Statement by the Crown Ministers for Indigenous Relations, Indigenous Services and Northern Affairs on the Catholic Church’s rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery

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Ottawa, Ontario—April 1, 2023, Unceded Anishinaabe Algonquin Territory— The Honorable Marc Miller, Crown Minister for Indigenous Relations, the Honorable Patty Hajdu, Minister for Indigenous Services, and the Honorable Daniel Vandal, Minister for Northern Affairs, today issued the following statement in response to the Catholic Church’s rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery:

“For years, Indigenous Peoples have called on the Vatican to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, a racist Doctrine that was exploited by governments to enforce colonial systems and policies. This Doctrine was used to take land from Indigenous communities and justify the atrocities committed against Indigenous Peoples. It is part of Canada’s shameful history and its legacy continues to impact Indigenous Peoples to this day.

We acknowledge the response of the Catholic Church to the calls of First Nations, Inuit and metis Survivors, Elders, leaders and communities, and their rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery. This repudiation supports the healing of Indigenous Peoples who have been impacted by the legacy of colonialism. In its statement, the Catholic Church was clear: the Papal Bulls did not reflect the rights and dignity of Indigenous Peoples, and that this Doctrine was manipulated for political use by the colonial powers. This was a failure by the Catholic Church to uphold the inherent human rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Vatican’s acknowledgment of this failure is an important step as we work towards reconciliation.

The Government of Canada accepts that longstanding doctrines such as this have no place in Canadian law and do not define our ongoing relationships with Indigenous Peoples. The Catholic Church’s statement addresses centuries-old opposition to the Doctrine of Discovery, which was raised directly to his Holiness Pope Francis by survivors of the residential school during his recent visit to Canada. Canada will continue to work with survivors, elders, indigenous leaders, partners, all levels of government and the Catholic Church to advance the commitments made by Pope Francis to indigenous peoples.

This is a historic moment for Indigenous Peoples in Canada and around the world. The rejection of this Doctrine only happened due to the resilience and defense of indigenous voices. Canada cannot judge whether this is enough; It depends on the Indigenous Peoples.

The Government of Canada is working to renew its relationship with Indigenous Peoples. A key focus of this renewal is working with indigenous partners to respond to Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action 46 and 47 by developing a Reconciliation Compact that specifically addresses the rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery.

Furthermore, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act approved by Canada establishes that “all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating the superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences, including the doctrines of discovery and null groundthey are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally reprehensible, and socially unfair.

The repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery by the Catholic Church is an important action that demonstrates that indigenous voices, which were ignored for centuries, are being heard. This is just one of the many steps needed to continue the reconciliation dialogue and renew the relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Much work remains to be done and the Government of Canada will continue to work together with indigenous partners and the Catholic Church in the search for the truth and for a better Canada, one that is more inclusive of indigenous realities.”

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