Aly Tharp, Benjamin Franklin Craft-Rendon, Jason Faulk and Elizabeth Mount pose together holding signs with the words of the Spanish Requirement of 1513, and one saying “All modern peoples of conscience &/or faith in Divine Creation across the Americas can create change, truth, peace, balance & healing by rejecting the Doctrine of Discovery by word, deed, & power.”
We believe that repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery requires taking action, because political and judicial reverence to this doctrine still impacts the lands of Great Turtle Island and delays recognition of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

People of faith and conscience who seek justice in the world should take action that recognizes root factors for historic and present-day injustice, such as the Doctrine of Discovery, and practice respect for the Indigenous communities and elders alive today.

This is key to creating climate justice, because dispossession and disrespect of Indigenous Peoples has been at the foundation of life-destroying extractive economies, violence and global militarism for centuries. Despite this, Indigenous communities still exist, and many stand strongly against further pillaging of the Earth for fossil fuels, uranium, precious metals and profit-obsessed, mono-culture living.

Climate action requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Climate justice requires climate action and sacrifices from the status quo to manifest respect for the autonomy and human rights of historically oppressed Nations and people. We won’t get there until we challenge and change the dominant cultural narrative and its manifestations in our personal outlooks.

Resist 450 is a coalition formed in response to the State of Florida and City of St. Augustine’s persistence in celebrating a purely colonial narrative rather than one that respects the story and tragic losses endured by these lands’ Original Peoples. Florida celebrated the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s arrival in 2013, and this week St. Augustine had a multi-day celebration of Pedro Mendez de Aviles’ landing 450 years ago.

The Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples asked Saint Augustine city officials not to glorify the rape, torture, displacement, enslavement, and genocide that accompanied European colonization but they were repeatedly ignored. Tribal elders and leaders called for resistance to the celebrations, and Resist 450 was established as a coalition between Native and settler activists. The Unitarian Universalist Young Adults for Climate Justice (UUYACJ) committed to answering their call for solidarity and partnership in late-August.

Four members of the network attended the action camp: Aly Tharp, network coordinator for UUYACJ; Benjamin Franklin Craft-Rendon, Tar Sands Blockade and Houston Food Not Bombs organizer; Elizabeth Mount, Meadville-Lombard seminarian and recent dangler under the St. John’s bridge in the Portland #ShellNo protests; and Jason Faulk, Gulf South Rising activist, and media-support person for Louisiana chapters of Sierra Club and 350.org.

Our experience included many good confrontations and conversations. On Sunday morning, the four of us attended the St. Augustine Unitarian Universalist Fellowship where we received a very warm welcome and were joyous to take part in the congregation’s annual water ceremony.

The St. Augustine UU Fellowship community poses with the UUYACJ for a picture during the coffee hour after service. Aly brought ribbons from the UUA General Assembly Sacred Public Witness with the Lummi Nation to connect struggles for Indigenous rights and climate justice across the continent through the prayers of the UU faith community, which are being held by people in the picture. In the front is a poster reading, “We promote a healthy relationship with each other and the natural world based on TRUTH, RESPECT, & PEACE. #Commit2Respond #Resist450.

After the service, we joined other Resist 450 activists to demonstrate at the Castillo de San Marcos, a fort built by Native American and Caribbean laborers (who were probably enslaved under Spanish Requirement and the Doctrine of Discovery). We distributed the entirety of our fliers explaining what Resist 450 was doing, and advertising for a film showing of the new documentary, “Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code“.
Pictured is a crowd of Resist450 activists who demonstrated with fliers, banners and signs at the Castillo de San Marcos. Banners read, “TEAR DOWN THE FORT!”, “FREE THEIR SPIRITS! Alabama-Coushata, Chickasaw, Creek, Apache, Arapahoe, Caddo, Simanolee, Comanche, Muscogee, Miccosukee” (some of the tribes whose ancestral members were help as prisoners at the fort); signs say. “Indigenous families were imprisoned and died here”, “Tell the truth about this fort”, “This was a prison” “You’re celebrating genocide” “Family vacation on an Indigenous torture site”, “Why celebrate abuse?”, “450 years of genocide”, “How did a torture camp become a tourist trap?”, “”We promote a healthy relationship with each other and the natural world based on TRUTH, RESPECT, & PEACE. #Commit2Respond #Resist450“. The flag being held is that of the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples. Photo by Houston Indymedia

One goal of Resist 450 is to dismantle this fort  — where assimilation education of Native American prisoners was the inspiration for the Federal boarding school system that sought to dismantle Native families, cultures and languages to accelerate assimilation and Christian indoctrination. Resist 450 contends that allowing “the People of the Tribes and Nations whose ancestors were held captive prisoners at the fort to replace the fort with structures representing their people [… is] a MINIMUM FIRST STEP towards the honoring of the Aboriginal Indigenous Peoples of this Land.” (from Resist 450 website).

Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of tearing down such a historic monument — however we ask: if Indigenous people built the structure in servitude, and Indigenous people today tell us to take it down, what does it mean to say, “Oh no, we can’t do that”?

The only thing memorialized at the Castillo de San Marcos today is the history of colonization and militaristic foot-holds in Mantanzas Bay (“mantanzas” is Spanish for massacre). We contend that this needs to change, considering the fort’s role in the cultural and physical genocide of Native American peoples — and that making these changes requires negotiation with Native American people treated as equal stakeholders in the portrayal and commemoration of history.

Bobby C. Billie, spiritual elder of the Council of Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples, is interested in continuing discussion and negotiation about this with the City of St. Augustine.

The following day, activists attended a sold-out showing of the “Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code”, a film by Dakota filmmaker and Director Sheldon Wolfchild and Co-Producer Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape), co-founder of the Indigenous Law Institute. The film is based on Newcomb’s thirty years of research, and his book Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum, 2008).

Meanwhile “Celebrate! 450festivities included the enjoyment of a large birthday cake for St. Augustine, carried and served in the city’s historic slave market pavilion by actors representing Native American people…

Resist 450 disrupted this event with a street theater performance detailing the “Royal Recipe of 1565” for the “Papal Cake of Colonization” at the cake-cutting ceremony and in the streets of St. Augustine, based upon the language used in the Spanish Requirements and Papal Bulls of the 15th century.

Actors add “perpetual servitude” as an ingredient in the “Papal Cake of Colonization”
from “The Royal Recipe of 1565”. Photo by Jason Faulk
Actors add “torture” as an ingredient in the “Papal Cake of Colonization”, from “The Royal Recipe of 1565”. Photo by Jason Faulk
These performances were often not well-received by the crowd, but they were an important counter-narrative to the one-sided events planned by the city. The mayor of St. Augustine stopped by to watch a performance, and we did receive a few handshakes and words of “thanks” from others in the crowd.

Afterwards, Resist 450 returned to our campgrounds and enjoyed a fantastic meal prepared by the Seeds of Peace Collective. Filmmakers Sheldon Wolfchild and Steven Newcomb visited the camp, sharing stories and words of thanks for our activism.

The night was long, in preparation for the disruption of Pedro Mendendez de Aviles‘ landing re-enactment the following morning. Some protesters took to the water in boats and flotation devices, while others stood outside the entrance to the event and still others joined the crowd to witness the landing and disruption.

Protesters in the water chanted “No honor, no pride, Menendez caused genocide”. Many swam and paddled into the scene of the re-enactment, holding up signs.

Protesters in the Mantanzas Bay, with signs saying, “Decolonize – Resist 450”, “Respect Native Cultures”, Rescind the Doctrine of Discovery”, “Menendez was a Murderer”, “Menendez is NO Hero!” & “Resist450.org”. Photo by Houston Indymedia
Protester with drum and sign: “Who would Jesus invade?”
Protesters swimming in to the re-enacment; sign says
“Stop Celebrating Genocide – Resist 450”
Six were arrested during this demonstration on allegations such as “obstructing without violence”, “trespass” and “resisting an officer without violence”.

We go home convinced that these disruptions were worthwhile and will help spur productive conversation and cultural change in St. Augustine.

The UUYACJ continues our call to members of the larger Unitarian Universalist faith community to create opportunities for learning and action on -or around- Indigenous Peoples Day (a.k.a. “Columbus Day”) for your self, friends, family and congregations.

We can repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery through putting faith in to action, by honoring and supporting Indigenous rights, resistance and reclamation.

Thank you for reading. If you would like to involve the UUYACJ in programs for Indigenous Peoples Day at your congregation, via Skype or web conferencing, contact us via email: uuyacj@gmail.com