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The CRC’s Doctrine of Discovery Task Force will report to Synod 2016. I’ve had the privilege of journeying with the task force for almost 4 years now. Our work has been intense; full of emotional, spiritual and intellectual challenges. Our task force is made up of Indigenous people and settlers from minority communities and European origins. In many circles of conversation we’ve begun hearing each other more deeply as sisters and brothers in the family of Christ-the-Reconciler. Our report (link here) is an invitation for the whole church to enter into a conversation on the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (DOCD). The Network has kindly asked us to answer some questions about our work and so we welcome you to this circle of conversation. . . 

What is the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (DOCD) and how does it relate to the church?

The DOCD evolved from 3 Papal Bulls (edicts from a Pope) in the 15th Century that gave European rulers permission for the settlement and conquest of North America. Those Papal Bulls included a basic assumption that people who were not Christian and/or European were less than fully human and, therefore, subject to the control of European Christian rulers. This assumption of the superiority of Europeans was a broad worldview of conquest and systemic racism that shaped law and culture and the church as it grew in North America. Reformed Christians often work with the doctrine of total depravity – an idea that sin is pervasive. The DOCD is a broken worldview that brought about the oppression of colonialism: in genocidal wars, in relocations in residential schools, and in the marginalization of Indigenous people.

In our task force we’ve learned that the church, even with noble and Biblically inspired intentions, is not immune from the effects of the DOCD. In the use of terms like ‘savage’, in running residential schools, and in assumptions of the inferiority of Indigenous people and cultures, the church in North America has been touched by the total depravity of the DOCD. As we learn and confront the history of this brokenness, the Church can play a profound role in reconciliation. 

This video of Bishop Mark MacDonald (a friend and mentor to many of us in Canadian Ministries) is a good summary of lingering effects of the Doctrine of Discovery:    

What kind of research took place in your committee? Did you seek expert opinions to better understand the history of the DOCD and the relationship of the church to indigenous peoples?

Our Task Force research was an intense and fascinating process. Sure, we did the smart things you might expect: extensive literature review, professional historical work in archives and consultation with academics and ‘experts’. But we also took on some non-traditional research: 

  • We were honored to participate in events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. We heard the sacred, grace-filled and sometimes angry testimony of survivors of residential schools. We also had the chance to discuss our work with some of the Commission’s senior research staff;
  • We met with Indigenous church leaders within and outside of the CRC (and would have loved to do more).
  • We met and interviewed Indigenous people around the continent to hear their stories and experiences related to the legacy of the DOCD. In the course of this work we heard powerful stories of the resilience and grace of many Indigenous people.  We also learned that these experiences of our sisters and brothers are relatively unknown. This is why we believe deeply in the importance of sharing stories and cultivating a full understanding of the experience of Indigenous people in the church.

All told, our hope in this process of research and listening, was to step beyond standard western and linear ways of learning and knowing, and into a process of hearing the stories of Indigenous people in a deep way. This effort to hear the voices of all was also reflected in the way we worked as a task force: Whenever possible we used an Indigenous inspired process of sharing circles so that each of our voices was heard and honored. We came to love our time in the circle as an opportunity to hear each other deeply as sisters and brothers.

The work of reconciliation can be daunting. How did you committee narrow down specific actions?

Our task force learned again and again that reconciliation is an ongoing commitment. We learned that seeds of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2009-2015) were sown as long as 30 years ago, and we heard the Commissioners say that their work was just a beginning of the reconciliation journey. So we want to stress that reconciliation is not the formal passage of our recommendations or a repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery. Reconciliation is the hard and beautiful work of hearing our shared stories of the legacy of the DOCD. For this reason the key things that we recommended as a task force focus on the need to learn more about our history as a North American Church as influenced by the DOCD; and to support Indigenous people in the sharing of stories of the DOCD legacy that have not been heard. In knowing the fullness of our shared story in a spirit of grace and commitment to truth, we can know each other as the new family that Christ intended. This is why our report is titled Creating a New Family.     

Why should Synod 2016 and the CRC as a whole pay attention to the work of this committee? How does it affect us moving forward?

In Canada, we’ve seen God’s Spirit move Indigenous people to healing, and churches to repentance and wholeness through the Truth and reconciliation Commission process.  Keeping in step with the Spirit of reconciliation is a passion that has touched many. We know that our report asks hard questions and probes into some corners we might want to forget. But we know from direct experience with story tellers that hard truths and questions, while painful, set in motion a process of healing and reconciliation. As Christ’s ambassadors, we believe the CRC across North America is called to this process of reconciliation with our Indigenous sisters and brothers. We’ll be changed.



Hmmmmm?  "In knowing the fullness of our shared story in a spirit of grace and commitment to truth, we can know each other as the new family that Christ intended."  So you say!

1.  I might wish the report reflected the "fullness" of our shared story, including stories of God's redeeming work via the CRC in the Southwest among Navajo and Zuni people.

2.  While your report is a worthy telling of an important part of our story, it seems to lack "a spirit of grace" toward missionaries and other workers, Native and non-Native, who did heroic work in trying to bring the gospel to Native people.

3.  "A commitment to truth" means you are obligated to tell the whole truth. As the catechism teaches (Q and A 112 re false witness), we ought not "join in condemning anyone without a hearing" and we ought to "guard and advance [our] neighbor's good name."

It is my hope and prayer that if Synod discusses the report this summer or delays it for a year, they will include instruction to give the report more balance.  That will disrupt your current narrative and may     require a new or more representative task force, but the current report should not be approved. It doesn't measure up to quality historical work, or the fullness you claim to desire, or what the church deserves and needs.

Ron Polinder

Lynden, WA

Dear Ron,

As the son of two missionaries who  served in Rehoboth and Zuni and a member of the DoCD report team, I'd like to respond to your comment - as I have previously in correspondence with you.

First, you are right, a commitment to truth is a commitment to the whole truth. That is precisely why this report is the way it is. The arc of the whole truth of European conquest and our treatment of indigenous peoples and the creation is missing important pieces - difficult pieces for us descendants of Europeans to accept. And this report is about those pieces. 

The report is definitely not balanced - and it was not intended to be. It concentrates on the missing, difficult, uncomfortable (for me) pieces of the truth that have been habitually left out of the story. It is intended to bring us a little closer to "the whole truth."

As you may imagine, there was considerable discussion on this point in the committee. In the end, it became clear to us that we needed to present the less admirable elements of European cultural heritage and Christian missions rather clearly and without an attempt to balance each negative observation, historical reference, or - most importantly - personal story with a positive observation, historical reference, or personal story. To do so would be to take away from the truth of the dark, systemically sinful, and pain-causing side of our history - both as a people group and as a church. In other words, we decided not to include the "yes...but".

I had a bit of a journey to get that point. You may note several wince inducing quotes (illustrating the equating of most things Zuni and Navajo as "pagan" or "of Satan") from letters culled out of the archives by our historian - a professional historian, may I note, who is about to receive his PHD. Here is one example: 

. In 1949, Gerritt Vander Meulen used this analogy to critique the practice of allowing students to return to their home communities for special events, writing,

“The battle of the ages is Christ against Satan. Then may we, during the time that they are entrusted to us, permit them to go to Satan’s side and battle against Christ?”

This and several other quotes are from my father.

I know very well that those quotes by themselves do not define who my father was nor his complete attitude to Indian missions or native cultures. But these are true quotes and they do represent an important set of attitudes my father - and many others - brought to Indian missions. The point is not my father's rightness or wrongness. The point is that he learned these views from somewhere and was playing his role in a structure much older and larger than either the CRC or its Indian missions.

If you want to know my father's full attitude and relationship to the Native Americans he worked with, this report would not be much help. I grew up listening to my parent's stories. I know their motivation and their attitudes. But, if you wanted to know the reasons behind the painful experiences of many native Americans from the colonial period to the present, this is an important set of quotes to know about.

I agreed with the rest of the committee: To balance the report would have taken much of the power and truth away from the parts of our history that we would rather not confront.

The report does not say that nothing good has come from CRC mission work with the Navajo and Zuni. Growing up CRC means that I (and others) have heard the good stories and the positive accomplishments in the pages of The Banner, Missionary Monthly, and a number of good books for as long as I can remember.

The report is raising questions about the model we used for missions, i.e. how we as European-Americans ever got into the position of needing - or seeing a need for - residential schools in the first place.  Rehoboth is an example - our example to be sure - of the results of centuries of conquest - religiously justified conquest. DOD justified conquest.

There were many residential schools - as you know well. Some were well run and some were hell-holes. I like to think Rehoboth was among the best of residential schools. Perhaps it was the best that could have possibly been done.  But it certainly was not a model we would have chosen for our children. So the deeper question is: Whatever got us into the situation where the best thing to do, we felt, was to re-make an entire generation of indigenous children into our image?

But the real point is not to blame our parents and/or our early institutions. The creative purpose of this committee's work was to look to the past in order to learn and grow for future Kingdom work. If we learn from the past to examine more critically what are we doing now - how has the church and its Mission been co-opted and used by American and Canadian culture - well, that would be wonderful.

I personally hope this report is seen as a much larger critique of European-American cultural and religious values - not just a critique of Rehoboth and CRC Indian missions. I understand that it will seem to be the later to those who are deeply involved. 

I know many CRC folks have dedicated their lives to and deeply love our Navajo and Zuni brothers and sisters. My parents' service there shaped my own missions trajectory. I was weaned on the stories of Zuni and Rehoboth. I remember Sampson Yazzi coming to our house when I was small. I went to the yearly missionary picnics at Johnson Park. Mom and Pop Bosscher were practically household icons. This report does not intend to bring disrespect to either these missionaries or to the Navajo or Zuni peoples. 

The report is not perfect. But in the end, this will be worth it if we see a little more clearly how deeply we are embedded in culture and society - and that our European-American culture has some deep and historical flaws that need rather urgent attention. It will be worth it if it sparks a renewed telling and listening to the stories - and especially an honoring of the painful ones.

Peter Vander Meulen

Grand Rapids

Peter and others:

There is much to respond to, but will limit to four comments:

    1.    Your Task Force makes the very unfortunate assumption that people of our church are fully informed of the positive stories surrounding the CRC effort in the SW.  Most are not, and will never become informed unless documents/reports like yours, if they are read, will tell the fuller story.  Surely, you would not be pleased if CRC people only read your report, and thus carried around a distorted image of Indian missions for years and decades to come. 

    2.  One of your writers clearly was trained in the craft of historiography, but what he chose to “cull” seems to have been set up by the narrative your task force chose to report.  And his sources were clearly quite limited.  Further, one of the writers was Mark Charles, who is not a trained historian, which his writing and speaking reflects.

    3. I believe the communication from the Rehoboth CRC does a good job of showing that much of what you consider “bad” language is indeed biblical language.  Further, words change meaning over time:  Negro, Black, Colored, now people of Color?  I recall a conference I attended where two speakers, both Indian/Native, were debating if they should be called Indian or Native—and they could not agree.    

4.   I wish your Task Force had driven around the Navajo Reservation, an area the size of the state of West Virginia, and driven to Pueblo Pintado, Toadlena, Pinon, Shonto, just a few of the remote areas of the Rez and asked a simple question—how will these Native children receive an education?  I wish you would have driven just 30 miles on rutted, Reservation roads and considered whether a school bus could travel those roads, especially in rainy season or winter time?  Where you aware that early Anglo missionaries sent their children away during their high school years to Grand Rapids, or Ripon CA, or Wasatch Academy boarding school?  If the boarding school wasn’t an option—what ideas might your Task Force recommend?  Or in your judgment, would the children, Native or Anglo, have been better off without an education?

Ron Polinder

Your response to Ron Polinder, Peter, is intriguing to me -- even a bit stunning if I am to be honest.

You say, as I read it (see statements: "The report is definitely not balanced - and it was not intended to be. It concentrates on the missing, difficult, uncomfortable (for me) pieces of the truth that have been habitually left out of the story" and also, " there was considerable discussion on this point in the committee. In the end, it became clear to us that we needed to present the less admirable elements of European cultural heritage and Christian missions rather clearly and without an attempt to balance each negative observation, historical reference, or - most importantly - personal story with a positive observation, historical reference, or personal story."), that your committee deliberately presented 'one side of the story' in this report for the explicit purpose of making the CRC/CRCHM 100+ year involvement in Rehoboth look extra bad.

Let me suggest a real world metaphor to explain my cause for being stunned.  I grew up in NW Iowa at a time (1960s and 70's) when much was different from now.  I've occasionally remarked to others -- lawyer that I am -- that if my family's life was plucked from history, its practices discovered and measured by current standards, the government's child protection agency would have permanently removed me from my home.  Why?  Physical abuse (working more than most adults do today), housing abuse (we had no indoor toilet, a broken down house -- literally --, and lack of any heating system upstairs where we slept in Iowa winters), and some other reasons.  Were the negative aspects of my upbringing extracted by a CRC study committee and reported without context, my parents would be abhored, despised, and thought of as true agents of evil by the report's readers.  And so would many other farm parents in NW Iowa who had children my age.

And I suspect that some now-adults who were children raised in NW Iowa at that time, in those families, might today come to the CRC study committee and tell dark but true stories, and the study committee could choose to "concentrate" (as you say) on these "missing, difficult, uncomfortable ... pieces of the truth that have been habitually left out of the story," as you also say -- and a generation of NW Iowa farming parents would be thereafter defamed in the now-older years of their lives.

Yes, I use the word "defamed" with careful intention, because if my and other parents were subjected to the methodology apparently used, as you describe, by this study committee, the result would indeed be the defamation of my parents.  Not, mind you, because of the facts told, but because of the facts not told, because of the historical and other context not offered, because of the unwillingness of the study committee to hear or report on the "buts" that the committee says in this report it didn't want to listen to or report on.

This kind of "defamation by selective reporting" is not an uncommon phenomena.  If you have ever sat in a jury, or even watched a trial, you are familiar with the reality of a group of people (jury) being fully persuaded after one side gives its opening remarks, or after it presents its evidence, or after its closing arguments, but then brought back to reality when the other side has opportunity to present its "buts."  

This study report intentionally presents only one side!!  How in the world does that result in anything good?  How does that methodogy not result in defamation?

In your response to Ron, you point to the use of the word "pagan" as a word inexcusably used in the past by CRC/CRCHM folk at Rehoboth.  Huh?  Except for the acquired stigma attached to the word in the past couple/few decades, the word "pagan" was a perfectly good word to use to denote (and I quote a dictionary definition), "1. a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions."  Which brings up another "arc of the whole truth" problem with the committee's methodology.  This report judges over 100 years of historical action (and, apparently, vocabulary used) by today's standards, as told (intentionally!) from only one side to boot.  Again, wow!

Not mentioned in your above comment to Ron, but directly said in the report, this committee has concluded that the CRC/CRCHM should never have ever gone to New Mexico, that doing so was wrong.  What an incredible conclusion.  On the other hand, when one intentionally chooses to reduce a real life story down to a distilled concentrate of only that which was bad, I'm not sure you could reach another conclusion.  But using this methodology would also result in the conclusion that my parents were wrong to give birth to me, and once given, continue to raise me.

To be perfectly clear, I have no case to make against my parents.  And I suspect many parents and their grown children have conversations later in life when the kids express disappointments, anger and other negatives about their childhood and parents bemoan exactly and confess as to how they raised their children.  I've done that some with my kids already.  And in fact, this same sort of thing happened in the Reboboth community as well -- about 13 years ago!  Given that, I'm baffled that a CRC study committee would want to attempt to do what this report does, just as if it would want to resurrect the regrets of my 1960s/1970s childhood family.

Finally, your comments also suggest that a major purpose of this report is so that we can "see[] ... a much larger critique of European-American cultural and religious values - not just a critique of Rehoboth and CRC Indian missions."  As the report makes clear, that larger story begins several papal bulls (pronouncement by the Roman Catholic Pope) back in the 15th century?

Does enriching our historical understanding of a Roman Catholic doctrine starting in the 15th century really trump the harm of defaming so many who did so much good work at Rehoboth for over a century?  If so, we really ought to be going back to studying the death of Guido de Bres, author of our own Belgic Confession. De Bres and his contemporaries were murdered by the combined efforts of the Roman Catholic Church (and Pope) and the Spanish king nearly a century after the start of the Doctrine of Discovery.  No, I don't seriously make that suggestion, but indicate it to give some context to the value, or lack thereof, of defaming CRC/CRCHM people who did good work and honorable work at Rehoboth, so that we might better understand the permutations of a historical Roman Catholic doctrine from over half a millennium ago.

Doug, I would urge you to really listen to the stories of people who attended residential schools in the US or Canada. Systematic devaluing of Indigenous cultures and Indigenous lives is far different from the details you have shared from your own childhood, and it continues today, though in different forms. The roots of that devaluing go deep and Christians often gave it tacit or explicit approval. That matters. We need to hear those stories. 

Danielle, I'm not unaware of the stories you refer to, including the details of some.  They are not unlike what I would expect.  But that doesn't really address or affect the points I've made.

You are involved in the indigenous issues in Canada, which is good.  But if I understand correctly, the CRC was not involved in any indigenous schools in Canada.  This is not to say you should discontinue your work in Canada on those issues, but it is to say that whatever whoever did in Canada should not be imputed in any to the CRC or CRCHM.

What the CRC/CRCHM did do was Rehoboth/Zuni.  It certainly is appropriate to examine the record of the CRC/CRCHM in Rehoboth but when one does that (whether individually or as a study committee), one has to do it appropriately.  Intentionally distilling over a century of CRC/CRCHM involvement in Rehoboth to its worst stories, refusing to consider/relate historical or cultural content in order to focus on the bad, is irresponsible, even shameful, just as some of those "worst stories" are shameful.

And then there are the conclusions made by the report, which conclusions really have no relationship to the stories.  One of those conclusions is that it was simply wrong for the CRC to go to do Rehoboth (see page 40 of the report).  That is an astounding conclusion, and if correct, really means we need to put an end to both home and foreign missions, because those efforts will be accompanied by "bad stories" as well -- its simply unavoidable this side of the second coming.  This astonishing conclusion also represents a clear condemnation of the actions, sometimes representing the better part of some peoples' lives, of many CRC/CRCHM people, not to mention indigenous people who worked with this effort, taken over a century of time.

Another conclusion of the report, embedded throughout the report even if not so concisely stated, is that whatever bad actions of the the Pope back in the 15th century, and by others for centuries thereafter, that might in any tangential way be connected to the phrase "Doctrine of Discovery," are the responsibility of the CRC, including CRC agencies and members.  The reasoning to support this conclusion is the mere repetitive stating of a cliche: we "drink downstream" from what was done.  Wow!  Given this almost glib technique for assessing responsibility, the CRC, including its agencies and all its members, are literally also responsible for the burning death of Guido de Bres (in the16th century), and probably the slavery of Irish, the slavery of Africans, the invasion of China by the Japanese, World War I, and million other things as well.  

No, I'm not at all exaggerating, or at least no more than this report does.  If we can be said to be responsible because we "drink downstream" from a few Papal bulls in the 15th century, we can be said to "drink downstream" from pretty much every significant event in human history beginning in the 15th century.  This why I've previously characterized this report as little more than an exercise in self-loathing.  It reminds me of some uber-liberal faculty members at some US university (I personally picture the University of Oregon), sitting in a circle, competing with each other in hurling accusations against "America," and especially the "white Europeans who came to American," of spoiling/destroying the world and oppressing everyone else in the process -- except in this case the accused is the CRC and its agencies and members.  

The U of O faculty wouldn't permit any "buts" in their discussion either.

It seems to me that no matter how thoroughly the DOD committee reviews the historical records, or how "balanced" it presents its results, or how pure its motives are towards some form of reconciliation, the exercise itself will inevitably be some form of historical revisionism.

As such it seems short-sighted to focus on the DOD. Perhaps it was fact that the papal bulls articulated some sort of rationalization for the obvious exercise of raw power in the subjugation of indigenous peoples in the new world. It gives us something to argue with, some words to declare true or false. 

But we should not be under any illusion that the treatment of indigenous people in the Americas was any different than the treatment of any people who somehow stood in the path of a powerful conqueror. Neither should we be under any illusion that the historical record of such events would have ever been written to make the victors look bad. That's what it means to be the victor: you get to be in charge of the narrative of what happened.  

That the version of the narrative written by the victors reads different from the version written by the victims goes without saying. That the experience of those who won felt different from the experience of those who lost goes without saying.

It so happens that the DOD makes for a convenient starting point. At this particular moment in history the stage was set for indigenous people in the Americas to fall victim to the all-powerful Europeans. But any historical revisionist worthy of the name would not stop there. Where did those "indigenous" people come from? And how many less fortunate tribes were slaughtered in their path as they migrated from Asia, via the Bering peninsula,  and into their new world?

The bible itself tells many stories of how God's people were able to settle the land of Canaan after they returned from Egypt. But how would the story of Jericho read from the point of view of its former residents? (not to mention the point of view of the citizens of the city of Ai) Or the story of Samson, from the point of view of the Philistines?

Historical revisionism is a tricky task for those who believe in the sovereignty of God. On the one hand we want to believe that history is the story of God working out His plan to redeem the entire world, and we point to the Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Babylonians in biblical times to prove our point. On the other hand we want to sit in judgment of whatever more contemporary demographic realignments happened. The spread of Christianity using the roads of the Roman empire was good, even though many indigenous slaves died building those roads.  The crusades were bad because it set the stage for our present Middle East conflict. But getting the Moors out of Spain was good for it opened the way for.....wait for it.......the Spanish inquisition, which was bad. 

And therein lies another pitfall of historical revisionism: it is altogether too much like Monday Morning quarter backing. It has the feel of people who had no say in the game creating the illusion of power by declaring how the game should have been played.

It is also said that those who ignore history are more likely to repeat it. Perhaps we do well to learn of the consequences of our interventions in other people's lives, but only if we are prepared to adjust our present actions in the light of our findings. What does it mean to respect and affirm indigenous cultures today? What sorts of interventions are intrusive, and even hostile and destructive? What is being taught at Calvin Seminary today about cross-cultural ministry? How much does God want "them" to change, ....... and how much does God want "us" to change?

Just asking

John Vandonk



Is this where the conversation about the DOD is going to center? Is the main topic of our conversation going to be on if the report is balanced enough? 

The report does not say there were zero good intentions or there were zero positive outcomes in our history of missions in the Southwest. The report does not "deny" that side of the story or call it untrue as some comments imply.

The purpose of the report is to look at how culture economics and worldly values may have clouded our judgment in the past. I hope no one would deny it--that happened. 

Just like the prayer of confession during a worship service isn't the whole story of all of the gospel and all that God is up to in the life of that congregation this report isn't the whole story of world missions or the entire history of the CRC and it's interactions with culture in North America. At the same Synod where this report is discussed we will also celebrate the work of world missions world renew and many other CRC ministries. We will give thanks for what God has done and look forward to what God will do in and through us in the future. God will also be honored if we take time at Synod to confess our mistakes and make a plan to learn from them. 


I don't think that the concerns expressed suggest  that there should be a table of pros and cons with a tally sheet included to make sure that for every negative a positive is presented.  Your question makes light of serious concerns the readers have.

What seems clearly to be missing as evidenced in part by the responses coming from the Rehoboth and Zuni church councils is that the circles of conversation did not invite some major components of the CRC mission efforts to participate.  If the DOD was to be connected to the CRC work anywhere, then CRC participants from those tribes should be part of the circles.  The real story of the CRC mission impact specifically in the Navajo and Zuni tribes of the American scene was not heard but blame was placed in part as guilt by association. 

I am not saying at all that the report's evidence from the past isn't true and regrettable.  But in many ways that has been addressed in the present by the forgiveness exercise at Rehoboth's anniversary as mentioned by another respondent.  And it has seriously been addressed by the actions of both campuses and ministries in modern times.  The leadership of both missions and the content of curriculum now reflects local leadership, culture, and expressions of Christianity.  That, by my estimation, is the best evidence of acknowledging that the past is now past. 

Another difficulty I have with the report is the equating of the Canadian and US experiences and the implied ties to the CRC. 

Trena Boonstra



There's been some great discussion on this post and I'd love to see the conversation continue. Just a reminder that per the Comment Guidelines, please refrain from targeting CRC ministries or individuals in your comments. Thanks much! 

As a member of the committee, I would like to respond to those posts critical of the report's discussion of one aspect of its content--the Southwest ministries. In reading our report (I hope people will read it in full and in its context--chronology and complementarity are important), one should start with the mandate. We were not mandated to tell the story of the CRC's ministries in the Southwest; we were charged with documenting and tracing the "principal" and "continuing" effects of the Doctrine of Discovery in the U.S. and Canada, including the effects in related CRCNA ministries.

As Peter Vandermeulen pointed out, the larger stories of those ministries have been shared and published; these stories were among the many archival resources that figured into our research. If people are not familiar with the positive aspects of the ministry, sharing them in full seems far beyond the scope of our report as mandated. A note acknowledging this and directing readers to the aforementioned published documents for that aspect of the ministries would be a good addition to the report. But our investigation of the archives was directed by our mandate: we looked for evidence consistent with those historical effects of the Doctrine of Discovery in Canada and the U.S. Obviously, the basic premises of the Doctrine of Discovery--that "pagan," "infidel," "heathen" natives were subhuman and their lands could be rightfully claimed by Christian nations--was extremely negative and unChristian, and our findings trace the effects of that sinful thinking in North American culture, religion, and law that are encoded in our social and legal systems. That's not a pretty story, certainly not the kind we prefer, but seeking to reveal the sin seems pretty biblical to me.

I'd like to specifically address some comments suggesting that the American boarding school experience was not as bad as the Canadian; this is directly contradicted by every respected historian's research on the Indian Boarding Schools and the testimonies of survivors (the stories do not change as one crosses the border). Zitkala Sa's memoir, published in the Atlantic Monthly shortly after her time at the Carlisle School, is a good place to start. The education systems in the U.S. and Canada were somewhat different in structure, but the stories reveal similar abuses, trauma, and negative effects on the Native nations. Unfortunately, the U.S. government has failed to sponsor any type of truth and reconciliation programs similar to those in other countries to address this dark history.

I note those who are offended by the report admit that many things were done wrong in the Southwest ministries (I appreciate that admission but note that the wrongs are not clearly delineated, particularly from a Native perspective), but then the comments reflect a preference to consider the good things that were done and how things are done differently now. I am deeply grateful for these positive reforms, but there is still much work to do. Our faith tradition makes clear that sin--including collective sin--has consequences that carry through the generations. If we would take the time to listen to the stories of those who were abused, oppressed, and traumatized by the sinful thinking that is the legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery, we would see that OUR (we and our ancestors are all in this together) mistakes have resulted in extreme generational and systemic trauma among Native Americans and First Nations: these negatives effects are still very much evident. Unfortunately, we have not heard many of those stories because the trauma is so serious that many survivors do not feel safe in coming forward. I hope that we can agree on the importance of the report's recommendation to provide safe spaces for these brothers and sisters to be heard.

I pray that our defensiveness will be subordinated to our compassion for those who have suffered. I pray that we can empty ourselves and listen to those whom we have wronged. Like the Psalmist, we--the Church--should ask God to search our hearts and uncover that collective sin we have not fully recognized; we cannot confess and repent if we don't fully know our trespasses. I believe such a process of study and examination can lead to confession, lamentation, repentance, forgiveness, and ultimately reconciliation of the Body of Christ. I believe the power of the Holy Spirit stands ready to move in a mighty way if Christians would do this work together.

But if your mandate was as you say, Linda, you also exceeded it in some ways.  The report clearly condemns going to New Mexico in the first place, and establishing Rehoboth in the first place.  It says, again quite clearly, that the CRC, the CRCNA, and all those who took part should simply not have done this, that it was a bad thing to do.  It was not sinful, as this report claims, to go to Rehoboth.  Going to Rehoboth was not, as this report claims, a DOD inspired effort of the CRC to make theirs that which belonged to others.

And then the report seems to support these conclusions, attempts to justify it's conclusions, to its readers, by relaying a concentrated brine of "bad things" in the life of an effort that happened over a century of time.  To boot, the report provides no context.  The word, "pagan," for example, was a perfectly good (descriptive) word decades ago, devoid of the overtones it has today. "Pagan" does not mean subhuman, nor did those from the CRC/CRCHM who put years and sometimes lives of effort into Rehoboth consider anyone in that community subhuman.  That is the report's accusation, even if made a bit indirectly  (by saying that is what the DOD said, which in turn was the influence that brought forth Rehoboth).

Perhaps even more troubling, to me at least, is that this reports essentially declares that the efforts of this community, 13 years ago, to deal with the sins of the past, were inadequate, and that those in charge of this report know better than the local community, including all sides of the local community.


This report clearly pronounces a few things about the century-plus work of the CRC/CRCHM at Rehoboth.   First is that "it was wrong" for the CRC to even go there.

I take it that "wrong" in this case translates to "sinful."  Does anyone here agree with that the CRC/CRCHM merely going to Rehoboth was wrong, or sinful? 

Secondly, the report pronounces, even if a bit indirectly, that the CRC/CRCNA regarded the native peoples in the area to be less than human, that when CRC/CRCNA people referred to native people's as "pagan" or "heathen," they were thereby considering them as less than human.

Does anyone here really believe the CRC/CRCHM, including the individuals who worked in the Rehoboth area with the native peoples there, considered the native peoples to be less than human?

Third, the report pretty clearly accuses the CRC/CRCHM of intending to take from the native peoples that which belonged to them when establishing Rehoboth for the sake of the CRC/CRCHM.

Does anyone here believe that?

I would suggest that report is fundamentally unclear as to its purpose. Is it to address the mission at Rehoboth? Is it to urge reconciliation with my Native neighbor? Is it to engage in repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery (whatever that might mean)? Each of these are more than sufficient for serious reflection and action, together they result in a report that is long in generalization, but frustratingly small in specifics.

In particular it is difficult to see how the Doctrine of Discovery is sufficient to hold all these ideas together, primarily because as used, the DOD refers to three different items: a set of papal bulls, reflective of the cultural setting in 16th Century Europe; as a warrant for an ongoing stream of decisions in the US Supreme Court and with it the structuring of US federal government and tribal relationships; and third as a sort of symbol of Euro-centric claims of cultural and moral superiority over the Other. 

As the report itself discloses, not all of the European powers acted in ways that matched the moral superiority claims of the DOD. E.g. the Dutch treatment of Haudenosaunee (or for that matter their treatment of Native populations as having clear title to their land); and especially in the two hundred years of French relations with the Native communities of the Great Lakes. The European relations in short, were far more varied than the simplistic notion of Christendom = racism narrative that creeps into the report. Specifically, one may want to consider the deep indigenisation efforts of the Jesuit and Moravian missions. As one might expect from a five hundred year history, the European Christians brought a number of approaches to their dealings with Natives, not least including outrage at the massacres.

But of course the legal questions are something else again. One does not need to assert some sort of moral animus to explain the law, the mere presence of financial gain is sufficient for that. However, it is precisely here that the report fails. Having recognized the impact of the DOD on Supreme Court decisions, it passes by any possible action or advocacy relative to the legal framework. I care far less whether the Pope repudiates the doctrine (Rome believes it has in subsequent papal bulls), than I care that SCOTUS repudiate this premise which has caused so much harm.

As to reconciliation with my Native neighbor, I only wish that the report had demonstrated an awareness of the peoples who still live in our cities and regions. Oddly, their invisibility in the document reinforces the dominant cultural narratives that Indians don't matter, or that Indians belong to some other time, some other place. These are conversations that should be undertaken.



An addendum to the above: while the use of "settler" is suitable for the European, the term is hardly appropriate for those who came her by force in the slave trade. The removal of the Cherokee, the vacating of the Choctaw claims and other actions of in South were both a direct consequence of the Marshall court decisions, and actions that set the necessary foundation for the development of the plantation system of the South. The American society's treatment of Blacks and of Natives intertwines and reinforces the narratives of presumptive racial supremacy; likewise, the resistance to this mistreatment of these peoples also shares common narratives both in the Gospel, and in concepts of human rights. The use of "settlers" for blacks pulls apart these shared narratives; it does not, cannnot erase DuBois' "color line."

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