A Tragic Anniversary, Rays of Hope, and Opportunities for Repair

Call this tragic anniversary “Doctrine of Discovery Day.”

On this day in history, 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued one of the important bulls (edicts) in what has come to be known as the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. In the bull Inter caetera, the Church granted Spain the right to conquer and claim newly found lands to the west. The Pope issued this edict just one year after Columbus sailed; it triggered the start of Catholic missions in what is now North America. According to an English translation of Inter caetera published on the website nativeweb.org, the papal bull states in part:

“Among other works well pleasing to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this assuredly ranks highest, that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”

It puts Christianity into a category of domination and forced conversation rather than a religion of love.

Later, the “Discovery Doctrine” became part of U.S. law through a series of 19th Century Supreme Court decisions, notably Johnson v. M’Intosh.

Many Native American leaders and organizations have been working to educate people about the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and to get the Catholic Church to officially rescind it. Locally, Sheldon Wolfchild of the Lower Sioux Community has produced a documentary on the Doctrine of Discovery. (Follow this blog for information on upcoming showings.)

Inter Caetera is not the only Papal bull considered to be part of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, but since it is so close in time to the Columbus voyage, it seems like a good anniversary to highlight, and to reflect on repairing the massive harm it did.

There are rays of hope in the work being done locally by Native-led organizations. And there are ways that we as individuals and institutions can, in small ways, support them in repairing the loss of Native lands, languages, and cultures that are synonymous with the Doctrine of Christian Discovery.

Here are just a few of the organizations that could use your support.Repairing the Loss of Land: The Minnesota-based Indian Land Tenure Foundation is committed to having Indian lands in Indian hands. The website notes that Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 broke up communal ownership of reservations, created individually owned parcels, and made it easier for settlers to buy up the land set aside for tribes:

More than 65 percent of reservation land in the U.S. is currently owned and controlled by non-Indians. On some reservations, this number is closer to 90 percent, even though these lands were generally guaranteed for the exclusive use and occupation of Indian people

To learn more, check out their webpage on Land Issues and consider making a donation.

Repairing Loss of Language: There are a number of efforts to revive the Dakota and Ojibwe languages, those languages native to this area prior to European arrival. One of the real struggles has been training enough Native language teachers to fill the needs in various education programs. Here are examples of Native-led Dakota and Ojibwe language immersion programs doing this important work. Consider making a donation:

  • Wicoie Nandagikendan: The first indigenous urban preschool immersion program created in Minneapolis. Wicoie Nandagikendan offers a 3 hour immersion experience comparable to the preschool lessons in the English classrooms but they are taught entirely in Dakota or Ojibwe languages.
  • Bdote Learning Center: a year-round K-4 elementary school that opened this past year in south Minneapolis. It is a language immersion, place-based charter school that not only engages children, but their families and other community members.

Repairing Loss of Culture: U.S. assimilation policies worked to eliminate traditional Native lifeways. (It wasn’t until 1978 that Native Americans could legally practice their religion.) There are any number of organizations that working to reclaim Native cultures. One we have gotten to know in recent years is Dream of Wild Health, a 10-acre organic farm in Hugo that is dedicated to help American Indian people reclaim their physical, spiritual, and mental health. They employ Native youth on the farm. “We teach the old ways of growing food and living healthy lives,” its website says.

To learn more, Dream of Wild Health is holding a Sacred Medicines and Gardening Workshop on Saturday May 21, from 10 a.m. to noon. It will be held at the Mashkiikii Gitigan garden, 1316 East 24th Street in Minneapolis.

Please consider making a donation.

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