We believe that repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery requires taking action, because political and judicial reverence to this doctrine still impacts the lands of Great Turtle Island and delays recognition of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
People of faith and conscience who seek justice in the world should take action that recognizes root factors for historic and present-day injustice, such as the Doctrine of Discovery, and practice respect for the Indigenous communities and elders alive today.
This is key to creating climate justice, because dispossession and disrespect of Indigenous Peoples has been at the foundation of life-destroying extractive economies, violence and global militarism for centuries. Despite this, Indigenous communities still exist, and many stand strongly against further pillaging of the Earth for fossil fuels, uranium, precious metals and profit-obsessed, mono-culture living.
Climate action requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Climate justice requires climate action and sacrifices from the status quo to manifest respect for the autonomy and human rights of historically oppressed Nations and people. We won't get there until we challenge and change the dominant cultural narrative and its manifestations in our personal outlooks.
Resist 450 is a coalition formed in response to the State of Florida and City of St. Augustine's persistence in celebrating a purely colonial narrative rather than one that respects the story and tragic losses endured by these lands' Original Peoples. Florida celebrated the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon's arrival in 2013, and this week St. Augustine had a multi-day celebration of Pedro Mendez de Aviles' landing 450 years ago.
The Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples asked Saint Augustine city officials not to glorify the rape, torture, displacement, enslavement, and genocide that accompanied European colonization but they were repeatedly ignored. Tribal elders and leaders called for resistance to the celebrations, and Resist 450 was established as a coalition between Native and settler activists. The Unitarian Universalist Young Adults for Climate Justice (UUYACJ) committed to answering their call for solidarity and partnership in late-August.
Four members of the network attended the action camp: Aly Tharp, network coordinator for UUYACJ; Benjamin Franklin Craft-Rendon, Tar Sands Blockade and Houston Food Not Bombs organizer; Elizabeth Mount, Meadville-Lombard seminarian and recent dangler under the St. John's bridge in the Portland #ShellNo protests; and Jason Faulk, Gulf South Rising activist, and media-support person for Louisiana chapters of Sierra Club and 350.org.
Our experience included many good confrontations and conversations. On Sunday morning, the four of us attended the St. Augustine Unitarian Universalist Fellowship where we received a very warm welcome and were joyous to take part in the congregation's annual water ceremony.
Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of tearing down such a historic monument -- however we ask: if Indigenous people built the structure in servitude, and Indigenous people today tell us to take it down, what does it mean to say, "Oh no, we can't do that"?
The only thing memorialized at the Castillo de San Marcos today is the history of colonization and militaristic foot-holds in Mantanzas Bay ("mantanzas" is Spanish for massacre). We contend that this needs to change, considering the fort's role in the cultural and physical genocide of Native American peoples --- and that making these changes requires negotiation with Native American people treated as equal stakeholders in the portrayal and commemoration of history.
Bobby C. Billie, spiritual elder of the Council of Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples, is interested in continuing discussion and negotiation about this with the City of St. Augustine.
The following day, activists attended a sold-out showing of the "Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code", a film by Dakota filmmaker and Director Sheldon Wolfchild and Co-Producer Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape), co-founder of the Indigenous Law Institute. The film is based on Newcomb’s thirty years of research, and his book Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum, 2008).
Meanwhile "Celebrate! 450" festivities included the enjoyment of a large birthday cake for St. Augustine, carried and served in the city's historic slave market pavilion by actors representing Native American people...
Resist 450 disrupted this event with a street theater performance detailing the "Royal Recipe of 1565" for the "Papal Cake of Colonization" at the cake-cutting ceremony and in the streets of St. Augustine, based upon the language used in the Spanish Requirements and Papal Bulls of the 15th century.
from "The Royal Recipe of 1565". Photo by Jason Faulk
Afterwards, Resist 450 returned to our campgrounds and enjoyed a fantastic meal prepared by the Seeds of Peace Collective. Filmmakers Sheldon Wolfchild and Steven Newcomb visited the camp, sharing stories and words of thanks for our activism.
The night was long, in preparation for the disruption of Pedro Mendendez de Aviles' landing re-enactment the following morning. Some protesters took to the water in boats and flotation devices, while others stood outside the entrance to the event and still others joined the crowd to witness the landing and disruption.
Protesters in the water chanted "No honor, no pride, Menendez caused genocide". Many swam and paddled into the scene of the re-enactment, holding up signs.
We go home convinced that these disruptions were worthwhile and will help spur productive conversation and cultural change in St. Augustine.
The UUYACJ continues our call to members of the larger Unitarian Universalist faith community to create opportunities for learning and action on -or around- Indigenous Peoples Day (a.k.a. "Columbus Day") for your self, friends, family and congregations.
We can repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery through putting faith in to action, by honoring and supporting Indigenous rights, resistance and reclamation.
Written by: Aly Tharp