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Doctrine of Discovery repudiation a ‘historic moment’

By Adam Riley Apr 3, 2023 | 4:30 AM

Pope Francis alongside Governor General Mary Simon in Quebec in July of 2022

The Doctrine of Discovery was a 15th century decree by then Pope Nicholas V which served as both a legal and religious concept which green lit the the seizure of Indigenous lands through colonization.

Additionally it also serves as the basis of some modern day property laws, and while the rejection of the doctrine is a largely symbolic gesture by the church, Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller calls it a historic moment.

Stating on social media it “was a failure of the Catholic Church to uphold the inherent human rights of Indigenous peoples, and the acknowledgement of this failure by the Vatican is an important step as we work towards reconciliation.”

He specifically notes that Canada cannot be the judge of whether this act will be sufficient, as it is up to Indigenous Peoples.

Last year Pope Francis visited Alberta, Quebec, and Nunavut, where he asked for forgiveness for the actions of the Church but stopped short of renouncing the Doctrine, much to the disappointment of Indigenous leaders.

A request to reject the Doctrine was also presented directly to the Papal leader by members of an Assembly of First Nations delegation which traveled to the Vatican last year.

National Chief Rose Anne Archibald believes there is still work the Vatican must do to address its role in the forced assimilation of Indigenous children, families, and Nations.

“As National Chief, I will remain cautious and critical of the Catholic church. I will also remain committed to healing. Only with Truth, Transparency, and Accountability can we walk the Healing Path Forward together.”

In a statement posted on the AFN’s website notes leaders from national Indigenous organizations will be connecting in Ottawa this week at a press conference to provide further comment to the announcement.

Meanwhile the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations in Northwestern Ontario, is calling the move a good step towards reconciliation.

In a statement, Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum says she is encouraged by the Vatican answering the calls of Indian Residential School Survivors and Indigenous leaders.

“The acknowledgement of these colonial-era assimilation policies will not change the harm done to generations of our people, but we hope it signals a renewed commitment by the Catholic Church to continue to work with us in a good way toward healing and reconciliation.”

She notes the rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery, provides and opportunity to confront the historical injustices that were carried out upon Indigenous Peoples, but believes more can be done.

“The only sequential acceptable step now is full revocation of the Doctrine in order for meaningful change to be made in the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and settler governments.”

In Northwestern Ontario there were nine residential schools, including four operated by the Catholic Church, where many children from NAN communities were sent.

Indian Residential School Survivors, their families, and anyone requiring emotional support or assistance can contact:
• IRS Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066 (toll-free)
• IRS Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419
• NAN Hope 1-844-NAN-HOPE (626-4673)



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