What is the Doctrine of Discovery?
The first time I heard of the doctrine of discovery I was working on a campaign called ‘’The Resistance Campaign’’ that Casey and I started in 2019 to raise awareness about a white paper filled with special words and tactics (SWOT) to erode Indigenous rights and title our ancestors had fought for generations uphold. After listening and learning from grassroots leaders and scholars such as Sylvia Mcadam, Russ Diabo, Rachel Snow, Chief Judy Wilson and Pam Palmater. We began to understand more and more the crippling hold colonialism plays on our Nations across Turtle Island. As we soaked in this knowledge, we learned that it all came back to a few things, the doctrine of discovery, terra nullius and the papal bull.
You’ve heard of Christoper Colmubitch, but have you heard of John Cobot? He was a settler that came here with a sword he claimed was blessed from the Vatican, put it into the ground and baptized the land. Not only did they assume possession over Indigenous lands, but also the Indigenous People that occupied these territories. On May 4, 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued the papal bull known as "Inter Caetera" that provided Portugal and Spain the religious backing to expand their territories in Africa and the Americas for the sake of spreading Christianity. With the authority of the Pope, in his hands was the Doctrine of Discovery. From that day on, Indigenous lands were considered crown property and Indigenous People nonhuman. In reality, ‘’crown sovereignty’’ simply exists because it came from the imaginations of white men.
‘’Let’s be clear: Indigenous peoples have always been here in these lands now known as “Canada.” We lived as vibrant, independent, and free peoples enjoying structured leadership, centuries-honed legal systems, and intimate relationships with all the diverse landscapes and waterscapes that make up Turtle Island. Our Indigenous history did not begin with the arrival of Europeans.’’ - Sylvia Mcadam Saysewahum
Western colonial history would have you believe that Indigenous People were banging stones together when they arrived, a lawless society with people with no technological advancements, sub-human and inferior. The truth is Indigenous People had a lot of technology from specialized tools and weapons, transportation, housing and a thriving economy.
The Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island have our own laws, Creator’s laws gifted to us by our Creator, these laws have governed us for Millennia and kept us in balance with nature. I’ve learned so much about these laws by reading my Aunties book called ‘’Nationhood Interrupted: Revitalizing Nehiyaw Legal Systems’’. Settler-colonial laws are a product of white supremacy, written to benefit those who created them.
‘’From the Doctrine of Discovery was birthed the Royal Proclamation in the 1700s, which set up the language of dehumanization and domination in court cases against Indigenous People’’ - Sylvia Mcadam Saysewahum
Shortly followed was the British North American Act, the Indian Act and the numbered treaties from 1 to 11.
These are important laws to learn about when it comes to Canadian history, they all tie back to the Doctrine of Discovery, where an old white man stuck his sword into the land, chanted and laid claim with authority from another old white man across the world. This played a huge part in the genocide of Indigenous People and the killing of over 99 million of us across Turtle Island.
Dismantle the Doctrine of discovery and return the land to the Indigenous Peoples. That’s the fastest way to undo climate change and the 500 years of destruction from colonial laws. With that being said, we are still here, still healing, honouring the work of our ancestors and working towards a future for the next 7 generations and beyond.
I'd like to give a special shout-out, this blog was inspired and quoted by my Aunty, a land defender, lawyer and co-founder of Idle No More.
Key Words: Terra nullius is a term that refers to a “territory without a master.” It is a term used in public international law to describe a space that can be inhabited but that does not belong to a state, meaning the land is not owned by anyone.
The Doctrine of Discovery: The discovery doctrine, also called the doctrine of discovery, is a concept of public international law that was promulgated by Christian European monarchies in order to legitimize the colonization and evangelization of lands outside Europe.
Papal Bull: A papal bull is a type of public decree, letters patent, or charter issued by a pope of the Catholic Church. It is named after the leaden seal that was traditionally appended to the end in order to authenticate it.
Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery: A Call to Action https://www.commonword.ca/FileDownload/22372/WrongsToRights_McAdams_DoDExcerpt.pdf?t=1
Doctrine of Discovery - Sylvia McAdam