Pope’s visit to Canada sparks demands to renounce century-old Doctrine of Discovery

As Pope Francis traveled across Canada, so did the demand to review centennial declarations.

In front of a basilica in Quebec, where the 85-year-old pontiff was preparing to preside at Mass, Sarain Fox and her cousin stood silently, holding a banner with the words “Rescind the Doctrine” emblazoned in red and black paint.

“It seemed like the resistance was missing,” said Fox, who is from the Batchawana First Nation.

Days earlier in Maskwacis, Alta., after the Pope had finished offering his apologies to the survivors of the residential school for the first time on Canadian soil, someone in the crowd yelled.

“Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery,” cried the voice. “Renunciation of papal bulls.”

The final report from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission helps unravel exactly what they are and why the Pope has been called on to publicly reject them.

The report is based on the accounts of nearly 7,000 indigenous survivors who were forced to attend residential schools, where abuse was rampant and they were denied the ability to speak their languages ​​or practice their spirituality.

The six-year investigation into the government-funded, church-run system found its roots in the imperial world and the role of the Catholic Church, which operated more than half of the residential schools in Canada.

“The Pope and the Catholic Church are ground zero for the genocide we have suffered,” said Eva Jewell, who is Deshkan Ziibiing Anishinaabekwe and director of research at the Yellowhead Institute.

“I don’t think it’s unjustified in any way for indigenous peoples to expect a lot from the pope, because this particular church has stolen so much of our world and our nation from us.”

@Pontifex’s visit to Canada prompts calls to renounce centuries-old #DoctrineOfDiscovery. #PapalApology #PopeInCanada #PopeFrancisco

More than 500 years ago, Pope Alexander XI issued the first in a series of edicts, known as papal bulls.

“These orders,” according to the commission, “helped shape the political and legal arguments known as the ‘Doctrine of Discovery,’ which was used to justify the colonization of America in the 16th century.”

“It’s fundamental to understanding colonialism,” said Matthew Wildcat, a professor at the University of Alberta and a member of the Ermineskin Cree Nation.

“On a general public level, it has become much more prominent as a concept.”

The commission detailed how the 15th century doctrine was related to the idea that the lands that were colonized were empty, when in fact the indigenous people called them home.

In its 94 calls to action, the commission instructed all levels of government, religious groups, and signatories to the landmark Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to repudiate this notion.

He said that instead they should adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which explains the need to recognize their inherent rights.

“You really can’t talk about the UN declaration without talking about the Doctrine of Discovery,” said Hayden King, executive director of the Yellowhead Institute.

“It’s this philosophy that comes out of the conquest that indigenous peoples shouldn’t be treated as if they have rights or laws or humanity in general.”

That’s why “people want to see it addressed,” said King, an Anishinaabe from Beausoleil First Nation, “because that’s ultimately what underlies all the policies that came after.”

After Francis’ apology, which did not mention the doctrine, Western University professor Cody Groat noted how the commission’s call for a papal apology did not explicitly say that the pope should address it in his words.

The Six Nations of the Grand River member said he sees the way communities have accepted the pope’s call to do so as a reflection of tensions around indigenous sovereignty within Canada.

“Our systems of sovereignty and our systems of government have been minimized through documents like (papal bulls) … that we are not truly sovereign entities.”

In response to criticism from indigenous leaders, organizers of the papal visit said the Vatican previously clarified how the doctrine “has no legal or moral authority” in the church and how Francis, in his apology, condemned ideas associated with it. like assimilation.

The national head of the Assembly of First Nations, RoseAnne Archibald, says that is not the same as revoking it outright, which she believes needs to happen.

“I have always said that we need a new papal bull to speak about the value and dignity of indigenous peoples and cultures around the world,” he said Friday.

“You have to correct things in this society that derive from the Doctrine of Discovery.”

He cited the return of indigenous land as an example.

Jewell says it’s important for those who aren’t indigenous to know that indigenous people like her grew up learning about the doctrine as the “source of colonialism” from elders and rights advocates for a long time.

The desire for it to be overturned “has always been there,” King added, saying the difference now is that indigenous peoples have found their voices to be amplified through movements like Idle No More and the commission’s findings on the residential schools.

Although Pope Francis did not include the doctrine in his apology, the organizers of his trip have since said that the Canadian bishops plan to work with the Vatican to address it, “with the goal of issuing a new church statement.”

Fox said she expected some backlash from the protest she and her cousin staged at the mass, but left feeling proud. Reflecting on the moment excites her.

‘”Rescind the Doctrine,’ just felt potent and powerful.”

“The outpouring of support from indigenous and non-indigenous peoples around the world has been incredible.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 30, 2022.

— With files from The Associated Press

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