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We begin this episode with a land acknowledgement. Our hosts Prof. Philip P. Arnold and Sandy Bigtree (Mohawk Nation), begin by introducing our guest Gaeñ hia uh, Betty Lyons (Onondaga Nation, Snipe Clan). She is the Executive Director of the American Indian Law Alliance an Indigenous and environmental activist and citizen of the Onondaga Nation. Betty has worked for the Onondaga Nation for over 20 years. Ms. Lyons serves as a member of the Haudenosaunee External Relations Committee and has been an active participant at the annual United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) since the first session in 2001 as a delegate of the Onondaga Nation.

Show Notes

Our conversation focuses on the dismantling of the Doctrine of Discovery and the profound implications it has had on Indigenous Peoples worldwide.

The Doctrine of Discovery a theological and legal justification that has served as the basis for enslavement, exploitation, and extraction, as Steven T. Newcomb succinctly summarizes. The colonization and oppression of Indigenous Peoples, in the name of the Doctrine of Discovery, is not something that happened just in the past; it happens today. Betty speaks candidly about the complacency she has witnessed at the United Nations when it comes time to confront this doctrine. She highlights the inherent power structures that this doctrine supports and the difficulty of dismantling them, particularly when they significantly benefit those in power.

The conversation then pivots toward Indigenous Peoples’ vital role in environmental conservation. Indigenous communities have been guardians of the environment for centuries with their rich and diverse cultures, languages, and traditions. Yet, the disturbing implications of the Doctrine of Discovery persist, leaving these communities vulnerable to exploitation and displacement.

This episode further addresses the complex issue of white supremacy. White supremacy, deeply ingrained in our societies, perpetuates fear, misunderstanding, and systemic racism. It also attempts to cover up the role white Christianity has played in the exploitation, extraction, and enslavement of Indigenous peoples, Black folks, and all people of color. Betty advocates for more inclusive education as a means to dismantle these damaging ideologies, dispel the myths perpetuated by this system, and promote understanding and equality.

The discussion then delves into the interactions between Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations member states. This relationship is rife with challenges, from the ongoing commodification of Indigenous lands to the lack of recognition and representation of Indigenous nations. Betty scrutinizes the role of multinational corporations in exploiting Indigenous rights for financial gain, highlighting the need for systemic change and justice.

The podcast concludes with an exploration of the Doctrine of Discovery’s contribution to lateral violence in Indigenous communities. Betty speaks from her vast experience in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, emphasizing the need to address these pressing issues and advocate for the rights and dignity of Indigenous Peoples.

This conversation is not only an examination of the historical injustices faced by Indigenous Peoples but also a call to action. It is a plea for understanding, recognition, and change. It serves as a stark reminder of the importance of acknowledging our shared history and working towards a more inclusive, equitable future. It emphasizes the urgency of addressing these systemic issues, for the preservation of Indigenous cultures and the sustainability of our shared planet.



  • Music: Onondaga Social Dance songs performed by Orris Edwards and Regis Cook
  • Producers: Jordan Loewen-Colón and Adam DJ Brett
  • Show notes: Adam DJ Brett


Philip P. Arnold and Sandra Bigtree, “S02E05: Dissecting the Doctrine of Discovery: Indigenous Rights, White Supremacy, and the United Nations with Betty Lyons,” Mapping the Doctrine of Discovery (Podcast), July 18, 2023. https://podcast.doctrineofdiscovery.org/season2/episode-05/.

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