Episcopal Church Condemns the Doctrine of Discovery

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church call upon the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Queen Elizabeth II, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, to disavow and publicly repudiate the claimed validity of the doctrine of discovery against all peoples, specifically as it is set forth in the 1496 English Royal Charter granted to John Cabot and his sons; and be it further

Resolved, That each diocese within the Episcopal Church be encouraged to reflect upon injustices committed against indigenous people and to urge all Episcopalians to seek a greater understanding of the indigenous peoples, supporting their ongoing efforts to attain sovereignty and fundamental human rights.


The Christian Doctrine of Discovery is the dogma that Christian sovereigns and their representative explorers used to assert dominion and title over non-Christian lands with the full blessing and sanction of the Church. The Royal Charter, issued in 1496 to John Cabot and his sons by King Henry II, led to the colonizing dispossession of indigenous peoples from their lands in North America and to the dehumanization and subjugation of non-Christian peoples (which the monarchy termed “heathens” and “infidels”).

The charter specifically authorized John Cabot and his sons “to find, discover and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians.” The Charter also reads in part, “John and his sons or their heirs and deputies may conquer, occupy and possess whatsoever such towns, castles, cities and islands by them thus discovered that they may be able to conquer, occupy and possess, as our vassals and governors lieutenants and deputies therein, acquiring for us the dominion, title and jurisdiction of the same towns, castles, cities, islands and mainlands so discovered.”

This resolution – put forth by the 188th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine – would put the Episcopal Church on record condemning the Doctrine of Discovery and supporting indigenous peoples in their call for the repudiation of the 1496 Royal Charter issued to John Cabot and his sons and other similar Royal Charters which sanctioned European invasion of the western hemisphere. The resolution also calls upon each diocese to reflect upon its relationship with the indigenous peoples within its area to understand the history of its relationship with them, to build a relationship with all such Peoples, and to support them in their political and legal struggles for their inherent sovereignty and fundamental human rights.

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