The natives expect Francis to condemn the « doctrine of discovery », the basis of colonization

This is a relatively unknown and yet central point in the relations between the Catholic Church and Canadian Natives. However, this is indeed one of the underlying reasons which, according to the natives, allowed the establishment of « Indian Residential Schools »held largely by the Catholic Church, for which Pope Francis is starting a « penitential journey » in the country, from July 24 to 30. The religious foundation of colonization, the “doctrine of discovery” served for centuries to justify the grabbing of Canadian lands by settlers from Europe.

We must go back to the end of the 15th century to find the origin of this doctrine, at the time when Alexander VI issued papal bulls dividing the New World, barely discovered, between the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal. We are in 1493 when the bubble Inter cetera was signed, giving most of North America to Spain, while Portugal was granted the southern part of the continent.

This doctrine collides with another theory, of Anglo-Saxon inspiration, which the French and the English will adopt, and which rather claims that a discoverer can take possession of land. To do this, simply declare the land “terra nullius”, that is, belonging to no one. And the natives, who live on the spot, are not an obstacle to the conquest, since they are considered as simple occupants, and not as owners. In the 17th century, property was also linked to agriculture, in the European sense of the term.

Bubbles repealed

“According to this logic, it is not only permissible to seize indigenous lands, but it is also virtuous to do so. In effect, the land becomes more productive and, thus, more profitable,” can we read in the report, published in 2015, of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

For several decades, this doctrine, which allowed settlers to take over land occupied by indigenous peoples, claiming a religious justification, has been one of the points of tension between the representatives of the indigenous communities of the Canada and the Catholic Church.

“Repudiating the concepts used”

Although the bulls of Alexander VI were subsequently abrogated by subsequent bulls and encyclicals, indigenous representatives today believe that they deeply entrenched a mentality that indigenous culture had to be eradicated, helping to create the native boarding schools.

The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission therefore called on the Canadian government to officially “to repudiate the concepts used to justify the sovereignty of European peoples over Indigenous territories and peoples, including the Doctrine of Discovery and the Principle of terra nullius (territory belonging to no one) ». The authors of the report made the same request « to stakeholders of all faiths and faith groups who have not already done so ».

It is not certain that the pope will explicitly address, during his trip, the doctrine of discovery, inherited from the Catholic Church. But it is likely that he will return to the idea of ​​ideological colonization, which has been developed several times. Since the beginning of his pontificate, Francis has constantly blamed this desire for a dominant culture to crush a minority culture.


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