After indigenous leaders met with Pope Francis and other Vatican representatives requesting an end to the Doctrine of Discovery, the Vatican said that it would consider rescinding the 500-year-old Catholic policy, reports APTN.
The Doctrine of Discovery is the name for a body of Catholic law that granted land rights to whichever European Christian nation settled territory in the New World. It considered as terra nullius (“nobody’s land”) any territory occupied by “heathens, pagans, and infidels” — in other words, the original inhabitants of the Americas.
Kahnawake Mohawk Kenneth Deer, a representative of the Iroquois Confederacy Council, joined the “Long March to Rome,” the name that delegates used to describe their journey to the Vatican to petition the Catholic Church to finally get rid of the Doctrine of Discovery.
“The most important part of May 4 was meeting with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. There we met with Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, who is the chair. And that was the key meeting. That was the meeting where we addressed the whole issue of the papal bulls and the doctrine of discovery. That was key. That was the original intent. That was the original appointment,” [Deer] said.
…“At first when [Cardinal Tomasi] first started he started giving the usual spiel that the papal bulls are no longer in effect, that they’ve been superseded by other papal bulls and there was no need for us to do anything. Then we interrupted him to do an opening prayer,” Deer said. “Then we did introductions around the table and then we got into the issues. By the time we had done with him he was changing his position. At the end he said, ‘Maybe the Vatican does have to make a statement. We have to consider making a statement.’”
…“He didn’t say rescind, he said abolish – a much stronger word – he said we have to abolish the papal bulls and that maybe there should be an apology from the pope,” [Deer] added.
While the Doctrine of Discovery may seem to be a merely historical travesty of justice, its effects linger on into the present in surprising ways. For example, in 2005 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited the Doctrine of Discovery in a 2005 Supreme Court opinion denying a land claim by the Oneida people.
Efforts to have the Catholic Church renounce the Doctrine of Discovery are therefore not only symbolic. As Sarah Augustine writes in Sojourners:
It is incumbent on Pope Francis to discuss the doctrine and then rescind the papal bulls themselves, stating clearly that the doctrine’s framework can no longer be justified. Such an act could impact U.S. Indian law as well as global Indigenous policies.
In the meantime, delegates from the Long March to Rome are cautiously hopeful.
“If there’s a pope that’s going to do anything it’ll be this one,” Deer said.