that contribute to the continuing colonization of Indigenous Peoples and, further, to write to Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, requesting that her Majesty disavow, and repudiate publicly, the claimed validity of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery; and be it further

Resolved, that each diocese within the Episcopal Church be encouraged to reflect upon its own history, in light of these actions and encourage all Episcopalians to seek a greater Understanding of the Indigenous Peoples within the geo-political boundaries claimed by the United States and other nation states located within the Episcopal Church's boundaries, and to support those peoples in their ongoing efforts for their inherent sovereignty and Fundamental human rights as peoples to be respected; and be it further

Resolved, that the 76th General Convention direct the Office of Government Relations to advocate for the U.S. government's endorsement of the "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," which the United States has refused to endorse (only the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have failed to sign on).

A Unitarian Universalist Resolution

To Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery,

and Implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Adopted on January 29, 2011, by Universalist Unitarian Church of Peoria

BECAUSE as Unitarian Universalists we believe that all persons have inherent worth and dignity; that

human relations should be based on justice, equity and compassion; that this world should be a

community of peace, liberty and justice for all; and that we seek to live in peace with our fellow human beings, both as individuals and as peoples; and

WHEREAS, the Doctrine of Discovery was a principle of “law” developed in a series of 15th century papal bulls and 16th century charters by European monarchs by which the Americas were first explored, and was the “legal authority” used by those who colonized Native Peoples, appropriated Indian lands and resources, and attempted to dominate Native nations and Undermine inherent Native sovereignty; and

WHEREAS, after the United States Revolutionary War, the tenets of Discovery were continued by the new states and courts, controlling all purchase of Indian lands and any foreign, personal, or commercial interactions with tribes; and

WHEREAS, in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823), Chief Justice John Marshall

stated that discovery rights annulled pre-existing rights of “ancient possessors,” and that “power, war,

conquest, give rights, which after possession, are conceded by the world.…”; thus having the Johnson

decision influence all subsequent thinking in federal Indian law to this day; and

WHEREAS, for more than five centuries, the interpretive framework of the Doctrine of Discovery has been institutionalized and used as a right of dominance over the existence of Indigenous Peoples, assuming the right to take, grant, and dispose of their lands, territories, and resources without their permission or consent; and

WHEREAS, we as Unitarian Universalists, along with the U.S. government, and society at large, must all

acknowledge that federal Indian law and modern day treatment of tribes and Indians is based on the

centuries old Doctrine of Discovery; and also

WHEREAS, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was overwhelmingly

adopted by the General Assembly in September 2007, without conditions and/or qualifications, after

more than 20 years of discussions and deliberations by thousands of Indigenous nations, governments, organizations, and peoples from around the world; and

WHEREAS, the Declaration is a positive move towards creating true reform to respect and recognize the right of Indigenous Peoples to sovereignty and self-determination; and

WHEREAS, the Declaration is the most comprehensive, international human rights instrument explicitly addressing the economic, social, cultural, political, spiritual and environmental rights of Indigenous Peoples and is essential to the dignity, survival and well-being of over 340 million Indigenous Peoples world-wide; and

WHEREAS, the Declaration is described in the preamble “as a standard of achievement to be pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect;” and

WHEREAS, the rights addressed in the Declaration are consistent with other international human rights instruments that the United States already has ratified and is implementing in myriad federal laws, policies, treaties, agreements, and executive orders; and

WHEREAS, all four U.N.-member nations (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States) who initially voted against the Declaration have reversed their positions, and

WHEREAS, Indigenous Peoples from around the world are asking all religious faiths and their respective national and international organizations to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery and related documents, and to call for the United States to implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that we, as an Unitarian Universalist congregation, repudiate the

Doctrine of Discovery as a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and of religious, cultural, and racial biases

having no place in the modern day treatment of the American Indians; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call on the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association to

make a clear and concise statement repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery and its current use in U. S, federal Indian laws and regulations, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we ask other UU congregations to join us in passing similar

resolutions, and assisting us in presenting an Action for Immediate Witness on this issue during an

upcoming UUA General Assembly, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we encourage other communities of faith to reject the use of the

Doctrine of Discovery to dominate Indigenous Peoples, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call on Pope Benedict XVI of the Catholic Church, Queen Elizabeth

II of England, to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that we recommend a congressional commission be established to be

comprised of Native leaders and representatives of the U.S. Interior, Justice and State departments, and charged to determine how U.S. policy and laws should be amended to eliminate the practices of colonialism contained in the Doctrine of Discovery, and to meet the standards of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Statement by the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

The Doctrine of Discovery and Implementation of the

U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

New York, 20 - 31 May 2013

This is a Joint Statement of First Nations Summit; Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee); Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers); Amnesty International; Assembly of First Nations; Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations; Chiefs of OntarioUnion of British Columbia Indian Chiefs; Assembly of First Nations of Québec and Labrador/Assemblée des Premières Nations du Québec et du Labrador; Native Women’s Association of Canada; Quebec Native Women/Femmes Autochtones du QuébecNational Association of Friendship Centres; Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group; International Indian Treaty Council; Indigenous World Association; First Peoples Human Rights Coalition.


The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in its entirety is rooted in the principle of racial non-discrimination, a peremptory norm from which no derogation is permitted. Full and effective implementation of the U.N. Declaration is dependent on ensuring that racial discrimination against Indigenous peoples is eradicated.

Last year, the special theme of the Permanent Forum focused on the Doctrine of Discovery, its enduring impacts and the need for redress.  In this regard, our organizations look forward to an expert study to be tabled at next year’s session.  In its 2012 final report, the Forum called on all States to repudiate colonial doctrines such as the Doctrine of Discovery, and associated legal fictions as the doctrine of terra nullius, “as the basis for denying indigenous peoples’ human rights.”[1]

The Declaration U.N. equivocally affirms:

“… all doctrines, policies and practices based on advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially Unjust”

Rejection of doctrines of superiority is also found in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Further, in September 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Council by consensus "condemned" doctrines of superiority "as incompatible with democracy and transparent and accountable governance".

There is no doubt that the Doctrine of Discovery is based on assertion of racial superiority.  Yet developed States, such as Canada, United States and Australia, among many others, continue to shamefully rely upon and perpetuate this debilitating doctrine for their narrow self-interest.  Under the doctrine, the ability of the colonializing powers to claim to unilaterally extinguish the pre-existing sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and establish their own dominion over Indigenous peoples’ lands, territories, and resources is – as the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples has noted – inextricably linked to “colonial era attitudes toward indigenous peoples that can only be described as racist.”[2]


The Doctrine of Discovery must not be used as justification for the arbitrary and U.N.ilateral denial of the human rights of Indigenous peoples.  In this context, we bring to your attention the judgment of the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Tsilhqot'in Nation v. British Columbia, rendered on 27 June 2012. This ruling, if not reversed by Canada's highest court, could set a dangerous precedent.

The judgment includes: “European explorers considered that by virtue of the "principle of discovery" they were at liberty to claim territory in North America on behalf of their sovereigns ... While it is difficult to rationalize that view from a modern perspective, the history is clear.”[3]

In the contemporary context of justice, reconciliation and international human rights, the Doctrine of Discovery must have no place whatsoever in determining Indigenous peoples' title and rights, in international and domestic law. States and courts must not rely on this fictitious doctrine so as to purportedly diminish or extinguish Indigenous peoples' sovereignty and title.


True implementation of the U.N. Declaration requires the repudiation of this racist and colonial doctrine.



 1.     THAT the Permanent Forum reiterate its recommendation that States repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and fully utilize the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for justice and reconciliation.

 2.     THAT the Permanent Forum reiterate the recommendation of Special Rapporteur James Anaya in his August 2012 report: "courts should discard such colonial era doctrine in favour of an alternative jurisprudence infused with ... contemporary human rights values ... including those values reflected in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."

3.     THAT States take immediate measures, in conjunction with Indigenous peoples, to ensure that the Doctrine is not invoked in contemporary court cases or negotiations that should be aimed at the affirmation, protection and restitution of Indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources, consistent with international human rights standards.

 4.     THAT the Permanent Forum reaffirm that international human rights law is a legitimate and important influence on the development of the common law. Any common law doctrine founded on discrimination in the enjoyment of Indigenous peoples' rights demands urgent reconsideration.

 5.  THAT for full and effective implementation of the U.N. Declaration, all States must abandon policies that serve to deny the existence of Aboriginal title and unjustly place the burden of proof on Indigenous peoples that have territorial rights based on original occupation.

6. THAT affirmation of Indigenous peoples' title to lands, territories and resources is critical for their survival, dignity, security and well-being.  States and domestic courts must reject any use of or reliance on the Doctrine of Discovery and "extinguishment" of Indigenous peoples' rights. Extinguishment is also a relic of colonialism and such destruction of rights is incompatible with international human rights law.


[1] Report on the eleventh session (7 – 18 May 2012), Economic and Social Council, Official Records, Supplement No. 23, United Nations, New York, E/2012/43-E/C.19/2012/13, para. 4.

[2] Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, Addendum: The situation of indigenous peoples in the United States of America, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/21/47/Add.1 (30 August 2012). Para 16.

 [3] Tsilhqot'in Nation v. British Columbia, 2012 BCCA 285, para. 166

Readings on the Doctrine of Discovery

In the Courts of the Conqueror, The Ten Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided, Walter Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), 2010.

Pagans in the Promised Land, Decoding the Doctrine of Discovery, Steven T. Newcomb (Shawnee/Lenape), 2008.

Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark and Manifest Destiny, Robert J. Miller, Esq. (Eastern Shawnee), 2006.

Readings for Context

Exiled in the Land of the Free, edited by Oren Lyons et al., 1992.

Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization, Robert A. Williams (Lumbee), 2012.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, 2014

Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, Steve Heinrichs,  2013

Web Links

Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery, with videos of lectures, power point presentations, reports, articles and more links,

International Conference on the Doctrine of Discovery 2012, with videos of talks delivered by Indigenous experts including Steven T. Newcomb, Jeanette Armstrong, Oren Lyons, Walter Echo-Hawk, and others

500 Years of Injustice, Indigenous Law Institute,

Doctrine of Discovery (study group), 

Unitarian Universalists, “Discussion Guide for Considering the Report and Responsive Resolution from the UUA Board on the Doctrine of Discovery,”

Unsettling America:


“The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code,” produced by Sheldon Wolfchild and Steven T. Newcomb, see: 

Unitarian film on the Doctrine of Discovery:

World Council of Churches 10th Assembly Minute on Indigenous Peoples

30 October to 8 November 2013 Busan, Republic of Korea Document No. PIC 02.11

The assembly theme, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace,” has guided and enriched discussions during the 10th Assembly, reminding participants repeatedly of the need for increased awareness of the rights and dignity of Indigenous Peoples.

The unique rights of Indigenous Peoples derive from their cultures, histories and spiritual traditions; from their political, economic and social structures; and from their historic rights to specific lands, territories and resources. Indigenous Peoples in the world today are vulnerable in face of situations in which their lives and security are threatened. It is necessary to dismantle oppressive laws and policies of governments, particularly trade agreements and international and national practices that promote resource extraction to the detriment of Indigenous Peoples’ human rights and sovereignty. Indigenous Peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples. Yet Indigenous Peoples in many parts of the world face constant threats to their lives and survival as communities. They also, as individuals, have the right to life, integrity, liberty and security of person in each context.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has a longstanding commitment to solidarity with Indigenous Peoples and to promoting their concerns, especially the need to respect and uphold their inherent rights and dignity.

While reaffirming the commitment to work on Indigenous Peoples’ issues, the WCC assembly, meeting in Busan, Republic of Korea, from 30 October to 8 November 2013:

Calls on member churches to:

- respect Indigenous Peoples’ spiritualities and support the aspirations of self-determination of indigenous communities around the world;

- reflect upon their own histories and seek greater understanding of the plights of Indigenous Peoples in different contexts;

- provide assistance to Indigenous Peoples’ delegations to participate in advocacy efforts at the United Nations;

- support and strengthen the efforts of indigenous communities working to dismantle oppressive laws and policies that legitimize continued colonial practices on their lands; and

- coordinate communications among the member churches of the WCC and ecumenical actors working for Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

Recommends that the General Secretary:

- give special attention to Indigenous People’s issues during the next programme period of the WCC; and

- maintain the Indigenous Peoples’ programme with adequate staff in the WCC’s Geneva office, to coordinate, facilitate and realize its programmatic commitments.


  1. Resources on the U.N. Declaration on the

Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Read the U.N. Declaration here:

Website of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues:

Website of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

The 2012 report of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on United States’ Compliance with the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is found here:    It includes specific recommendations for implementing the U.N. Declaration in the United States.

Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) published a report on how the U.N. Declaration can help Native Americans defend their rights. Read it at:

In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2013, by Walter R. Echo-Hawk

Realizing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2010, by Jackie Hartley, Paul Joffe and Jennifer Preston 

How the UNDRIP can provide a stronger foundation for Indian rights in the United States

By Walter Echo-Hawk

INDIAN RIGHTS IN THE U.S. ARISE from a foundation fashioned in the 19th Century. Much of that foundation remains sound today and should be retained, especially the "inherent tribal sovereignty" doctrine of Worcester v. Georgia (1833) and its "protectorate framework" for protecting Indian nations that exist in the Republic as "domestic dependent nations."  However, other foundational principles are embarrassingly outmoded and make Indian rights vulnerable. Those include the doctrines of discovery, conquest, and of unlimited Congressional power in Indian Affairs, as well as engrained legal fictions that deem Indians racially and culturally inferior. Rights that spring from that dark well are forever vulnerable, and invariably discriminatory.


A stronger, more just foundation for Indian rights is needed--one grounded in a modern world that rejected colonialism long ago. We must find justifications for Supreme Court decisions other than conquest, colonization, or racial superiority. The pivotal question becomes: What should the new foundation for Native rights be?


That new foundation is provided by precepts of the UNDRIP, listed in the preambular paragraphs at the beginning of this international instrument. The Indigenous rights guaranteed in the UNDRIP are founded upon values that spring from the human rights framework of contemporary international law. These UNDRIP principles allow us to reconceptualize the foundation for Native American rights in the United States:


Equality:  Indigenous peoples are "equal to all other peoples" and they "should be free from discrimination of any kind." Racism is rejected as an illegitimate source upon which to base Indian rights: "All doctrines, policies, and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust."


Inherent Rights: Indigenous rights are "inherent rights" that derive from Indigenous peoples' "political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories, and resources." These rights are not "given" to them by nation-states, but already belong to them (akin to fundamental rights enjoyed by other peoples under natural law). Recognition of Indigenous rights is an important nation-building process that enhances harmonious and cooperative relations between the State and Indigenous peoples based on principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, non-discrimination and good faith.


Self-determination: The centerpiece for Indigenous rights is "control by Indigenous peoples" over developments that affect them and their lands that enables them to strengthen their institutions, cultures, traditions and to promote development in accordance with their needs and aspirations. Integration of Indigenous peoples into the fabric of society through this means strengthens consensual partnerships between Indigenous peoples and nations. By contrast, colonialism and dispossession are invalid sources for defining Indigenous rights, because those are sources of "historic injustice" that deny Indigenous Peoples their right to self-determination and prevent them from exercising the right to development in accordance with their needs and aspirations. 


These precepts can supplement the Worcester foundation for Indian rights in the United States if incorporated into federal Indian law during the implementation of the UNDRIP, and they can replace the nefarious principles that have long weakened Indian rights. A sounder foundation for Indian rights arises from notions of justice and human rights found in contemporary international law.