Poem: Once Upon a Time There Be… A Tale of the Doctrine of Discovery

By Rev. Ellie Stock

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND


Once upon a time there be . . .
There be a Doctrine of Discovery,
Dum Diversas, Romanus Pontifex, and Inter Caetera, three decrees,
Papal bulls of the 15th century (lead bulla sealing
with the heads of Peter and Paul, two saints they be),
Promised Land conquest, Christendom, and Crusading legacy
charging European royalty
to commission explorers to sail the seas
to New (empty, nulla terra, they presumed) promised Worlds to gallantly
“discover”, conquer and claim territory, and demand fealty
of “unchristian” civilizations who already for millennia lived there free,
free upon the mountains, plains and valleys,
free on rainbow deserts and among woodland trees,
free, in eon-carved canyons, cliff side caves and kivas deep,
free along shores of rivers, lakes, and seas,
free to net salmon and hunt deer,
free to pick berries and to plant seeds,
free to grow The Three Sisters—squash, corn, and beans,
free to sew buffalo-skinned robes and wampum beads
free to live in long houses, hogans, pueblos, and tee pees,
to weave patterned rugs and kiln molded pottery,
to create fringed medicine bags and turquoise and silver jewelry
to raise totem poles and follow eagle’s wing,
free to chisel kachinas from cottonwood rootings,
free to roam, to follow seasons’ bidding,
sun’s warmth, stars’ behest, and moon’s tiding,
free to exist, to quest, to reverence Turtle Island’s fecundity,
free to self-determine in tribes, nations, clans, bands, and confederacies,
free to self-govern with councils and chiefs,
free to honor Great Spirit’s Mystery,
through Life Ways, shaman, and sacred ceremony,
free to sing, to dance to flute’s lilt and drum’s beat,
free to celebrate, to give thanks for All Being,
In Beauty walking, walking in Beauty…

Once upon a continuing time there be…
There be friendship between
the giving Ancients, with hoped-for reciprocity,
and voracious new “Chosen” Settlers as they set up colonies
and sought to make “sub-human” infidels convertees.
But broken trust turned to frictioning,
and friendship medals and trading
turned to greed, and greed turned to taking
land (the land of the free,
home of the brave), and conflict and violent sprees,
with the French, Spanish, English and the Colonies,
and taking more land and trees,
gold, and slavery—no agency,
which turned to resisting
and Red Cloud Warring and paper treaties,
and treaties became broken treaties,
broken promises and nightmare dreams,
extinction of  buffalo and beaver, destroyed ecology,
no sensibility, cruel genocide of humanity,
Sand Creek and Wounded Knee,
assimilating and disappearing
through boarding school trauma and decree,
forbidding native tongues, songs, dress, culture, and spirituality,
imposing state and church calumnity, calamity, complicity,
to civilize and Christianize the killing, dead, and dying,
dysfunctional theology and gone-wild evangelizing
in the name of the One saying love thy neighbor and enemy,
and bring relief to the suffering,
starving, imprisoning,
disease, and Dakota 38 mass hanging,
reservations, shrinking, confining,
and Trailings of Tears from sea to shining sea,
Settlers, transcontinental trains and gold rushers colonizing,
wetiko, white people’s pandemic mind virus, cannibalizing,
pushing First Nations north, south, west, east,
divine Manifest Destiny’s stolen land complete…
a silenced people, a truncated history
celebrated by fictionalizing Columbus Day feat
and Indian and Pilgrim Thanksgiving Feast,
the indoctrination and incarnation of the Doctrine of Discovery.



And, shortly thereafter upon a time there be . . .
There be even more conquistadores by land and sea,
sent by the Doctrine of Discovery
to southern civilizations of Quetzel, Pachamama, and Chakana cosmology,
to lands of desert coasts, tropical forests, and oh so high mountain peaks,
to Nazca Line plains and glacier-fed streams
to llamas, pumas, and condors soaring,
to mathematic, scientific, and engineering ingenuity,
to architectural, artistic, and agricultural originality,
to pyramids, sun dials, crop terracing and irrigating,
to mounds and mortarless tightly-fitting boulder walling,
to tambo to tambo marathon relay-running chasquis
with quipus and pitutus, proclaiming and explaining,
to charangos, quenas, and chicha dancing,
welcomed by the ancients so curiously,
they greeted them with boats, horses, and swords a gleaming,
to conquer foretold cities of gold and jaden masquery,
to supplant the cross for pagan heresy,
they looted, plundered, and killed so freely,
ancient Aztecs, Mayans, and Incans marauded so mercilessly,
covered in blood as gold and the enslaved were cargoed back across the seas,
to the European home whose legacy here is continuing
through mining’s polluting and resource depleting,
exploiting poor indigenous land and communities—
caught between rebels’ and rulers’ fighting,
another incarnation of the Doctrine of Discovery.




And once again upon a time there be . . . 
There be sailing to this new vicinity,
from African Kingdoms to the east
adventurers also charged by the Doctrine of Discovery,
guiding boatloads of sardine-packed human chattelry,
together bound, rocking and rolling
to each wave-upon-bow beat,
crashing amidst screams and dreams
and grievous laments of  futility,
green and golden ancestor land a distant memory—
lush forests, jungles, savannah and fauna aplenty,
now dumped on New World shores unceremoniously,
chained to cages but separated from home and families,
Indian-vacated lands, now plantations, enslaving,
traumatizing generationally,
to quench the thirst of cotton and tobaccy,
sugar, rice, and coffee monopolies,
and lead and gold mining companies,
condemned to worse than poverty,
as white land owners pretended chivalry,
while denigrating, segregating, and lynching,
and contriving racial identity superiority
to maintain white racial purity,
defending to death in Civil War’s incivility,
and holding these self-evident truths—yes siree,
for all, justice, life, happiness and liberty,
codified in We the People constitutionality,
Junteenth Emancipation Day, free!—but not really,
and hundreds of years later, deferred dreams,
still entrenched in injustice duplicity,
flag-wrapped, head-hooded, cross-burning temerity,
fear and hatred-garbed brutal apartheid and white supremacy,
or separate and equal, prejudice, and white privilege—more politely,
power drenched in the blood of black chronology,
Jim Crow travesty, convict leasing,
share cropping, indentured servanting, no equal opportunity,
cartooned in minstrel and caricatured artistry,
victims of inhuman medical and scientific experimenting,
migrating from south to north, west and east
to escape and seek longed-for safety,
only finding unemployment and unwelcoming crowded cities,
and predatory lending and legal red-lining,
extending to ghetto dwellings and mass incarcerating,
targets of governmental and vigilante harassing, stalking, and killing,
sacrificial lambs to false gods offering,
dangerously navigating black while walking, driving and living,
having The Conversation with young ones to increase their surviving,
gaping divides between the poor and the wealthy,
(no GI Bill benefits or inherited family property),
between the book-educated and the life-educated, the sick and the healthy,
prevented by law from realizing innate potentiality,
reconciliatory guilt masking as reparationality,
black and white trauma intertwining,
yet two diverging tragic historical trajectories,
the Doctrine of Discovery once more incarnating,
stolen labor, stolen lives, fait accomplit!
Yet somehow there be,
there still struggling and proudly be
endurance and strength and spirit spontaneity,
passionate vitality, courage and creativity,
civil rights sit-ins and non-violent resisting—
protesting, boycotting, desegregating,
demonstrating, marching, freedom-riding,
preaching, praying, lobbying, and writing,
pushing the extremities
of suffocating, unjust boundaries,
not stopped by heckling or horse stomping,
bullets flying, fire hosing, and baton beating,
and torn apart by snarling canine’s vicious teeth,
arrested, shackled, jailed, bombed—too much killing,
Dred Scott, Harriett Tubman, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King,
proclaiming inconvenient, unsettling
Truth to evil power and status quo investing,
We Shall Overcome” decisionally, intentionally, futurically.



Now, upon a time there be . . .
There be a continuing legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery,
stolen land, stolen labor, the foundation of our nation’s prosperity,
stolen promise, stolen hope, stolen dignity and security,
five hundred-year-old inherited edicts still defining,
presumptuous exceptionalism opining,
a City Upon a Hill, out-of-context scripturing
catalyzing nationalistic visioning,
systemic racism, religious bigotry,
xenophobia, gender oppressing, myopic redacting of history,
spawning military crusades and religious legitimizing,
winners spinning and controlling the arcing story,
domination system, corruption, and exploitation thriving,
empire’s policies and Supreme Court precedent legalities,
governmental eminent domaining
and corporation hegemonic land-grabbing,
locally, nationally, and globally, an exploding frenzy—
drilling, fracking, mountain top-removing,
fossil fueling, extraction industry pathology,
polluting, fertilizing, pesticiding, desecrating
sacred places and depleting
air, water, and soil once pristine
Standing Rock, front-line troops, water protecting,
war and peace economies freebasing
and high on destroying and contaminating
under the guise of self-interests defending,
and consumers, like locusts swarming,
wanting, buying, devouring,
accumulating and storaging,
wasting more than needing,
constantly rat-racing and tread-milling,
run amuck social media, TV,
and movie fantasy commercializing,
and my, my, mine—me, me,
me-first hyper-individualism selfies
and Facebook immortality,
and First and Second Amendment Security,
nation-states still conquering
in the shadow of nuclear technology—
a house of cards, no accountability and no sustainability
leave systems of Earth and all that is in it collapsing
under the weight of arrogance and greed,
economic, political, cultural restructuring
—the whole ecology topsy-turvy,
society cross-purposed in paralyzed bi-polarity,
resurging nooses and flags of the Confederacy,
swastikas, nazi saluting, and Don’t Tread on Me,
domestic abuse, women and children disappearing,
epidemic alcohol, drugs, opioids addicting,
mass murders and suicides alarming,
violence, terrorism and  warring, planet warming,
climate changing, pandemics raging,
affecting the poor disproportionately,
exacerbating racial disparity,
fires blazing, glaciers retreating,
oceans rising, storms intensifying,
doubters decrying, denying and defying
scientific facts and prophets’ warnings,
populations over propagating,
swarming, frantically escaping, migrating, immigrating,
the sixth great extinctioning—
mammals, trees and bumble bees grieving,
and what or who will be next—humanity?
Stop the World, I want to get off!—lamenting grievously—
the present incarnation of the Doctrine of Discovery.
Yet always there a remnant or diaspora be,
Light through dark shadow breaking,
leaven rising, salt preserving,
virgin seeds quickening, awakening, hardened ground quaking,
New Life persisting, insisting, enlisting
Those Who Be Caring.


Possible now/future upon a time there be . . .
There be a new era choice:  business as usual, Anthropocene
or Ecozoic New World, sans the Doctrine of Discovery,
excised from legal memory,
a new Way to BE Earth Community—
a new Way of human knowing, doing, and  being,
Mother Earth-restoring policies and economies,
consciousness, care, compassion, courage, and creativity
increasing, in sync with the beat of Life’s ever emerging,
wondrous individuality, diversity, communion, and complexity,
honoring all our relatives:  animal, vegetable, mineral equitably,
partnering equally, sensibly, and unambiguously
to take responsibility for Earth’s posterity,
seventh generation integrity,
living simply (reducing, reusing, recycling, rethinking),
cooperatively and peacefully,
with clean air, water, and soil, and oceans free
of oil slicks and plastic debris,
new healing practices and learning
what is essential and necessary,
promoting well-being and health care accessibility,
creating sustainable, resilient, and vital local communities,
receiving not deceiving, using not abusing Earth’s generosity,
mana for all but not more than needing,
inviting and encouraging participatory
visioning and planning democracy,
for the Common Good,  for all, justice, life, happiness, and liberty,
rebuilding trust, healing wounds through truth, apology,
denouncing wrongs, reparationing, and reconciling,
discovering, developing, deploying,
honoring, and celebrating the gift and ability
of each human, cultural, and earth entity,
a new renaissance of guilds, sodalities, and artistry,
bridging chasms of mistrust caused by fear and enmity,
grass-roots movements—steadfast and serving,
risking and heroing in anonymity,
continuing to learn and explore within limits and possibilities,
in silence and stillness, knowing
Creation’s intimacy and stardust’s infinity,
Cosmos connectivity and energy:  Awe-filled Mystery,
Earthrise Home, our common origin and destiny,
the Universe from which we are birthed, our common story,
this is our Home, this is my Home, my Home is in me,
waiting, transforming, reborning, new every morning dawning,
twenty-first century Phoenix sunrising,
Red, Black, Yellow, Brown, Tan, and White uniting,
despite challenges and obstacles, and setback’s inciting,
hearts, minds, strength, and souls joining, dancing and singing,
sharing Earth’s bountiful grace, mercy, and hospitality
in Hope beyond hoping,
Joy and Thanksgiving unceasing,
and Love unconditioning.

Once upon a time there be . . .
There be such a Reality . . .
Dare humanity really Know, Do, and Be,
and touch, hear, smell, feel, taste and see,
risking boldly, in humility—trusting not fearing
that Life is Good, You are/I am Accepted,
the Past is Absolved, and the Future is Always Opening—
Life’s, Shalom’s beckoning Jubilee—
in Beauty walking,  walking in Beauty? . . .




The work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program is possible thanks to your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.


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