Message from the crowd greets Pope Francis in Iqaluit

Audience member urges him to rescind 500-year-old Doctrine of Discovery, blamed for enabling colonialism around the world

As Pope Francis took the stage in Iqaluit Friday night, a person in the crowd held up this sign urging him to rescind the Catholic Church’s Doctine of Discovery, issued in the 1500s and which is widely blamed for helping lead to colonialism around the world. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

By Gord Howard

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(3) Comments:

  1. Posted by iWonder on

    The idea that colonialism was made possible by ‘The Doctrine of Discovery’ is an interesting one, but I believe this argument runs backwards; colonialism comes prior to its justifications, and to human language at all. It is a deep artifact of simian behavior, culture and above all nature. Our pre-human ancestors almost certainly fought over and took resources and land from their neighbors in the same way chimpanzees do to each other today.

    The Doctrine is very recent and was crafted as a moral justification in response both to the longstanding natural behaviours of its ‘tribe’ and to the psychological demands of Christian cosmology—the need for actions to be grounded in its own brand of morality.

    Of course, it is easy in retrospect, to lampoon these morals. They are the product of a time and way of thinking lost to us all.

    It might be overreaching to say that all cultures engaged in ‘colonialism’ but I would suggest most did, and certainly any culture that had relative power. I wonder, did the Inuit, for example, have a comparable ‘doctrine’ (set of ideas or principles) that psychologically supported their take-over of Tuniit lands? We will probably never know, but it is quite possible.

  2. Posted by Tulugaq on

    The “Doctrine of discovery” dates back to the XVth century when European powers started expanding their empires across the world and came from a papal bull. The story is well explained in the Globe & Mail of July 23 (or about).

    What it means is the fact that legally the jurisdiction of the crown is based on that doctrine. Already around the time of confederation, at the end of the XIXth century, the colonial government was concerned that this legal foundation was shaky and decided to enter into treaty negotiations to affirm the crown’s jurisdiction over Indigenous territories and negotiated the numbered treaties.

    Thus, the way governments may circumvent the weakness of the doctrine is to enter into treaty negotiations with Indigenous nations in order to affirm and recognize the authority of the Crown over them. If the doctrine was abandoned, the parts of the country where there is no treaty would technically return to their rightful owners and Indigenous people would not have to prove their title to their traditional territories instead of the other way around as it is today.

    Yet, we are all here to stay and decolonization of the country would be a significant improvement to the actual colonial situation and a first step toward reconciliation.

    • Posted by iWonder on

      Tulugaq, my intuitions may be wrong, but I suspect the idea that there would be a ‘technical’ reversion to sovereignty in the places were there are no treaties in place is as much a fiction as the Doctrine of Discovery itself.

      You imagine a decolonized country would be a significant improvement. That’s a significant statement to make, so I wonder if you might explain how that would be? What would decolonization bring, what would it look like and entail that would make it a significant improvement?

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