The Diocese of Eastern Oregon Repudiates the Doctrine of Discovery

Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon
Posted Oct 24, 2022

The Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon gathered for our 52nd Convention on the lands of the Cayuse, Walla Walla, Nez Perce, and Umatilla peoples. Named “Standing on Sacred Ground,” the central purpose of the Convention was to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. This work began in Fall 2019 with the dedication of 80 acres of property at Ascension School Camp and Conference Center for habitat restoration. The land has been managed by Indigenous caretakers, Bobby Fossek (Umatilla/Walla Walla) and Brosnan Spencer (Cayuse), since its dedication.

Tsagaglal, “She Who Watches”, is an Indigenous cultural petroglyph found along the Columbia River. It symbolizes the sacredness of our region long before settlers arrived with Christianity.

By 2020, it became clear that the land would not heal without the healing of its original caretakers – the Indigenous people who had been displaced from the region through ecological ruin, settlement, cultural genocide, and suppression. Bobby and Brosnan established an organization – Naknuwithlama Tiichamna (Caretakers of the Land) – serving to steward and strengthen the lifeways, languages, habitats, and traditional ecological knowledge of the Blue Mountain bioregion and the Columbia River Basin through seasonal round immersion camps. The Diocese offers financial and administrative support as we incubate this future nonprofit.

This work led Diocesan Council to appoint a committee in 2021 to create a resolution for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery. We worked for nearly a year – producing a resolution with a researched appendix.

The delegates gathered for Convention on Friday night, October 13th for the Bishop’s opening address. He appeared with a provocative shirt over his collar. It read “Merciless Indian Savages – The Declaration of Independence” which starkly highlighted the reality of life for Indigenous peoples in the United States. He challenged us to look boldly into the uncomfortable truths of our nation and our own hearts as we walk in justice together for and with our Indigenous siblings. “We aren’t doing this so we can all go home and pat our white backs and feel good about ourselves… if we are going to do this, we must do more. This is only the initial step. This is the easiest part” (Bishop Patrick Bell).

Sarah Augustine, Pueblo Indigenous leader, and author of The Land is Not Empty, joined for a series of learning sessions. Rev. Dr. Bradley Hauff, Oglala (Lakota) missioner for Indigenous ministries of the Episcopal Church, shared his wisdom and story throughout the weekend. Members of the Warm Springs tribe, Jolene and Lewis Pitt, joined for input and direction. There were opportunities for questions and a panel discussion hosted by our guests and Bishop Patrick Bell. We wrestled and were challenged and stretched to new ways of following Jesus and loving our Indigenous relatives.

On Sunday morning, the Diocesan delegates gathered. The excitement and anticipation were palpable. There was depth and heart in the discussion that preceded the vote. It was evident that regardless of the voting results, we had begun down a path of restoration, healing, and conciliation. Bishop Bell was right, “This is the easiest part.” With one abstaining and all others in favor, the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon began a new path forward on this Sacred Ground.

The resolution ends with the following commitments:

Resolved, that we commit to intentional relationships with Indigenous leaders in strengthening and reawakening cultural ways, language, arts and crafts, horsemanship, and first food camps, particularly through our shared resource of Ascension School Camp and Conference Center. In response to the horrific traumas inflicted on children and families through assimilation camps, we commit financial resources and assets to assist for culture camps, events, and other revitalization efforts.

Resolved, that we commit to faithfully steward land and habitat with humble response to Indigenous guidance and teaching for the care of Creation.

Resolved, that in order that this resolution not fade, we ask the Bishop and Diocesan Council to create a commission to continue the work of this Resolution.

The full resolution and resources around the Doctrine of Discovery can be found at