At the January meeting, the UUA Trustees voted to place a responsive resolution to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery on the business agenda for the General Assembly.  What is the Doctrine of Discovery?  Why have our partner organizations in Arizona called for its repudiation?  How are we as Unitarian Universalist people of faith called to respond?  For the next several weeks, Cooking Together bloggers will address these questions.  This post was written by the Dave Weiman, who has been working with others to educate UUs about this issue. – Ed.

At 7:30 pm on December 3, 2009, Joy Murphy Wandin, senior woman of the Wurundjeri People, was the first person to greet the 6,000 plus people who had come together for the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, with this traditional ‘Welcome to the Land’:

On behalf of the spiritual ancestors and the traditional owners of Melbourne, I invite you to Melbourne in 2009, for the Parliament of the World’s Religions to share in the traditions, culture and spirit of Australia.

I was impressed that special recognition was given to the Peoples who had nurtured the land for thousands of years.   The welcoming practice not just for the opening, occurred at the beginning of almost every event during the Parliament, large or small.  And in fact, at the start of Sunday Service at the local Unitarian Church, the same basic welcoming statement started the service.  It is important to note that the words in these messages of welcome are of and by the Peoples who are native to the land, not from government officials.

At the final Plenary of the Parliament more than a dozen Indigenous Peoples from around the globe, presented a ‘Statement to the World.’  The Statement explained Indigenous cultures and contributions, the negative outcomes of colonization, and the injustices suffered by Indigenous Peoples.   It concluded with seven ‘appeals’.  Of the seven, two became an important focus of my social justice work when I returned home.  One asked for all nations to implement and support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Declaration), and another asked for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery (Doctrine).

From the opening moment of the Parliament to its closing, I was being drawn into a social justice cause about which I had known virtually nothing.  Since the Parliament I’ve been learning more, about the Declaration and the Doctrine, and come to understand why these are so important, not only for Indigenous Peoples, but for all of us.

Early in 2010, I met (electronically) Beth Brownfield of the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship (WA). Beth and I found out very quickly that we were on “the same page” in learning about the Declaration and the Doctrine and were convinced other UUs would join us in answering the Indigenous Peoples’ appeal.  We initiated a project to inform Unitarian Universalists about the appeal issued by the Indigenous Peoples.   We created informational materials, and materials for worship and religious education, including, a website. We also proposed a resolution which congregations could adopt supporting the implementation of the Declaration and repudiating the Doctrine.

Progress was painfully slow.  By the end of 2011, seven churches had passed the resolution. In late 2011, we connected with Ken Brown, the Director of the Pacific Southwest District, who wanted to include the Doctrine as part of the program for the Justice GA at the request of our partner organizations in Arizona.  Ken championed our efforts at GA planning discussions, and Board of Trustee member Michael Tino presented a motion at the January Board meeting to offer a resolution at GA to support implementation of the Declaration and repudiate the Doctrine.  This is way beyond Beth’s and my highest hopes as the outcome for our project!

That’s the project story, but it’s not the whole story.  Beyond the research, the drafting and editing, the networking, the presentations and votes, beyond all that, I experienced something that was completely unexpected.  I discovered it is impossible to become knowledgeable about Indigenous issues and not become aware of the Spiritual Practices that define Indigenous cultures.  We colonizers tend to compartmentalize our lives – family here, work there, community somewhere, and, oh yes, that’s our spiritual stuff over there.  I don’t think the lives and thoughts of Indigenous Peoples are so fragmented. As far as I know, I have no American Indian heritage, and even if I did, I’ve been schooled to underappreciate Indigenous cultures.  I may never be able to completely understand the anguish experienced by Indigenous Peoples.  But as a Unitarian Universalist person of faith, I feel called to support the Indigenous Peoples’ appeal.

Supporting the implementation of the Declaration and repudiating the Doctrine is not merely an exercise in being politically correct.  Answering the Indigenous Peoples’ appeal is an integral part of a purposeful movement to establish justice for sovereign Peoples who share our planet.  Answering the Indigenous Peoples’ appeal fully embraces our UU Principles.  Answering the Indigenous Peoples’ appeal exemplifies the words of our own Theodore Parker:

I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. (1853)

Please study the UUA materials when they arrive.  And if you’re fortunate enough to attend the Justice GA, I hope you’ll join one of our workshops, participate in the discussion, and most importantly, vote to approve the resolution to support the implementation of the Declaration and repudiate the Doctrine.


Dave Weiman is a member of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Peoria, Illinois, and of Unitarian Universalists Working Together to Repudiate the Doctrine and Endorse the Declaration.

About the Author
Gail Forsyth-Vail
Gail Forsyth-Vail is the Director of Adult Programs in the UUA Resource Development Office. She is a Credentialed Religious Educator, Master’s Level, who served congregations for 22 years before coming to the UUA in 2008. The 2007 recipient of the Angus MacLean Award for Excellence in Religious Education, she is the author of Stories in Faith and Adapting Small Group Ministry for Children's Religious Education and co-author of Harvest the Power and Bridging: A Handbook for Congregations. She is a parent of three young adult Unitarian Universalists.
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