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Mother Earth’s Pandemic: The Doctrine of Discovery

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“Peace can only be attained when human beings live in proper relationship to the natural world” ~Tadodaho of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Sid Hill

“The pandemic gives us all an opportunity to be at home and reflect on what we have done and where we are going. It is an opportunity for Mother Earth to breath, rest and recover.” ~Jake Haiwhagai’i Edwards, Onondaga Nation citizen

Event Details

  • Title: Mother Earth’s Pandemic: The Doctrine of Discovery
  • Dates: Thursday August 6, 13, and 20, 2020
  • Times: 6-9 PM EST each Thursday, followed by caucuses/small group discussions.
  • Location: Online
  • Sponsors: Indigenous Values Initiative, American Indian Law Alliance, and ‘CUSE GRANT
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  • View bios
  • Register

The “Doctrine of Discovery,” better described as the “Doctrine of Christian Discovery and World Domination,” established the worldview that not only brought devastation to the natural world, but also impaired the ability for human beings to live in proper relationship with the Earth. 15th century Papal Bulls, issued by the Vatican, justified the assault upon Indigenous Peoples as an artificial justification to take possession of their bodies, lands and resources in order to finance their New World Order. This worldview advanced the Age of Discovery as an extension of the Crusades, and was the conceptual framework behind the Protestant Reformation, the establishment of Nation States around the world, and later secularized to define colonialism, white supremacy and global capitalism.

Essentially, what defines Indigenous Peoples is their relationship with a living landscape that includes the soil, water, air, and all other non-human being co-inhabitants.  This orientation to land is distinctly opposed to the European concept of owning land and the process of colonization.  Indigenous scholars have discussed these two opposing orientations as being one of habitation and the other, of occupation. Although the violent seizure of Indigenous lands was initiated with “discovery,” corporations today, continue exploiting Indigenous Peoples and their land all over the world. The Doctrine of Discovery is the root of the problem, and the reason that it is discussed at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

This current pandemic and the escalating climate chaos clarify to everyone that there are consequences to the devastation humans have perpetrated upon the environment.  As Oren Lyons has pointed out, Natural Law will reestablish balance, and these climate changes will not destroy the Earth, but will most likely destroy the human beings who abuse her. The earth will rebound in its own time. If we are to survive as a species, we must reorient to an Indigenous worldview acknowledging that we are first and foremost, co-inhabitants with this Earth—not in charge of it. These Indigenous values, along with the acceptance of traditional ecological knowledge, will transform future technological innovations possibly resulting in a viable future for our species.  Religious concepts of imperial thinking urgently need to be re-imagined; messages from Indigenous Peoples need to be heeded; and environmental justice needs to be restored.  Racist ideologies of conquest and domination are directly connected with domination of the Earth and other non-human beings.

This conference will connect the dots between our current pandemic, environmental devastation, the Doctrine of Discovery, and a way forward. Too often these are thought of as unrelated concepts, rather than being the core impediment in working towards social justice in an ecologically balanced Earth.  Our speakers have been working in these areas for many decades.  Participants will hear the wisdom from the traditions of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), as well as other Indigenous Peoples. Through virtual discussion groups, you will be able to interact on how best to implement these values of respect, thanksgiving, and peace into your lives.

Please join us in August 2020 for conversations about the Doctrine of Discovery, so we can begin the process of decolonization back to understanding our proper relationship to the natural world and peace.



Thursday 6 August, 6-9 PM (EST)

Thursday 13 August, 6-9 PM (EST)

Thursday 20 August, 6-9 PM (EST)


Thematic Discussion Groups (caucuses)

After each panel there will be facilitated thematic discussion groups (caucus) for intentional thematic dialogue and conversations around the panels and possible next steps. Each caucus will have a facilitator and be capped at 25 members as a way of allowing for intentional conversations. Caucuses will be assigned on a first come first serve basis. We will try and accommodate your choices as best we are able but no guarantees. The Indigenous Peoples solidarity caucus is reserved as a space for Indigenous Nations and Peoples to talk. The regional action caucus groups we will be crafted to the best of our ability based on a critical mass of folks from a particular location.


The Doctrine of Discovery email list will be used to send follow up resources. You are encouraged to join the list.

Conference Conclusion

The conference has now concluded and registration is closed. You can watch the conference presentations on our YouTube channel. You can join the conversation by contacting us.

Next Steps

There are some of you who would like to host study or discussion groups of your own. Please contact us at . We will share your name, location and contact information on this list so people can contact you.

Because of these excellent presentations we have a host of useful materials. The videos for all 3 sessions are an excellent place to generate discussion. Currently we are putting together discussion questions for each video so that these can be used in small discussion groups.

We also have a resource page on our website of books and articles taken from the talks that can be used for the same purpose:



Session I


Session II

Session III

Bonus Content


Thank You

We need to thank all of people for making the Mother Earth’s Pandemic conference a success. Without them we could not have pulled it off.

  • First the IVI-AILA board: Phil Arnold, Sandy Bigtree, Elsye Crouse, Jake Edwards, Gail Bundy, and Betty Lyons.
  • Adam DJ Brett and Hil Coppola were the only reason it came off so well
  • Our presenters: Tupac Enrique Acosta, Joe Heath, Tadodaho Sid Hill, Abel Gomez, Beverly Jacobs, Dana Lloyd, Makayla Loeb, Betty Lyons, Oren Lyons, Sarah Nahar, Steve Newcomb, Tina Ngata, Angela Mooney D’Arcy, Evie Reyes-Aguirre, Tink Tinker, and Eglute Trinkauskaite. They all pushed us to understand the deeper issues related to the Doctrine of Christian Discovery
  • Our moderators: Phil Arnold, Sandy Bigtree, Gail Bundy, Michael Chaness, Hil Coppola, Jonathan Daoud-Nahar, Tehosterihens Deer, Grace Fritzke, Blake Garland-Tirado, Abel Gomez, Alex Gonzalez, Mary Keller, Zach Krahmer, Dana Lloyd, Ken Lokensgard, Betty Lyons, Sarah Nahar, Lisa Poirier, Terry Reeder, Rob Ruehl, Dillon Sampson, Eglute Trinkauskaite and Duygu Yeni-Cenebasi.
  • Technical support: Adam, Jonathan, Zach, Michael and Rob.

Finally, the CUSE Grant from Syracuse University and the Department of Religion, Indigenous Values Initiative and the American Indian Law Alliance sponsored this conference.



Please help support Indigenous Values Initiative in their efforts to support and create educational content like this conference.