Here are my initial thoughts on today's announcement from the Catholic Church regarding the Doctrine of Discovery.
What took so long! While today's announcement is welcomed, it would have had more moral authority if it had been delivered by the Pope in person to Indigenous people during his visit to Canada last year.
It's more than a little rich for the Vatican to assert now that the papal bulls were “manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers.” The Catholic Church has known for hundreds of years of the effect of the papal bulls and has directly benefitted from them. It undermines today's announcement to point fingers elsewhere.
The Church should have gone further. It should have called on the governments of countries based on the doctrine of discovery (e.g. Canada, United States, Australia, etc.) to repudiate it and take action towards redress.
The Church should have also called on its own dioceses to take concrete action to make amends, e.g. support and take an active part in the land back movement.
The federal government can't hide anymore. It needs to take concrete action (not simply a passing mention in a whereas clause) to denounce the doctrine and forge a new path that includes repudiating Canada's version of the doctrine, i.e. ‘the assertion of Crown sovereignty’. The federal government should introduce legislation specifically repudiating the doctrine and committing to abandoning and opposing all policies and laws based on the doctrine.
Given that the federal UNDRIP implementation plan is silent on the doctrine, I'm not optimistic anything significant will change.
Here is the announcement and some coverage:
- Joint Statement of the Dicasteries for Culture and Education and for Promoting Integral Human Development on the "Doctrine of Discovery"
- Catholic Church repudiates some concepts used to justify oppression of Indigenous people | CBC News
- Doctrine of Discovery doesn't reflect 'equal dignity and rights' of Indigenous Peoples: Vatican - APTN News
- Repudiation of Doctrine of Discovery 'symbolic step' with opportunity for change, Northerners say | CBC News
- 200 Years of Denial: Johnson v. M’Intosh and the Doctrine of Discovery
- What is the Doctrine of Discovery? | Bruce McIvor
Bruce McIvor, lawyer and historian, is partner at First Peoples Law LLP. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law where he teaches the constitutional law of Aboriginal and Treaty rights. A member of the bar in British Columbia and Ontario, Bruce is recognized nationally and internationally as a leading practitioner of Aboriginal law in Canada. Bruce's ancestors took Métis scrip at Red River in Manitoba. He holds a law degree, a Ph.D. in Aboriginal and environmental history, is a Fulbright Scholar and author of Standoff: Why Reconciliation Fails Indigenous People and How to Fix It. He is a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation.
First Peoples Law LLP is a law firm dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of Indigenous Peoples. We work exclusively with Indigenous Peoples to defend their inherent and constitutionally protected title, rights and Treaty rights, uphold their Indigenous laws and governance and ensure economic prosperity for their current and future generations.
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