White settlers saw land for the taking. They failed to consider the perspective of the people already here.
In The Land Is Not Empty, author Sarah Augustine unpacks the harm of the Doctrine of Discovery—a set of laws rooted in the fifteenth century that gave Christian governments the moral and legal right to seize lands they “discovered” despite those lands already being populated by indigenous peoples. Legitimized by the church and justified by a misreading of Scripture, the Doctrine of Discovery says a land can be considered “empty” and therefore free for the taking if inhabited by “heathens, pagans, and infidels.”
In this prophetic book, Augustine, a Pueblo woman, reframes the colonization of North America as she investigates ways that the Doctrine of Discovery continues to devastate indigenous cultures, and even the planet itself, as it justifies exploitation of both natural resources and people. This is a powerful call to reckon with the root causes of a legacy that continues to have devastating effects on indigenous peoples around the globe and a call to recognize how all of our lives and our choices are interwoven. What was done in the name of Christ must be undone in the name of Christ, the author claims. The good news of Jesus means there is still hope for the righting of wrongs. Right relationship with God, others, and the earth requires no less.
Sarah Augustine is founder and cochair of the Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery and executive director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Yakima and Kittitas Counties. Augustine, who is Pueblo (Tewa), has written for Sojourners, The Mennonite, and other publications, and she is an adjunct professor at Heritage University. She and her husband, Dan Peplow, and their son live in the Yakima Valley of Washington.
“In this timely and necessary book, Sarah Augustine calls each of us, through meaningful stories and relevant research, to remember that we are connected to one another. If we want to have real conversations about oppression of Indigenous peoples around the world, Christian missions, the Doctrine of Discovery, and where the church must go from here, this book is a sure guide. The church is constantly asking, ‘What can we do?’ In this book, Sarah tells us. I hope we will listen.”
~KAITLIN CURTICE, author of Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God
“With fierce love, Sarah Augustine calls the church to fight for the well-being of the Indigenous, or go home. Here’s a revolutionary summons to reimagine the mission of the church—including our most privileged institutions—from the vantage of the dispossessed. It demands risk and courage. Will we respond? Will we fight? Count me in!”
~STEVE HEINRICHS, director of Indigenous-Settler Relations for Mennonite Church Canada and editor of Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization
“Sarah Augustine offers a compelling weaving of three personal and political story lines of Indigenous dispossession and resilience: her own, and those of Yakama (Pacific Northwest) and Wayana (Suriname) communities. The narrative includes helpful distillations of complex colonial histories and structures by which we continue to be haunted, and strong calls to ecclesial actions for restorative justice.”
~ELAINE ENNS, coauthor of Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization
“This book is a clarion call for Christians to rethink the social implications of the gospel message. Sarah Augustine exposes the nexus between the Doctrine of Discovery (a five-hundred-year-old European colonial notion) and the historical and present displacement of Indigenous peoples from their lands by foreign corporations and governments. This book simultaneously calls the Christian church to accountability for its historical complicity with the despoliation of Indigenous people and to prophetically stand on the side of justice, resisting the destructive contemporary effects of this old doctrine on local Indigenous communities around the world and across their lands.”
~NÉSTOR MEDINA, assistant professor of religious ethics at Emmanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto and author of Christianity, Empire and the Spirit
“The Land Is Not Empty is a tremendous, liberating work full of love for God and neighbor. Whether you are unfamiliar with the Doctrine of Discovery or are a lifelong Christocentric promoter of Indigenous rights, this book is for you.”
~NATHAN CARTAGENA, race scholar and assistant professor of philosophy at Wheaton College
“Sarah Augustine’s message is an urgent call to action: abolish the Christian Doctrine of Discovery. The legacies of colonial conquest scaffold our present world of inequality and climate change. Abolishing the Doctrine means more than repudiation of church dogma codified in law and social norms justifying dispossession, genocide, and exploitation. It means restoration and repairing wrongs done to Indigenous people. The Doctrine is a ‘structural sin,’ Augustine writes, and it requires collective action on the part of the faith community. Justice begins by hearing her call to action—a prophecy of a better world.”
~NICK ESTES (Lakota), author of Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance
“With an interplay of history, Bible, testimony, analysis, and intimate personal narrative, Sarah Augustine paints a devastating picture of the Doctrine of Discovery as structural sin. Proclaiming a vision of right relationship with Indigenous peoples around the globe, she compels a radical new theological imagination and bold acts of justice from those who aspire to live the mandate of Jesus.”
~JENNIFER HENRY, activist theologian
“Part memoir, part history, part Scripture-quoting sermon, this book tells the truth. The Doctrine of Discovery came from forces of darkness and operates with a logic of death. With a plaintive and powerful voice, Sarah Augustine calls on followers of Jesus to restore the land.”
~DAVID SWARTZ, assistant professor of history at Asbury University and author of Facing West: American Evangelicals in an Age of World Christianity
“If insight is the prophetic task—and I believe it is—this book is prophecy. Beautifully weaving together her moving personal narrative, the narrative of destructive colonization, the narrative of courageous resistance and life of Indigenous Peoples around the world, and, through it all, the narrative of resurrection and Jesus’ promise of the world to come, Sarah Augustine engages your mind, your heart, and your future.”
~THE MOST REV. MARK MACDONALD, National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada