Sarah Augustine | Dismantling to Rebuild: Replacing the Doctrine of Discovery in the 21st Century
Equity + Justice, 2022, Series Taking Action!, Indigenous Voices
About Taking Action!
Sarah Augustine, who is a Pueblo (Tewa) descendant, is founder and co-chair of the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition and the executive director of a dispute resolution centre in central Washington State. She is also the co-founder of Suriname Indigenous Health Fund (SIHF), where she has advocated for vulnerable Indigenous peoples since 2004. She has represented the interests of Indigenous community partners to their own governments, the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations, the Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the World Health Organization, and a host of other international actors including corporate interests. She is a columnist for Anabaptist World and co-hosts the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Podcast with Sheri Hostetler. In Washington State, where she lives, she serves in a leadership role on multiple boards and commissions to enable vulnerable peoples to speak for themselves in advocating for structural change. She and her husband, Dan Peplow, and their son live in the Yakima Valley of Washington. She is author of the book The Land Is Not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery (Herald Press 2021).
Sarah Augustine and Sophie Pierre: Dismantling to Rebuild
By Victoria Barclay, MA Candidate, UBC Department of Sociology
Joining us from the Yakima Nation (colonially known as central Washington state), Sarah Augustine described the Doctrine of Discovery as “a theological, philosophical and legal framework that gave Christian governments the moral and legal right to invade and seize Indigenous lands and dominate Indigenous peoples ... setting the stage for colonization, as well as the enslavement of African people by Europeans.”
This legal document, she said, “defines reality for Indigenous people.”
Augustine noted that the Doctrine of Discovery does not recognize that we live in a “closed system of mutual dependence”––that the water, air, soil, and life support systems on Earth are the only ones we will ever get. Indigenous cosmology instead teaches us to take what you need and leave the rest for future generations.
With the Doctrine of Discovery, European settlers introduced an extractive logic—which is inconsistent with mutual dependence—that led to land being used for its “highest and best use.” This logic enables land commodification and “has resulted in alarming signs of climate change,” as Augustine stated.
To survive climate change, we must decolonize, Augustine said.
Steps to decolonizing systems
Augustine reflected on what Elder Sophie Pierre once said to her: “Before we make progress in decolonizing systems, we must first speak the truth.” She said the first step is “to take responsibility, to tell the truth, to listen to truth telling, and to admit what happened.” Sarah mentioned that institutions want to start and end decolonization by apologizing—but this is not how decolonization will happen.
Augustine said the second step to decolonize and reconcile is “to actively seek repair.” Policies and laws were intentionally designed at the expense of Indigenous peoples and with an active effort to remove their land rights. “Stepping into conflict and finding mutual solutions” is necessary to decolonize.
The third step is to apologize. However, Augustine emphasized that the apology can only happen once relationships are established, and repair has started.
Augustine talked about the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition she is part of and how they actively work toward decolonization and reconciliation. They are “building movements, not institutions.”
The coalition “partners and co-creates campaigns with First Peoples that they lead.” This involves Indigenous people creating their own outcomes, while the coalition assists as partners—not as helpers nor as providers.
The coalition “takes responsibility,” recognizing that the “Doctrine of Discovery is a Christian concept of domination that threatens Indigenous peoples, their lands, and all of creation and it is [the Church’s] job to dismantle it.”
Augustine says that such organizing needs to happen always and everywhere. “Activism is not a thing that I do, it is a central part of my identity and who I am.”
In conversation with Sophie Pierre
Elder Sophie Pierre engaged in conversation with Augustine for the second portion of the event and the final question and answer period. Pierre echoed various points Augustine made in her lecture.
She also questioned the significance of an apology. In reference to the Pope’s apology for the residential school system, Pierre said, “Sir, keep your apology. The Catholic Church is the largest landowner on Earth. What we would like is land.”
Further, Pierre emphasized the concept of sovereignty, discussing how her community took control of a building formerly used as a residential school. The Kootenay Indian Residential School, where Pierre spent nine years, is now a resort. She said, “It is something we have turned around and we have made it into something positive for our future.”
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