UNCSW NGO Forum Reflection
Anglican Council of Indigenous Women
Indigenous Ministries of The Episcopal Church
Elsie Dennis
March 3, 2012

Racism and its components of slavery and oppression can be traced to the Doctrine of Discovery. Three papal edicts in the 15th Century and a royal charter by King Henry VII provided Church sanction to the enslavement of the peoples of Africa and in the New World of the Americas, and the overall oppression to people of color.

The three edicts were:

“Dum Diversas” issued in 1452 by Pope Nicholas V that granted the King of Portugal to go to the western coast of Africa, and to “capture, vanquish and subdue the Saracens, pagans and other enemies of Christ, and put them into perpetual slavery and to take all their possessions and their property.”

“Romanus Pontifex” issued in 1455 also by Pope Nicholas V that extended to the Catholic nations of Europe dominion over discovered lands during the Age of Discovery. Along with sanctifying the seizure of non-Christian lands, it encouraged the enslavement of non-Christian native peoples in Africa and the New World.

“Inter Caetera” issued in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI declared that one Christian nation did not have the right to establish dominion over lands previously dominated by another Christian nation, thus creating the Law of Nations.

In 1496, King Henry VII granted a patent to John Cabot and his sons to possess all lands in the New World not previously discovered by Portugal or Spain. The Royal Charter of England reads in part:

“And that the before-mentioned John and his sons or their heirs and deputies may conquer, occupy and possess whatsoever such towns, castles, cities and islands by them thus discovered that they may be able to conquer, occupy and possess, as our vassals and governors lieutenants and deputies therein, acquiring for us the dominion, title and jurisdiction of the same towns, castles, cities, islands and mainlands so discovered … “

The Doctrine of Discovery provided the mind-set that the First Peoples of the Americas were less than human and without souls. Because the Native people were not deemed to be Christians, the taking of their lands, and enslavement were approved by the Church.

Two modes of thinking prevailed in the 1800s, the first was to annihilate the First Peoples and massacres did occur as well as forced relocation that resulted in the deaths of thousands of First Peoples. A second approach seen as “the kinder method” was to remove Native children from their families to assimilate them into the dominant culture.

Richard H. Pratt, founder of Carlisle, United States:

“A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him and save the man.”

Duncan Campbell Scott, Indian Affairs, Canada

“I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that this country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone. That is my whole point. Our Object is to continue there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department and that is the whole object of this Bill.”  

In addition, assimilation was seen as more economical:

Carl Schurz, former Commissioner of Indian Affairs, concluded that it would cost a million dollars to kill an Indian in warfare, whereas it cost only $1,200 to school an Indian child for eight years.

Henry Teller, Secretary of the Interior, argued that it would cost $22 million to wage war against Indians over a ten-year period, but would cost less than a quarter of that amount to educate 30,000 children for a year.

There were 153 boarding schools in the United States and 120 residential schools in Canada. More than 100,000 Native children in the U.S. and 150,000 in Canada were affected. These figures do not take into account the ongoing impact of historical trauma.

Native children removed from their families endured psychological, emotional, physical, mental and sexual abuse.

Captain Pratt created the policy of having the boarding schools be hundreds of miles away from the reservations so that children could not easily run away to their homes and families. Parents were forced to relinquish custody of their children or face up to six months in jail.

Due to cost cutting to keep expenses low up to 75 percent of the personnel at the boarding schools had no teaching background. Most often boys were taught menial farm labor, and girls were placed in the kitchen to learn cooking and other household chores.

Many children died in the boarding schools. Children were denied healthcare, beaten to death and many graves are unmarked near the boarding schools.

As a step toward healing, The Episcopal Church at its 2009 General Convention passed a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. We were the first denomination to do this. The Indigenous Ministries office through the leadership of Sarah Eagle Heart, Indigenous Missioner, has brought Asset-Based Community Development training to several Native communities to help identify individual and group gifts and abilities to solve problems as the grassroots level. In addition, White Bison, Inc., which provides traditional healing for victims of historical trauma due to boarding schools, was contacted by the Indigenous Ministries office and also has been visiting Native communities.

Since 2009, the Anglican Church in Canada (2010 General Synod), the Quaker Indian Committee (December 2009), the Unitarian Universalist (2010) and various Unitarian fellowships (2011), and recently in February 2012 the World Council of Churches have all passed resolutions or made statements repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.

Together, we can heal.







Elsie Dennis, Shuswap, Co-Chair, First Nations Committee, Diocese of Olympia


February 28, 2012:

March 22, 2012

My blog offering is a brief review of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Women and Indigenous Ministries presentation “Exposing the Doctrine of Discovery, a Call to Healing and Hope” during a Non-Government Organization (NGO) forum on Monday, February 27. Episcopal women as part of the Anglican Communion as well as women from other denominations and faith communities are participating at the 56th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women world-wide annual gathering in New York City. This is my second year to attend this opportunity for training in grassroots advocacy.

Panel members (and fellow bloggers) included Nellie Adkins, Chickahominy, Co-chair of the Native American Ministry Committee for the Diocese of Virginia; Denyse Bergie, Eastern Shoshone from the Wind River reservation, undergraduate in civil engineering; Jasmine Hanakaulani o Kamamalu Bostock, Native Hawaiian, member of the Executive Council Committee on Indigenous Ministries, graduating in May 2012 in anthropology with a minor in literature from American University; Sarah Eagle Heart, Oglala Lakota, Indigenous Missioner for The Episcopal Church and team leader for Diversity, Social and Environmental ministries; Caressa James, Choctaw, Kiowa, Arapaho, full-time student majoring in community health and advanced practice nursing, and me, Elsie Dennis, Shuswap/Secwepemc, Co-chair of the First Nations Committee for the Diocese of Olympia.

Sarah opened the panel by providing background on The Episcopal Church’s work in Native ministry and introduced the video “The Episcopal Church Exposes the Doctrine of Discovery.” Jasmine, recently accepted to Yale Divinity School, provided an overview of several documents including the resolution passed at the 2009 General Convention to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, a similar resolution recently passed by the World Council of Churches, and “The Apology” in 1987 to Tribes in western Washington State by the Diocese of Olympia and other denominations. I then shared about the impacts of residential and boarding schools in Canada and the United States including the loss of language, culture and identity as well as physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuse suffered by Native children.

Among the statistics are that in 1982 Native Americans had the highest high school dropout rate of any ethnic group, only 55 percent of American Indians completed high school (national average is 84.1 percent), and that First Nations children in Canada are more likely to go to jail than graduate from high school.

Nellie provided information on the Chickahominy people and Powhatan Confederacy, and how The Episcopal Church has helped preserve their heritage as well as the importance of Native women as leaders.

Denyse spoke about the Wind River reservation, a recently published article in the New York Times about life there, the impacts of water pollution on the health of the Arapaho people due to toxic debris from a local chemical plant, and how the people are healing themselves through participation in spiritual traditions and powwows, and Caressa, a descendant of David Pendleton Oakerhater, first Native American saint in The Episcopal Church, shared about growing up on the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation area in Oklahoma.

Sarah finished the presentation by speaking about Indigenous Ministries work to support healing in Native communities including Asset-Based Community Development that assists individuals and groups identify their gifts to help form a response to problems. Indigenous Ministry is also working with White Bison, Inc., a traditional healing group gathering commitments in Native communities to be drug and alcohol free, and to walk the journey through the historical trauma caused by residential schools.

Many of those who attended the session expressed their gratitude. An Indigenous woman from the Philippines said that our stories were also the stories of her people. Another person said she came to the presentation by accident, but was very glad she did because she had been unaware of the Doctrine of Discovery and its impact. Several others expressed an interest in having the forum and information be presented again.

Elsie Dennis, Shuswap, Co-Chair, First Nations Committee, Diocese of Olympia

As Native people, we talk about seeing beauty, and being surrounded by beauty. We talk about beauty as if it is passive. But, I saw the beauty shared and told and expressed in the women present at the UNCSW. 


Beauty can be learned, given, and practiced. In one of the AWE Eucharists in the beginning of the week we heard stories from women who sometimes had to glean their beauty through hardship. Some had successes, and some were still in the mire, asking for prayers and for help. Though the cadences and accents in their voices were different, their message was the same: unity, strength, persistence, prayer, power. 


I have been blessed to go to the UNCSW before, and attend this year as well. Although I was not able to spend the whole week in attendance,even the brief time I had there re-ignited my flame and my passion for advocacy. The persistance and perseverance of some of these women in striving for justice in their communities was so awe-inspiring. 


I am born anew in God’s creation, and I am renewed in my passion to fight for justice. 

Reflections, Elsie Dennis

March 22, 2012

As a First Nations woman I was brought up to see that Creator is in everyone and
everything, and that to love God meant to respect the Earth, animals, plants, air,
water and all people. I grew up on a small family farm in Washington State, and
was pleased to see that this year’s theme for the 56th session of the United Nations
Commission on the Status of Women is “the empowerment of rural women and
their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.”

The Native women’s delegation of six participating with Anglican Women’s
Empowerment included four young women: Sarah Eagle Heart, Oglala Lakota,
Indigenous Missioner for The Episcopal Church; Denyse Bergie, Eastern Shoshone,
civil engineering student; Jasmine Bostock, Native Hawaiian, who will graduate
in May 2012 with a BA in anthropology from American University; and Caressa
James, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Kiowa, Arapaho, full-time student majoring
in Community Health and Advanced Practice Nursing. The other two members were
Nellie Adkins, Chickahominy, Co-chair of the Native American Ministry Committee
for the Diocese of Virginia and me, Elsie Dennis, Shuswap, Cherokee, Co-chair of
the First Nations Committee for the Diocese of Olympia.

The six of us served on the panel, “Exposing the Doctrine of Discovery, a Call to
Healing and Hope” on the first day of the NGO forum workshops. More than a
100 people attended our presentation to hear about the impact of the Doctrine of
Discovery, a series of papal edicts during the 15th century that sanctioned slavery
and the oppression of indigenous people in the Americas and throughout the world.

Christians are a people of stories. Jesus told stories to help us understand how we
should live in love, repentance, forgiveness, and transformation. Native people
are also a people of stories. The NGO forum provides a unique opportunity to hear
stories from women representatives throughout the Anglican Communion and the
world who come together to share our struggles, challenges, joys and triumphs.

Our Native Women came together in such a profound way at the UN NGOCSW Forum this year. The opportunity to present an intense panel presentation on Manifest Destiny/Colonialism/ and how our Indian People are STILL reeling from that initial impact was finally made a reality. To an SRO crowd we were able to share our hearts and get our points across cutting to the chase but minus the finger pointing that often shuts doors and closes minds to the truth.I know that we were HEARD because throughout the week ,after our presentation ,we were more or less bombarded with questions, comments, and kudos from a large majority who were in attendance or  from those who had missed the event but heard rumors of all that went on during that session. It basically opened up an opportunity for ongoing dialogue that continued for us throughout the conference.


This ‘gift’ of being able to go to the UN and attend the conference and then being able to share on a personal level has meant so very much indeed to me. When I go home to our reservation at Pamunkey I can tell the Chiefs that our story has been told and documented in an international setting. After four-hundred and five plus years with outside contact and not seeing statements made that can exact change ,this is encouraging for our people here in Virginia as, I believe it is for our other women who shared their stories that they too might take home ‘good news’ to their people.


In addition, it is important as a woman within the Anglican Women’s Empowerment group and a practicing Episcopalian, to make a concrete statement about faith and how the Episcopal Church has stood alongside our people. Being Native to me means that I can be a traditional Indian woman and a Christian. This is something that many people seem unable to accept or get their minds around but those two definitions describe me quite well and there is no conflict. I was able to share that also and was thrilled to go on the record with testimony.

Naweh (thanks) for another year in which to learn, grow, and now…to share. My heart is happy that this blessing has come to me in a great and powerful way!

Reflection CSW 2012

“If ever there is a time when women come together it will benefit the world such that the world has never seen”. I was moved by this quote, because it is happening today, a revolution and connection between nations of the world trying to fight bondages and suffering. Women are mothers, we are healers naturally, we need to care for the earth as if it were our child, as Mother Nature takes care of us, providing water and air to breathe, food and land to live on. Yet in some parts of the world, there are families who are hungry. How can the world be hungry, when it provides it naturally? The earth is a commodity, it is bounded by limits, it is abused, it is a gold mine, and it is infested with greed and war.

There is so much that goes into the improvement of the world. As a nation we can stand together to help each other instead of fight against each other. War is a big problem, and its amazing how one person can influence hatred. Yet one person can also influence positive energy, energy is neither created nor destroyed it is merely transformed, this statement applies to all areas of life.

I attended the Sacred Women’s Circle one night and it truly was an amazing experience. In the Native American Culture we dance in circles, the sun and moon circulate the earth, and so does the world, a circle is never meant to be broken. Each person spoke of a dream they wish for, my dream was for that circle to get bigger and stronger, for strong partnerships between us to help economic development and help save the world. It felt like a powerful force was behind us.

The panel we held, “Exposing The Doctrine of Discovery” was also very powerful. We had 6 different women from each tribe; each had a different view on being a Native American from a rural, urban and reservation background. Not many people really know the true history behind our culture. History books need to be rewritten, although the reality of how reservations came to be is brutal and unjust. We showed a snippet of “The Doctrine of Discovery” it was glimpse into the truth of what the Native American people have faced when Christianity was forced upon Native Americans.  Some of the audience seemed shocked. I grew up on the reservation, but it took me awhile to realize the differences of living in the “white man’s” world and reservation life and my views changed on the world when I started living off the reservation.

We spoke on the education rates of Native Americans which are way lower than any race in the US. I have many peers that are Native American scholars; I myself am a scholar in Science. But there needs to be more, but I believe the low numbers are related to the abuse that goes on in society. I also commented on the New York Times publication earlier in February 2012, the title of the article was, “Brutal Crimes Grip the Wind River Reservation” I thought the article was very biased, written by an outsider looking in, and could have used a better language. Although the stories were true, there was no positive outlook towards our tribes in the article and was disturbing to our community. Because there is a lot of beauty in the tribes and the cultural events we still do. I also brought up the environmental issues we face and many reservations have the same problem with the chemical plants and contamination, improper disposals etc. Within the short time we had to speak we did cover a lot, but it is again only a glimpse.

The history did leave a huge gash in our people. Intergenerational Trauma has scarred many cultures and communities, by the control of power of men and race. Yet today we still fight for rights and equality, and people are still fighting over lands and power, leaving less powerful parts of the world hungry and sick.

The UNCSW brings the mothers, daughter and sisters of the world to come together to speak for those who don’t have a voice, and bring in different points of view from all over the world. They all speak of the needs of their communities and some are a lot less fortunate than others. I learn a lot about other cultures and I send my prayers to those who are struggling to stay alive. I pray one day all the wishes we wished for in the Women’s Sacred Circle come true.

Denyse Bergie

I attended a panel titled “A better life for rural women challenges and opportunities” It consisted of young women within the ages of 17-20 and young boys sitting within the audience. It was unique way to present their panel, I like the interaction with the crowd.

“Women hold up half the sky” I enjoyed that quote, this is a title of a book their panel topic was based on. Each girl took on a character in the book, and spoke as they were them.

The first women they spoke about is a young woman who had been trafficked, and she had been beaten and drugged and they took her clothes at night so she wouldn’t run away. Some women return to these brothels and they asked the audience, “Why do victims return to brothels?” Factors brought up were poverty, drugs/addictions, trauma, shame and no life outside the brothels, and mental illness caused from the treatment.

In Ethiopia a young women spoke of being raped, the man who had raped her then wanted to marry her. In rural areas 92% of marriages are marriages by abduction. This young girl refused to marry the rapist, her family was supportive of her and for that the community did not respect them. The courts were not on their side, she kept fighting and fighting and eventually the courts favored on her side, and sentenced him to 10 years and within the first year she moved to a city where she could get an education and later found out he only served 6mos of the 10 year term and was released.

The next story was about genital mutilation and the cultural norms that go along with it. I can’t imagine the physical pain these women go through. It is not right!

In theCongo400,000 are raped per year, 48 are raped per hour. One women was working late in the bean field and ran into 5 men who each took turns raping her and by the end of her violation they stuck a stick inside her which ruined her internal organs. Paralyses as well as many other problems were caused and she felt like a burden to her family.

These are only a few stories of what goes on in rural areas around the globe. Women are still fighting for human rights and as a nation of women we can stand up together for these rights.