The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council is calling on the Government of Canada to acknowledge the papal repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery and take steps to remove any laws from its books that use the doctrine.
The call comes after the Vatican, through Pope Francis, officially repudiated or rejected the centuries-old Doctrine of Discovery on March 30. The doctrine, backed by 15th-century “papal bulls,” legitimized the colonial-era seizure of Indigenous lands.
A “papal bull” is an edict or order issued by a pope. The term dates back to the Middle Ages when the Catholic Church held similar political power as a government.
The Doctrine of Discovery, according to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, is a “legal and religious concept that has been used for centuries to justify Christian colonial conquest.” This document supported the idea that European peoples and culture were superior to all others, and formed the basis of exploration around the world. The document forms the basis of some present-day property law.
“First Nations have been around since time immemorial and so this doctrine was required to ‘legally’ take our lands and resources for the colonizer on the pretext that no one was there—the lands were barren—as First Nations people were not ‘civilized,’” the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council wrote in a statement.
“This doctrine has been detrimental to the development of our peoples, taking away our most valuable lands and resources, destroying our most sacred places, limiting our right to hunt, fish, trap, gather and right to a livelihood,” NTC president Judith Sayers said.
“The fact is that we have had to prove our title which was already ours, while the Canadian government denies our rights to our own lands. The courts have had to rely on the laws based on the Doctrine of Discovery in any rulings on ownership to land,” she added. “This now has to change as of today. The damage of this doctrine on our lives cannot be valued as it is in massive proportions.”
Sayers said revocation of laws or policies that use the doctrine must include mandates to negotiate treaties “and all other forms of agreements.”
She also said Canadian and provincial governments must re-examine court cases to reform any arguments to the court that relied on the Doctrine of Discovery.
The Vatican’s announcement follows last year’s apology to Canada’s Indigenous Peoples made by Pope Francis for the Catholic Church’s role in the horrors of the residential school system.
The Vatican’s formal rejection of the doctrine “is an important step as we move forward to break down and reverse the colonial systems that were imposed on First Nations,” BC Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee said.