Steve Hirby writes for all of us who were at the recent Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Conference.

At the 2019 annual meeting of the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC on April 6, delegates overwhelmingly approved a resolution putting the Conference on record repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. In doing so, the Wisconsin Conference follows the lead of the national setting of the denomination, which adopted a similar resolution at its 29th General Synod in 2013.

The Discovery Doctrine is a concept of international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions starting in 1823. The doctrine is based on proclamations issued by several Popes starting at the time of the Crusades (11th century) and reaffirmed near the end of the 15th century as European explorers ventured into Africa, Asia, and the Americas. These proclamations gave Christian explorers the right to lay claim to lands they visited for their Christian monarchs. (That is, any explored land not occupied by Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed and exploited.) Astonishing as it may seem, because of 19th century court decisions and legislation, US law today is still based on these principles.

The proposed Wisconsin UCC resolution of repudiation was introduced at the Conference’s 2018 Annual meeting, held in June of last year. The proposal required a year of study before the Conference could vote on it. More than 80 Wisconsin UCC congregations, including First Congregational Appleton, undertook the study, using both resources prepared by the national setting of the UCC and other study materials from a variety of sources.

First Congo devoted three adult-learning sessions to the study, with about 30 people participating in one or more. Several of our members also attended a session offered by Lakeland College, where UCC and Ho Chunk Nation member Larry Littlegeorge and Wisconsin Conference staff member Rev. Rob MacDougall discussed the doctrine.

Learning about the Doctrine of Discovery; realizing that mainstream histories of the settlement of America are largely silent about the exploitation and oppression of indigenous peoples; recognizing that the land in what we now call the Fox Cities, including the location where our church building stands, are on the ancestral homelands of the Menominee Nation – these were powerful outcomes of our study. Many of us who participated in the Doctrine of Discovery sessions are now motivated to learn more and to do more in showing respect for the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and working to right the wrongs that colonization and the European settlement of the Americas have inflicted on them.

For additional information, contact:
Mary Dees, Phil Gabrielson, Steve Hirby, Eilene Hoft-March, Pastor Kathryn Kuhn, Pastor Steve Savides

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