August 14, 2022

La Ronge Northerner

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Visit of the Pope to Quebec | What is “Theory of Discovery”?

On Thursday morning, at a meeting attended by Pope Francis at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beuvre, protesters demanded the withdrawal of the “doctrine of discovery.” Explanations of a concept that is over 500 years old, but still current.

Published at 6:00 am.

Frédéric-Xavier Duhamel

Frédéric-Xavier Duhamel

Where does discovery theory come from?

The seeds of the doctrine of discovery date back to a series of papal bulls of the XVe century According to Jean-François Roussel, a professor at the Institute of Religious Studies at the University of Montreal, the Vatican’s message to colonial countries can be summed up as follows: “I give you the territories and everything in them, with permanent rights. You do missionary work. »

From there, the concept “served as a legal and moral justification for colonial dispossession of sovereign Indigenous nations,” according to a 2018 Assembly of First Nations (AFN) report.

The doctrine of discovery was further codified in an 1823 United States Supreme Court decision, Johnson v. M’Intosh. This decision influenced the Supreme Court of Canada, which was cited in the 1984 Kerr decision and the 1990 Sparrow decision, two decisions related to aboriginal rights.

Both of these judgments are based on Nation Chilkot’s C. British Columbia 2014, in which the Supreme Court wrote that “upon the assertion of European sovereignty, an absolute or fundamental right to all lands in the province was acquired.”

According to Professor Felix Hoehn of the University of Saskatchewan Law School, there is no doubt that the doctrine of discovery is an integral part of Canadian law to this day, even if the court does not name it and rejects the relevant concept. Terra nullius. “It’s a little more subtle than that. […] [mais] It is fundamental to all Aboriginal legislation in Canada,” he said.

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Why are the tribes demanding his removal?

And according to a 2018 AFN report, the Doctrine of Discovery has been used to “dehumanize, exploit and subjugate indigenous peoples and deprive them of their most basic rights.”

The AFN calls on the federal government to “recognize its ongoing responsibility and obligations to First Nations” and allow for “just and equitable resolution of outstanding land, territory and resource issues.” The assembly also says it has raised the issue with the Vatican “on several occasions”.


Pope Francis at the Basilica of Saint-Anne-de-Beaupre, where he called for the rejection of the theory of indigenous peoples.

In its 2015 report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada said the doctrine imposes a heavy and “grossly unfair” burden on aboriginal peoples when it comes to land claims.

Calls on the federal government and stakeholders of all religions to reject the Discovery Doctrine.

However, Professor Felix Hone underlines that the Pope’s declaration on the matter will have no effect on Canadian law.

Why does the Vatican refuse to annul it?

According to Professor Jean-François Roussel, the Vatican’s position is that the papal bulls at the origin of the doctrine are “invalidated by a series of events over the centuries.” […] They had the indirect effect of obsolescence. Among these events, we cite another papal bull in 1537 that recognized indigenous peoples as full human beings.

A Vatican representative to the United Nations declared in 2010, regarding one of the bulls on which the doctrine of discovery was drawn, that it had “no value, not for centuries.”

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However, “this is not enough”, maintains APN.

The application of this doctrine began with the Pope, and First Nations were honored by apologizing to the Pope.

An excerpt from the report Abolish the doctrine of discovery APN’s

Joan-Francois Roussel was not convinced by the arguments of the Holy See that the Pope could decide whether the bulls in question were obsolete or not.

Several bodies of the Catholic Church have rejected the detection theory, including the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops in a statement published in 2016. One of the signatories, Deacon Rennie Nahany, then head of the Catholic Native Council of Canada, believed to be the Pope. Francis will use the time he has left in the country to speak on the matter. “Pope Francis is the only one who can remove the papal bull, and the natives are asking for it,” he recalled.

The Holy Father is scheduled to meet with representatives of indigenous peoples in Quebec on Friday morning before heading to Iqaluit. The capital of Nunavut will be his last stop in Canada.