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Episcopal Church joins ecumenical voices at United Nations supporting and advocating for Indigenous Peoples

May 3, 2012
The Public Affairs Office

The Episcopal Church will join with other religious voices in repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery at the 11th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) beginning on Monday, May 7 through Friday, May 18.

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will participate in an ecumenical delegation which is hosting a service and panel presentation on Monday.

The UNPFII is an advisory body to the UN’s Economic and Social Council that has met annually since 2002 to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.

This year’s special theme is “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).”

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery in 2009.


May 7 Ecumenical Panel

Prior to the official opening of the United Nations Permanent Forum on May 7, an ecumenical panel, sponsored in part by the Episcopal Church, will address “Churches Disavow the Doctrine of Discovery Calling for Poverty Alleviation and Healing.” With a focus on education, land rights, reconciliation, healing and practical next steps, panelists include Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori; Sarah Augustine, Director of the Suriname Indigenous Health Fund; Professor Robert J. Miller, law professor at Lewis and Clark Law School, Chief Justice of the Grand Ronde Tribe (Eastern Shawnee), author of Native America, Discovered and Conquered and co-author of Discovering Indigenous Lands; and Dr. Erma Vizenor, Tribal Chairwoman of the White Earth Nation.  

The panel is co-sponsored by the Episcopal Church, Anglican Communion, World Council of Churches, Mennonite Central Committee, World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women, The Grail, Gray Panthers, U.F.E.R. – International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples, Suriname Indigenous Health Fund, NGO Committee on the UN International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Salvation Army, World Christian Student Federation, and Office of the Chaplain of the Church Center for the United Nations.

Noting that this panel is a collective moment of healing and reconciliation that benefits all indigenous peoples, Sarah Eagle Heart, Episcopal Church Indigenous Ministries Missioner, commented, “The opportunity we have before us, is likely one that we will not have for a long period of time, a time where worldwide indigenous communities are listening because the theme of the UN PFII is the Doctrine of Discovery. We must be prepared to share with indigenous communities that we truly seek to acknowledge and lament the pain of our history. We can be a voice that strives to help all realize we want the same thing at the end of the right some wrongs and help the people. While we cannot change our history and cannot right every wrong, we can help build a future that endeavors to work together. We need to build trust in order for any community building endeavor to work and not many indigenous communities know that The Episcopal Church has supported tribal rights since 1976."


Episcopal Church delegation

This year, 14 accredited delegates will attend UNPFII proceedings and advocate on behalf of indigenous peoples. Led by Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, the Episcopal Church team members are: Bishop Stacy Sauls, Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer; Sam McDonald, Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Director of Mission; and staff members Alexander Baumgarten, Director of the Office of Government Relations; Sarah Dreier, Legislative Representative for International Policy for the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Eagle Heart; and Lynnaia Main, Global Relations Officer. Joining the delegation are: Nellie Adkins, Episcopal Diocese of Virginia; Elsie Dennis Dofelmier, Episcopal Diocese of Olympia; John Dieffenbacher-Krall, Episcopal Diocese of Maine; Dr. Kathryn Rickert, Episcopal Diocese of Olympia and Dr. Erma Vizenor, Chairwoman of the White Earth Nation. Attending for the Anglican Communion will be Rachel Chardon, Special Assistant in the Anglican Communion Office and Ashley Lhérisson, assistant.

Also present will be a delegation representing a collaborative effort between the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon “as a beautiful and tangible example of one project which is expressing the spirit of the Renunciation of the Doctrine of Discovery.”


May 8 Events

Two key events on May 8 at the Episcopal Church Center on Second Ave. are:

  •  At 10 am Dr. Kathryn Rickert will sponsor a workshop, “Doctrine of Discovery: A Call to Healing and Hope”
  •  A special Holy Eucharist on the Doctrine of Discovery at 12:10 pm in the Chapel of Christ the Lord. The Rev. Albert Krueger, First Nations Missioner in the Diocese of Oregon, will preside during a liturgy he designed for the occasion.


Keeping up-to-date

Participants will have many opportunities to share with the wider community what is happening at UNPFII through social media:


Indigenous Ministries







Global Partnerships








For more information, contact Eagle Heart at or Main at


Resolution D035: Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery

At General Convention 2009, the Episcopal Church approved Resolution D035, which called for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery

In D035, 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.”

It explains, “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.”

Also part of the resolution requests 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.”






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Nancy Cox Davidge
Public Affairs Officer