By Jenny Castro
(Mennonite Church USA)—A coalition of people from across Mennonite Church USA is working systematically to dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery (DoD), a 15th-century philosophical framework that gives “Christian governments” moral and legal authority to dominate Indigenous peoples and to invade and take over Indigenous lands.
According to Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA and the denomination’s representative on the coalition, the DoD was the basis for Manifest Destiny in United States history and continues to empower governments to oppress Indigenous peoples around the world.
The DoD Coalition (formerly the DoD working group) brings together representatives from Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Mennonite Creation Care Network, the Watershed Discipleship movement and members and leaders from congregations and conferences across the denomination.
“We all come representing different organizations, each working to address the DoD in our context,” said de León-Hartshorn. “When we come together, we find the common threads in our work and look for points of collaboration.”
During the coalition’s Jan. 7–9 meeting in Seattle, members worked to define the way the group will function together, forming committees based on intersections of expertise, resources and energy to focus on specific areas: Education, Native Land Return, Arts, Structures (legal and policy), Fundraising and Communication, and Mennonite Church USA Resolutions, among others.
De León-Hartshorn will chair the Resolutions Committee.
“For the Resolutions Committee, our hope is to work together to come up with a resolution for the Delegate Assembly at Orlando 2017,” she said. “We want the denomination to take a definitive stand against the use of the DoD.”
In addition, de León-Hartshorn is a member of the coalition’s Education Committee. On April 5–6 — together with fellow Education Committee members Erica Littlewolf of the MCC Central States Indigenous Visioning Circle and Michelle Armster, executive director of MCC Central States — she presented on the DoD for Canadian Mennonite leaders and MCC Canada at the Thunderbird House in Winnipeg.
“The Christian Church has missed a golden opportunity to allow Native American Spirituality to help inform and unpack some of the negative impacts of Western thought on Christianity,” said de León-Hartshorn. “Some First Nations spiritual values could really help us see the fuller picture of what God intended.”
De León-Hartshorn and Armster presented on the journey of using Indian Theology as a lens to view Scripture in a liberative way while also raising awareness of how the DoD and the oppression and domination of Indigenous peoples throughout the history of the Americas continue to affect people today.
De León-Hartshorn will collaborate with other Education Committee members to offer presentations like the one in Winnipeg across the U.S., raising awareness of the impact of the DoD. Education Committee members are also developing a study guide to accompany the 43-minute documentary they created in 2015, “Doctrine of Discovery: In the Name of Christ.”
For more information on the DoD and the coalition’s work, see dofdmenno.org.
Doctrine of Discovery Coalition logomark
Doctrine_of_Discovery_Miriam_Sainnawap_Brander Raven_Adrian_ Jacobs_Canada.jpg
(l. to r., standing) Miriam Sainnawap, Brander Raven and Adrian Jacobs shared at a presentation for Canadian Mennonite leaders and Mennonite Central Committee Canada representatives to raise awareness of the impact of the Doctrine of Discovery. The meetings were held April 5–6 at the Thunderbird House in Winnipeg. (Photo provided by Erica Littlewolf/MCC)
Doctrine_of_Discovery_Christina_Dunfield_Muriel_Queval_Dianne_Climenhage_2924.jpg (l. to r.) Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) representatives Christina Dunfield (MCC Maritimes), Muriel Queval (MCC Quebec) and Dianne Climenhage (MCC Newfoundland Labrador) participated in meetings on the impact of the Doctrine of Discovery April 5–6 at the Thunderbird House in Winnipeg (background). (Photo provided by Erica Littlewolf/MCC)
Doctrine_of_Discovery_Coalition_Seattle_2016_Jan_A.jpg The Doctrine of Discovery Coalition met in January 2016 at Seattle Mennonite Church. (l. to r.) Patty Burdette, Iris de León-Hartshorn, Michelle Armster, Sheri Hostetler, Jonathan Neufeld, Sarah Augustine, Todd Wynward, Karin Kaufman Wall and Erica Littlewolf. (DoD Coalition photo)
The Doctrine of Discovery Coalition met in January 2016 at Seattle Mennonite Church, opening their time with a ceremony led by Steve Darden (Navajo – Human Rights Commissioner for the Diné Nation) and Mark MacDonald (Bishop for Indigenous Peoples for the Anglican Church of Canada and also President for North America for the World Council of Churches). (l. to r.) (front row) Steve Darden, Erica Littlewolf, Sarah Augustine, Sheri Hostetler, Iris de León-Hartshorn, Patty Burdette; (middle row) Mark MacDonald, Ken Gingerich, Anita Amstutz, Michelle Armster, Katerina Friesen, Jennifer Delanty, Karin Kaufman Wall; (back row) Todd Wynyard, Jonathan Neufeld, John Stoesz, Pat Shaver, Weldon Nisley. (DoD Coalition photo)