First Nations delegates call on Pope Francis to revoke Church doctrine used to justify colonialism


Members of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on Thursday urged Pope Francis to revoke centuries-old papal decrees used to justify the seizure of Indigenous lands in the Americas by colonial powers.

Two papal bulls issued in 1455 and 1493 gave the church’s blessing to the explorers’ claims to Africa and the Americas.

The Doctrine of Discovery is based largely on these papal bulls, issued by Pope Nicholas V and Pope Alexander VI.

“If you look at our history…what’s happened since they landed on our shores, then it’s basically genocide,” said Gérald Antoine, elected Dene National Chief and Regional Chief of the Northwest Territories AFN.

“We have to right the wrong.”

A delegation from the Assembly of First Nations, led by Northwest Territories Regional Chief Gerald Antoine, center, speaks to reporters in Rome after meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday. (Olivia Stefanovitch/CBC)

The AFN delegation – the last indigenous group in Canada to meet with the pope privately this week ahead of a final public audience on Friday – is calling on the Vatican to drop the doctrine.

This decision would fulfill the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 49which urges all religious and faith groups to reject the concepts used to justify European sovereignty over indigenous lands and peoples.

A legal expert accuses the doctrine of the failure of reconciliation

The Doctrine of Discovery declared that lands held by Indigenous peoples were no man’s land- Latin for “no one’s land”.

Kaluhyanu;wes Michelle Schenandoah, a member of the Oneida Nation, said the basis of the doctrine was the belief that non-Christian indigenous people were soulless.

“Because we had no soul, it gave these explorers the right to do whatever they wanted with the indigenous people – murder, rape, enslave,” she said.

Schenandoah said the doctrine has shaped the mindset and behavior of Western culture for centuries.

She also stated that there is a direct link between the doctrine and the disappearances and deaths of Indigenous women in Canada.

In many pre-contact Indigenous nations, she said, women had the final say in how the land was used, making it obstacles to European exploration and colonization.

“When you look at how these countries have treated Indigenous women, we’re at the bottom,” Schenandoah said. “Because the doctrine has put us in this place of being invisible and dispensable, so countries are treating us that way.

“What gives any human or nation the right to claim dominion over any other human or nation anywhere in this world?”

The doctrine found its way into law and influenced Canada’s Indian Act, land claims, and the residential school system.

Northwest Territories Regional Chief Gerald Antoine heads the Assembly of Nations delegation to the Vatican. (Olivia Stefanovitch/CBC)

Bruce McIvor, a partner at First Peoples Law in Vancouver, said the pope could make a difference in Canada by giving up the doctrine.

“It would give Canada momentum for courts and governments to seriously address this fundamental lie that underlies non-Indigenous claims to Indigenous lands in Canada,” he said.

The pope called to “take the first step”

McIvor said the federal government could also pass legislation repealing the doctrine.

“If the pope took the first step, it would spur the federal government to do the same,” he said.

McIvor said he believes the lingering influence of the doctrine is why reconciliation continues to fail in Canada.

“When we hear the word reconciliation, what most Canadians don’t realize is that it invokes the doctrine of discovery,” McIvor said.

“Because when the courts and…the government say reconciliation, they mean coming to terms with this basic lie that colonizers can just show up and claim Indigenous land. »