Every year on Columbus Day I cringe. I am grateful the churchwide ELCA does not honor it as a holiday, but I continue to be frustrated that anyone does. Celebrating Columbus reinforces myth where there was bloody, brutal violence. Celebrating Christopher Columbus supports lies and encourages people of good will to remain ignorant of the truth.
And before anyone tries to suggest to me that Columbus’ atrocities are ancient and that peace advocates should let the past be the past, please know my response will rattle you with multiple facts and figures of the plights of the indigenous people of multiple continents as they go on today.
The ELCA took official action at its 2016 Assembly to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. I noted that this was not mentioned in the Living Lutheran magazine, and I wondered if that’s because people are not sure of what the Doctrine of Discovery is?
[bctt tweet=”Every year on Columbus Day I cringe. ” username=”womenoftheelca”]
When Judith Roberts, the ELCA’s program director for racial justice ministries, and I did a presentation “From the Doctrine of Discovery to #Blacklivesmatter” at the ELCA’s Grace Gathering in New Orleans this summer, we had a standing room only audience. We showed a film that tears at your heart: “Doctrine of Discovery-In the Name of Christ.”
This doctrine governs United States Indian Law today and has been cited as recently as 2005 in the decision City of Sherrill V. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y.
It is important to note that The Doctrine of Discovery was used globally. Pope Nicholas V’s papal bull Dum Diversas of June, 1452 authorized Alfonso V of Portugal to reduce any “Saracens (Muslims) and pagans and any other unbelievers” to perpetual (hereditary) slavery. This facilitated the Portuguese slave trade from West Africa.
Pope Alexander VI’s (papal bull) “Inter Caetera,” issued on May 4, 1493, gave the so-called discovered lands of Christopher Columbus to the Spanish crown. It further stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was free to be discovered, claimed and exploited by Christian rulers so that barbarous nations could be “overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”
The Doctrine of Discovery provided Europeans with a treasure trove. It gave the U.S. government the public international law to govern over and forcefully appropriate aboriginal land during the western expansion of the United States. It continues to cause havoc and must be repudiated so that healing can take place.
Why not consider celebrating Native Americans’ Day instead of Columbus Day?
Inez Torres Davis is director for justice for Women of the ELCA.
Photo of a Dreamcatcher.