By Neenah Payne
Since most Americans have never heard of the Doctrine of Discovery, they have no idea what the implications of its repudiation by Pope Francis on March 30, 2023 are for land ownership in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and parts of India.
We were told that Columbus “discovered” the Western hemisphere, often described as “the new world,” although it is a continent where civilizations (some more advanced than those in Europe) had been living for tens of thousands of years. That idea is being increasingly rejected now. 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, the concept of “discovery” of the Western hemisphere by Europe is still codified in law by “The Doctrine of Discovery.” That is based, in part, on the 1452 Papal Bull which called on Christians to “invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue Saracens (Muslims) and pagans 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 sanctioned the theft of the Americas, perpetual slavery, and genocide. When Columbus arrived, there were 100 million people in this hemisphere. 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 Native Americans.
The Doctrine of Discovery is still part of US law and Canadian 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.
Native Americans also did not know about the Doctrine of Discovery until Steve Newcomb brought it to their attention in 1990. In the video below, Newcomb pointed out that humanity is at a crossroads and must decide which path it will take. If you’re not a Christian people, you’re not considered human. So, because they are not Christian, indigenous people can’t have title to land they have lived on for tens of thousands of years.
It was the law of the gun because when the Moors ruled Spain from 711-1492 AD, they brought Europe out of the Dark Ages. The Moors gave Europeans guns and ammunition, taught them to read maps and sail. Without the Moors, Europe might still be in the Dark Ages. Yet, Europe turned against the people who had rescued them and went on a global genocidal rampage!
Featuring Steve Newcomb who was a 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.
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.”…
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.
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.
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.
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.
A law from 1455 still has importance today in the United States.
This film is one of the responses of the Anglican Church’s Primate’s Commission on discovery reconciliation and justice. The purpose of this film is to respond to the calls to action by helping to provide education and insight into the racist foundations of many of our property and other laws still in existence to this day.
Pope Francis Repudiates Doctrine of Discovery March 30, 2023!
Popes had been asked to denounce the Doctrine of Discovery since 1992, but had failed to do so, although many Protestant sects took that step. Pope Francis finally repudiated the Doctrine on March 30, 2023 after he apologized to the First Nations peoples when he visited Canada and Native American delegations met with him at the Vatican last year!
Vatican repudiates colonial-era ‘doctrine of discovery’
Development on the “Doctrine of Discovery”, 30.03.2023
Vatican rejects ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ justifying colonialism
The Vatican Denounces ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ Used to Justify Colonialism
The Vatican repudiates ‘Doctrine of Discovery,’ which was used to justify colonialism
Joint Statement of the Dicasteries for Culture and Education and for Promoting Integral Human
Vatican formally denounces 15th-century ‘Doctrine of Discovery,’ used to justify colonizing Indigenous peoples
Diane Meredith, Co-Coordinator of MCC Canada’s Indigenous Neighbors Program points out that the next step is to remove the Doctrine of Discovery from Canadian law and to work to change the Canadian worldview.
This repudiation of the Doctrine has major consequences since it is the sole legal basis for land claims in the US – as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of India! The video points out that “settler populations” must now recognize they are living on indigenous land.
Responses to Pope Francis’ repudiation of the Doctrine will be shown in a separate article.
Neenah Payne writes for Activist Post
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