Vatican repudiates Doctrine of Discovery, Indigenous leaders call for further action

Doctrine of Discovery

Indigenous leaders have responded to the recent Vatican acknowledgement that the Doctrine of Discovery was not a teaching of the Catholic Church, stating that it should be just the beginning.

The doctrine was supported by papal bulls (edicts) that legitimised colonial actions in seizing Indigenous lands, and it has been used to deny Indigenous peoples their rights.

The repudiation of the doctrine by the church on March 30, 2023 came in a joint statement from the Dicasteries for Culture and Education and for Promoting Integral Human Development.

“The church acknowledges that these papal bulls did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of Indigenous peoples,” reads the statement.

“The Catholic Church therefore repudiates those concepts that fail to recognise the inherent human rights of Indigenous peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political `doctrine of discovery’.”

“Never again can the Christian community allow itself to be infected by the idea that one culture is superior to others, or that it is legitimate to employ ways of coercing others,” said Pope Francis in the statement.

“The Vatican needs to do more”

International Chief Wilton Littlechild (pictured) of the Ermineskin Cree Nation gifted Pope Francis with a headdress during his visit to Canada in July 2022 following the pontiff’s apology over the residential schools’ scandal.

“When he was here going across Canada, he couched (the Doctrine of Discovery) under the term of colonialism, but didn’t use those words, and survivors wanted to hear them,” said Littlechild, speaking to chiefs last week at the Assembly of First Nations special chiefs assembly In Ottawa.

“They wanted to hear those words. It was quite a decision that he made (to deliver the joint statement).”

But not everyone was as pleased as Littlechild with the step to repudiate.

“The formal repudiation comes without reparations or tangible actions to account for the systemic violence, destruction of land and culture, and genocide which were propagated by this deadly weapon of colonisation,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

The Vatican needs to do more, said Grand Chief Phillip.


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