Doctrine of Discovery Report

Synod 2012 adopted a call to action in the report of the Creation Stewardship Task Force, calling for the CRC “to examine, better understand, and respond to the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ and related legal instruments -- particularly in their origins, their historical effects, and their continuing effects on Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States” (Acts of Synod 2012, pp. 806-807). The Doctrine of Discovery is a concept of international law justifying colonial expansion into North and South America, arising from a series of papal bulls (declarations) issued by the Roman Catholic Church in 1452, 1454, and 1493. It granted European powers the right to take over land in North America. The doctrine also emerged from reflections of political philosophers and legal precedents. Though the roots of the doctrine date back 500 years, its implications remain fresh in Indigenous communities. Click here to read the task force's report and learn more about the Doctrine of Discovery Task Force.

Synod 2016 rejected and condemned the Doctrine of Discovery as a heresy that "helped shape western culture and led to great injustices". Synod also affirmed the work for justice and reconciliation that is already happening in the CRC in Canada and instructed the Executive Director to establish an annual Day of Justice for confession, lament, reflecting on the Belhar Confession, listening to the stories of those who are marginalized, and promoting just solutions to the problems created by the evils of racism. Click here to read the full Acts of Synod 2016. 


Board of Trustees Statement

In June 2015, Synod passed the following motion encouraging all churches and classes in the Christian Reformed Church to participate in the Blanket Exercise:

"That synod instruct the BOT to encourage classes and congregations to engage in the Blanket Exercise. This will be done prior to Synod 2016 and the address of the Doctrine of Discovery Task Force report (BOT Supplement section I, I). Trained Christian Reformed Church teams are available throughout the United States and Canada. The Blanket Exercise is adapted to each nation’s history with Native Peoples. Teams can be contacted through the Office of Social Justice or the Centre for Public Dialogue.


a. The Blanket Exercise is a practical, powerful, experiential way to understand Native Peoples’ history in the Canadian and American contexts allowing participants to experience the dynamics of power without a voice.

b. In obedience to Hebrews 12: 14 and 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 to be reconciled, The Blanket Exercise is a proven method to enter into Native Peoples’ experience of inequality.

c. The Blanket Exercise helps us live into other peoples’ story no matter where we live. The Lord calls us to walk TOGETHER as we experience the hurtfulness done to people groups even as God in Christ walked amongst us and experienced our pain."


Canadian Ministries Statements

Action for Reconciliation (Ottawa, June 2015)

In this statement at the Ottawa Truth and Reconciliation Commission event, the CRC promised to continue learning about the common history it shares with Indigenous people through the Blanket Exercise, wrestling with the church’s own history of interaction with Indigenous peoples through the Doctrine of Discovery Task Force, and advocating for Indigenous education reform in Canada.


Expression of Reconciliation (Vancouver 2015)

This statement was presented along with a painting from the Creator’s Sacrifice/reForming Relationships art tour at the Vancouver Truth and Reconciliation Commission event. It states that removing young people from their homes and trying to instill values of the majority culture into them at residential schools led to broken trust, the sin of tearing young people away from their families and forcing them to live contrary to their traditions and spirituality and laments the Church’s role in residential schools.


Letter to Churches (January 2013)

Pastoral letter to CRC and RCA churches in Canada addressing Idle No More, calling for “thoughtful discernment, prayers of hope and gratitude and active pursuit of restored relationships.” Also marking the anniversary of the 2012 Crown – First Nations Gathering.


Expression of Reconciliation (June 2012)

The CRC offered a formal Expression of Reconciliation at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) Saskatchewan National Event in Saskatoon on June 22. A booklet of the art series “Kisemanito Pakinitasuwin – The Creator’s Sacrifice” was placed in the TRC’s Bentwood Box as a public expression of the CRC’s commitment to the journey of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada.


Letter to Churches, January 2012

Pastoral letter to CRC and RCA churches in Canada calling for prayer for the January 24, 2012 Crown-First Nations Gathering.


New Covenant Declaration (1985, 2007)

A pastoral statement by ecumenical leaders inviting church members to support Aboriginal rights in Canada and to work toward implementation of these rights, including the right to be distinct peoples, to have an adequate land base, self-determination and self-government.

[Header image photo credit: Melissa Blunden]