Sarah Augustine | Dismantling to Rebuild: Replacing the Doctrine of Discovery in the 21st Century

Equity + Justice, 2022, Series Taking Action!, Indigenous Voices

The Taking Action! speaker series features activists from around the world sharing their successes and strategies for effective anti-racism work. Going beyond identifying the problems of racism, colonialism, hate and discrimination, these lectures focus on ways we can adapt these strategies to take a decolonized approach to anti-racism work in communities across B.C.

For this second lecture in the series, we heard from Sarah Augustine, a Pueblo (Tewa) descendant and the author of The Land Is Not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery (Herald Press, 2021).

Augustine describes 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.” Augustine guided us on a journey away from this Eurocentric worldview and toward an Indigenous view of interdependency and a return to a planet that sustains all life.

Augustine was be joined by language keeper and visionary leader Sophie Pierre, a former chief of the St. Mary's Indian Band, now known as ʔaq'am, of the Ktunaxa Nation, former Chief Commissioner of the British Columbia Treaty Commission, and honorary Doctor of Laws at Simon Fraser University. Pierre’s work illustrates the power of dismantling and rebuilding to create renewed life for her community.

Thu, 12 May 2022

Online event

About Taking Action!

The Taking Action! series is part of a partnership between SFU and the Resilience BC Anti-Racism Network, a provincial government program that connects B.C. communities with support, information and training to prevent and respond to incidents of racism and hate. With this partnership, SFU aims to build reciprocal relationships that combine the university’s research expertise with the knowledge and experience of community activists who have been leading anti-racism work in B.C. for years.

For the first lecture in the Taking Action! series, in October 2021, we heard from Dr. Eva Jewell, research director at Yellowhead Institute, in conversation with Ginger Gosnell-Myers, a fellow in decolonization and urban Indigenous planning at SFU's Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. Dr. Jewell presented a path for personal embodiment of anti-oppressive practices in preparation for reconciliation, as governments take incremental steps toward undoing the racist social, political and economic structures created and reinforced by colonial systems. Watch a video of their conversation here.

About the speakers

Sarah Augustine

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).

Sophie Pierre

Former chief of ʔAq̓am, St. Mary’s Indian Band and former chief commissioner of the British Columbia Treaty Commission, Sophie Pierre is an accomplished Indigenous leader, distinguished for her commitment to First Nations’ economic development.

Sophie Pierre served on the council of the St. Mary's Indian Band, now known as ʔaq'am, of the Ktunaxa Nation for 30 years, 26 as elected chief. She was also the administrator of the Ktunaxa/Kinbasket Tribal Council and served as the tribal chair of the Ktunaxa Nation Council for 25 years. During that time, she also served as chairperson of the First Nations Finance Authority, president of St. Eugene Mission Holdings Ltd., and co-chair of the International Advisory Committee to the Indigenous Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy of the University of Arizona. Sophie Pierre was appointed chief commissioner of the BC Treaty Commission from April 2009 to 2015, by agreement of the Governments of Canada and British Columbia and the First Nations Summit. She has also served on numerous boards and committees, local, regional, provincial, national and international.

Sophie Pierre was recognized with the Order of Canada in 2016. She also received the Order of British Columbia in 2002 and the National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the business category in 2003. During her tenure as chief commissioner, Sophie Pierre was awarded two honorary doctorates of laws: in 2010 from the University of Canada West and in 2012 from the University of British Columbia. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from Simon Fraser University in 2020.

Since her retirement in 2015, Ms. Pierre was recognized in BC Business Magazine as one of the top 50 most influential women in B C.

As the mother of three children and grandmother of four, Ms. Pierre, a fluent Ktunaxa speaker, has always been an active member of ʔaq'am (St. Mary's Band) and a key volunteer in community projects ranging from school trips and sports and recreation events to fundraising efforts.

She now spends her time as an elder adviser to her community and to the Ktunaxa Nation. The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation appointed her a Trudeau mentor in 2017.

(Bio source: Trudeau Foundation)


Event summary

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.

Read more

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.”

Additional resources

Event partner

Events in the Taking Action! series