Growing Calls To Repudiate “Doctrine of Discovery”

By Neenah Payne

We are told that Columbus “discovered” the Western Hemisphere — a continent where civilizations (some more advanced than those in Europe) had been living for tens of thousands of years. Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day? shows that over a dozen states replaced “Columbus Day” with “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”.  Biden becomes first president to commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day

However, this false concept is still codified in law by “The Doctrine of Discovery” which is based on the 1452 Papal Bull which called on Christians to “invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue Saracens and pagan whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed…and to reduce their person to perpetual slavery and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, countries, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit”.

So, the Catholic Church gave license for genocide and theft of the Americas. When Columbus arrived, there were 100 million people in the Americas. By the mid-20th century, there were just 1 million — a holocaust more than ten times the size of the one we hear so much about — yet we hear nothing about it although it is still ongoing. Today there are 4.5 million Native Americans.

The Doctrine of Discovery is still part of US law.

In the US Supreme Court in the 1823 case Johnson v. McIntosh, Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in the unanimous decision held “that the principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands.” In essence, American Indians had only a right of occupancy, which could be abolished. The Bull Inter Caetera made headlines again throughout the 1990s and in 2000, when many Catholics petitioned Pope John Paul II to formally revoke it and recognize the human rights of indigenous “non-Christian peoples.”

The Doctrine of Discovery

The Doctrines of Christian Discovery (DoCD) originated with 15th century Papal Bulls that were issued by the Vatican and implemented by Monarchies, sanctioning the brutal Conquest and Colonization of non-Christians who were deemed “enemies of Christ” in Africa and the Americas. These Papal Bulls were a continuation of what had been going on since at least the 8th century from Charlemagne, through the Crusades, the Inquisition, the war on witches, to the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula.

In 1823, the “Doctrine of Discovery” was first articulated as a legal formulation in U.S. Supreme Court case, Johnson v. M’Intosh in 1823. As this case fundamentally defines international property law today, it continues to be used by multi-national corporations and Nation-States in their extraction of resources in indigenous territories around the world.

The global scale with which the DoCD expressed itself in the “Age of Discovery”—first in Africa, then the Americas, and beyond—created a unified Christendom, which became the opposing force against the great global plurality of cultures. This Doctrine governs United States and international law today and has been cited as recently as 2005 in the decision City Of Sherrill V. Oneida Indian Nation Of N.Y.

Doctrine of Discovery: What is it and why is Pope Francis being asked to denounce it?

Pope Francis is facing calls to rescind a centuries-old policy called the ‘Doctrine of Discovery,’ stemming from a series of edicts, known as papal bulls, dating back to the 15th century, which states that white European nations “discovered” North America when they first arrived on the continent during the age of exploration.

The Catholic Church and several countries, including Canada, used the doctrine to justify the seizure of Indigenous lands. Protesters interrupted the Pope’s morning mass at the Sainte-Anne-de- Beaupré Basilica outside Quebec City on Thursday to demand the pontiff rescind the long-standing edict. Meanwhile, Canada’s bishops are working with the Vatican on a plan to address the issue, according to organizers of the papal visit. Neetu Garcha has more on the doctrine’s devastating impact and the growing calls to abolish it.

The Doctrine of Discovery

A law from 1455 still has importance today in the United States.

The “Doctrine of Discovery” justified indigenous genocide in 1493. Here’s why it must be retracted.

Cities and states across the country are acknowledging the devastating history of colonialism by rejecting the federal holiday of Columbus Day and instead celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day to honor centuries of indigenous resistance.

We speak with Iakowi:he’ne’ Oakes, executive director of the American Indian Community House in New York. She is a Mohawk woman of the Snipe Clan. Oakes explains the significance of the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery,” which in 1493 was invoked by Pope Alexander VI to establish the basis for Christian settlers to colonize land occupied by indigenous peoples. “If you’re not Christian people, you’re not considered human,” she says of the document. “Basically, we can’t have title to land if we are indigenous and non-Christian.” She and other indigenous advocates are calling on the Vatican to retract the doctrine.”

Doctrine of Discovery

“This short film is part of 8 short, testimonial films, on the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois.) The Iroquois are embarking on an historic project about the 500-year history of the Iroquois, their relationship with Europe and America and their prophesies that, if heard, can help us navigate the oncoming changes due to climate change. This series of short films is done via their testimony, and creates the space for the Iroquois to tell their story as they strive to uphold the traditions and the legacy of their people while also protecting the central tenets of their people and their relationship and care for the Earth.

This series was created by Tree Media in collaboration with Oren Lyons, Sid Hill, and the Haudenosaunee. This series was created with the support of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and with the support of Executive Producer Oliver Stanton.  For more information: and

Chief Oren Lyons says in the video above that Steve Newcomb brought The Doctrine of Discovery to the attention of Native Americans in 1990. In the video below, Newcomb points out that humanity is at a crossroad and must decide which path it will take.

Christian Doctrine of Discovery: Steve Newcomb, Part One

Featuring Steve Newcomb who was a featured presenter at the Parliament of the World’s Religions 09 conference on the Christian Doctrine of Discovery Panel.

Steven T. Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) is the co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, along with Birgil Kills Straight who is an Oglala Lakota headman and ceremonial person.  Steve Newcomb is author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and co-producer of the documentary film, The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code, directed by Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota).  He is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Doctrine of Discovery based on the 40 years he has spent investigating and writing about these issues. He has been a tireless advocate for Indigenous nations and peoples for decades and his work has now become a global movement.

Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery

Face To Face With Pope Francis To Get The Inter Caetera Papal Bull Revoked

On May 4, 1493 Pope Alexander VI issued the Inter Caetera papal bull which called for non-Christian nations to be reduced and subjugated (“barbare nationes deprimantur”). On May 4, 2013, 200 years after our great Shawnee leader Tecumseh fell in battle on October 5, 1813, Dr. Debra Harry (Paiute Nation), Sharon Venne (Cree Nation, Treaty Six) and I saw two velum parchment originals of the papal bull at the General Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain.

On May 4, 2016 I had the rare opportunity in St. Peter’s Square to call on Pope Francis to formally revoke that document. Our 20-plus years of effort to have that papal decree revoked as a document representative of a series of such documents is not a move toward what is being erroneously called “reconciliation.” It is a move toward decolonization and rectification. It is a move to end the domination language system that Pope Alexander VI directed at our non-Christian ancestors, our Original Free Nations, a language and legacy of devastation and oppression that is ongoing.

Given Pope Francis’s use of the concept of “Mother Earth” in his statement Ladauto Si, his statement of contrition in Bolivia for the terrible treatment of Original Nations by the Catholic Church and other colonizing forces, and his various calls for reform, Pope Francis is the perfect candidate for a revocation of the series of papal bulls of domination.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, met with our group for two hours, a delegation from various Original Nations that had gathered during the Long March to Rome to discuss the ongoing call for a revocation of the papal bulls, which began with the Indigenous Law Institute’s efforts back in 1992. The Long March to Rome gathering convened in Florence and Rome from April 30 to May 4, 2016.

After saying a brief prayer in our Lenape language I said to the pope: “Pope Francis this is a book that I’ve written about the papal bull Inter Caetera from May 4 1493. Today is the 523rd year since that document was issued which called for the domination of our Original Nations and Peoples from Great Turtle Island and all non-Christian nations throughout the planet. That papal document has been extremely destructive to our nations and peoples for more than five centuries. We’re calling on you to formally revoke that document so you can release the spirit of that negative energy that the Vatican placed on us.” Pope Francis responded, “I will read it.” I continued, “Thank you. This is a statement we’ve created. I want to thank you so much for agreeing to meet with us.”

It has been 24 years since Birgil Kills Straight, a traditional Headman of the Oglala Lakota Nation, and I began our effort to have the pope revoke the papal bull. Birgil arranged for us to travel with Italian allies on a speaking tour of cities in Northern Italy. Now we have formally delivered that call for revocation directly to the heart and mind of Pope Francis, who has taken the name of St. Francis of Assisi, someone who identified with reverence for nature and the animals.

Birgil and I went to Assisi, Italy in the mid-1990s when Birgil was asked to be part of the drafting team for the preamble to the Earth Charter. He was invited by Father Perzywozny from Poland to sit with eminent scholars in that drafting team. Birgil brought with him an essay he wrote about Oglala Lakota ceremonies and spirituality, explaining by implication that the Catholic Church had not succeeded in attempting to destroy the language and ceremonial traditions of the Oglala Lakota People. And by means of those two aspects of their existence they still communicate with the animals just as Francis of Assisi is said to have done. Father Perzywozny was rather unreceptive to that message, yet the scientists were not because they understood the dire condition in which we now find Mother Earth and how critically important respectful Earth centered teachings are at this time. Birgil Kills Straight then went on to the Vatican and met with Pope John Paul II.

In his statement Laudato Si (Encyclical Letter on care for our common home), Pope Francis stated: “Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.” There is no better example of the Church’s claim that Christendom has a right of absolute domination over non-Christians than the wording found in the papal bulls of Pope Nicholas V. He exhorted King Alfonso of Portugal to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue, all Saracens, pagans and other enemies of Christ, to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and take away all their possessions and property.”

The papal bulls of 1493 contain the same language system of domination and dehumanization. It uses words of empire, and domination, subjection, reduction, subjugation, and we are now living in the dire circumstances of that horrible language system.

We proposed to Archbishop Tomasi that an international conference take place with an ongoing dialogue specifically focused on the themes of domination and dehumanization, and a detailed examination of the dominating language found in the papal bulls.
I told him “with respect, there is much of your own history that you do not know.” And I asked him whether he had ever read the papal bulls in question. He said that he had not. I then informed him in great detail as to the nature of those documents. I told Archbishop Tomasi that once such ideas and behaviors have been institutionalized in laws and policies, the Church cannot simply invoke Vatican II, for example, and not look back and take responsibility for the wreckage left in the wake of those papal bulls of domination.

As far as the Indigenous Law Institute is concerned, this work is not about “reconciliation,” a euphemism for the domination language system which furthers the colonizers’ goal of our assimilating and incorporating us into the body politic of the state. The papal bulls and the boarding and residential schools of domination were intended to incorporate us and absorb us into their colonial system. The papal bulls demonstrate a basic untruth found in the concept of “truth and reconciliation”: The historical record shows no “good relations” or “prior friendship” with the oppressors which needs to be “restored.” Thus, below the surface is the hidden meaning, “truth and untruth.”

This work is about the liberation of our nations and peoples from the behavioral patterns and language system of domination. It is about restoration and healing for our nations and peoples based on our love of and spiritual connection to the land, our languages, our sacred and ceremonial places, and our original free and independent existence as nations extending back before a Western notion of time.

Film:  The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code

Vatican documents issued by various popes during the fifteenth century created global patterns of domination, leading ultimately to the current ecological crisis. The wisdom teachings of original nations and peoples provide a way forward for the well-being of the planet and our future generations. Based on the book Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery by Steven T. Newcomb.


The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code from Original Nations Advocates on Vimeo.

Steve Newcomb: The Language of Domination in the Vatican’s Papal Bulls

Please go to to see a brief clip of The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code, a forthcoming documentary based on Newcomb’s book Pagans in the Promised Land. Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota) is the Director of the documentary and Newcomb is the Co-Producer.

Doctrine of Discovery

Doctrine of Discovery—in the name of Christ. European descendants benefit from a violent history of land grabbing and genocide that was justified by patriotism and religion. This same theology formed an international legal structure that continues to dispossess Indigenous Peoples of their land. What does it mean to be a peacemaker today in a world where the present is defined by the violence of the past?

Papal Bulls, Terra Nullius & the Christian origins of European ‘Discovery’ | Jeffrey Armstrong

Vedic Vidya | Jeffrey Armstrong explains how European Discovery (aka colonisation) was ordered by the Pope using Papal Bulls & the concept of Terra Nullius

Mark Charles: The Spiritual Price of The Doctrine of Discovery

Throughout his ministry Jesus was adamant that his kingdom was not of this world. He responded sharply whenever his disciples tried to mix his teachings with worldly power. But, in the 4th century the heresy of Christian Empire prevailed. This plenary session examines the deep spiritual cost of rejecting the teachings of Jesus that was necessary in order to create a dehumanizing doctrine of discovery.

A Native Perspective on the Buried History of America

Most people are unaware that the Declaration of Independence, 30 lines below the statement “all men are created equal” refers to the Native Americans as “merciless Indian savages.” Mark Charles is a dynamic and thought-provoking public speaker, writer, and consultant. The son of an American woman (of Dutch heritage) and a Navajo man, he speaks with insight into the complexities of American history regarding race, culture, and religion in order to help forge a path of healing and conciliation for the nation. Mark is currently working to bring about a national dialogue on race, specifically regarding the Doctrine of Discovery and its influence on the very foundations of our nation; including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the United States Supreme Court.

Neenah Payne writes for Activist Post and Natural Blaze

Top image: Dewereldmorgen

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