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Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery

The Doctrine of Discovery established the worldview that one group of people—Western Christendom—had moral sanction and the support of international law to invade the lands of non-Christian Peoples, to dominate them, take their possessions and resources, and enslave and kill them.

U.S. law drew on the doctrine in ways that linger in today’s human rights violations against Indigenous people.

The resources complied here, generously shared by a community working to right wrongs and heal from centuries of enduring harm, can serve as a guide for others seeking to make amends as part of repairing relationships with Indigenous people.

Workshops on the Doctrine of Discovery are a project of the Racial Social and Economic Justice Committee of the New England Yearly Meeting, with technical assistance provided by the American Friends Service Committee Healing Justice Program.

What is found in the Doctrine of Discovery?

When Indigenous peoples exercise self-determination, they come in conflict with governments and corporations that rely on the legal lineage of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery to assert claims on natural resources, such as coal, oil, uranium, natural gas, and water. This is one of many lasting effects of the doctrine today.

Quakers and the Indian boarding schools

The federal Indian boarding school policy took over 100,000 Native children away from reservations to attend boarding schools run by religious organizations.

Quakers and the Bureau of Indian Affairs

Historical documents show how Friends worked as agents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, managing the lives of Indigenous people.

New England Yearly Meeting Minute 52

New England Yearly Meeting in 2013 approved a minute—a record of the collective spiritual will of the meeting—that repudiates the Doctrine of Discovery. It's one step in moving from empire to beloved community.