Canadian Indigenous bishop slams Doctrine of Discovery

National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark Macdonald (second from left) with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Anglican leaders, including the Anglican Church of Australia’s national Aboriginal bishop, Chris McLeod (right). Photo: Celia Kemp/Anglican Board of Mission
Published August 17, 2017

The Doctrine of Discovery – the idea that Indigenous people need to be discovered and westernized – has been criticized by the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop of Canada. Bishop Mark MacDonald made his comments during a visit to Australia where he attended a number of events, including a retreat for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Anglican leaders retreat in central Australia.

“The Doctrine of Discovery describes a habitual way of thinking that continues to marginalize, dehumanize and downgrade Indigenous people,” MacDonald said.

During a forum in Adelaide, MacDonald was asked to nominate the “blind spots” of the Australian Church in relation to reconciliation. He spoke of the experience of Canadian Anglicans in unveiling and seeking to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.

“At the heart of the doctrine is the idea that Indigenous people are a primitive form of human life who are therefore discoverable,” he said. “This hidden assumption causes us to look at Indigenous people as people who need to be updated, who need to be westernized or civilized in order to have any sort of happy life.

“It doesn’t look at Indigenous people as people of a distinct and worthwhile culture. It doesn’t value their gifts and talents and ideas.”

The bishop said that the Doctrine of Discovery was at the heart of the mistreatment of Indigenous people that is historical and ongoing.

MacDonald had been invited to the retreat by the Anglican Church of Australia’s national Aboriginal bishop, Chris McLeod, with the support of the Anglican Board of Mission’s reconciliation project.

Indigenous churches were growing, Bishop Mark told the Melbourne Diocesan Ministry Conference, and he said that the Western church “has much to learn from Indigenous wisdom – especially when facing the task of incarnating and inculturating the Gospel for younger generations.”

At the retreat for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Anglican leaders, the group and two bishops spent time in prayer, storytelling and “sitting together in country and prophetic imagining about the future of the church,” the Anglican Board of Mission said. “The retreat ended in an evening around the campfire with local Arrente elders and other Alice Springs residents, sharing stories of land and spirit.

“It was a fitting end to a very moving time characterized by shared grief and laughter, and a marked spirit of unity in diversity.”



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