Doctrine of Discovery Repudiated by Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church

Published June 16, 2017

Pastor Mark Olson

MOORHEAD, MINNESOTA – At the Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Assembly 2017 on Friday and Saturday, June 9-10, the theme was “Risky Business: Always Reforming.” And indeed reform was on the agenda as nearly 500 delegates approved repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery only four votes shy of unanimous. The 2017 Synod Assembly took place at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota.

The genesis of resolution began with Mark Olson a Lutheran pastor working with the Episcopal church and involved with Cass Lake Indian ministries. Olson from Walker, serves the Episcopal churches St. John’s in Onigum and St. Peter’s in Cass Lake, but is Lutheran. This is possible according to Olson as Episcopalians and Lutheran are in “full communion.”

The Episcopal Church adopted a resolution officially repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery in 2009,” said Olson,.”and there has been a national movement in that direction ever since.”

According to Olson, major discussions began about a year ago, partly due to the actions of Pope Francis. Although Francis has yet to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, the Latin American pope, who has often strongly defended indigenous rights since his election in 2013, made comments on protection of native lands to representative of tribes attending the Indigenous Peoples Forum in Rome.

Pastor Michael Naylor

In regard to Standing Rock and the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, Pope Francis used strong and clear language applicable to the conflict, saying development had to be reconciled with “the protection of the particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories.” He continued by saying indigenous cultures have a right to defend “their ancestral relationship to the Earth.”

Olson, assigned to the Episcopalian Church from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America(ELCA), said he took advantage of his position and “carried the water from Episcopal to Lutheran and began bridge building a task force that lives on the bridge between cultures. It is a powerful statement,” said Olson referring to the resolution adopted June 10.

Another strong advocate from the Bemidji area was Michael Naylor pastor of the Debs/Puposky Lutheran Parish. On March 31, 2017, I got a message from Naylor. “I thought you might be interested in this. This resolution (repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery) will be offered from the floor by the Bemidji Conference, Conference Four, at our Synod Convention in June at Moorhead.”

According to Naylor there are “28 Lutheran churches in our conference stretching from Akeley and Park Rapids to Waskish and Clearbrook. We are confident that this resolution will be adopted. This document passed without dissent at the Bemidji Conference Assembly.”

Naylor wrote again on June 5, 2017, “The seventeen Pastors in the Bemidji Conference (Conf. 4) are presenting this resolution that was unanimous on the first vote in our conference meeting. We have already been in dialogue with representative in the other seven conferences of the Northwester Minnesota ELCA Synod and the feeling is very good concerning the responses that we have received. I feel that it is “a go,” but lets wait to let people know until the vote.”

Then on June 10, 2017 Naylor wrote; “I have just returned this evening from the Synod Assembly and am quite pleased to give you the good news that Resolution #4 Regarding Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery and Commitment to Partner with our Ojibwe Neighbors PASSED! There were almost 500 people that voted YES!!! You are now free to share.”

“There were four votes against out of nearly 500 votes,” said Naylor. “The votes against were not because of the motion’s main core but because of concern of regarding the court decision of 1823 reaffirming the Doctrine commenting that if it is still the law, it needs to be rescinded as well.”

Photos by Michael Meuers

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  1. Karen Holstein Bedeau 6 months ago