Catholic church in Canada repudiates ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ and ‘terra nullius’

OTTAWA — As part of a national response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 48 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to questions on the legal concepts known as “Doctrine of Discovery” and terra nullius, Catholic leaders, representing Bishops, religious communities, Indigenous People and laity, have issued two documents. Both texts are signed by representatives of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Canadian Religious Conference, the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council, and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

In the first of two texts, the Catholic signatories express support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as “a way forward to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.”

The Catholic response to Call to Action 48 appeals “to all our Catholic brothers and sisters — laity, members of institutes of consecrated life and of societies of apostolic life, deacons, priests, and Bishops” — to make eight commitments to “continue to walk together with Indigenous Peoples in building a more just society where their gifts and those of all people are nurtured and honoured.”

The commitments include:

•Working with Catholic educational institutions and formation programs in telling the history and experience of Indigenous Peoples

•Working with seminaries and other formation centres to promote a “culture of encounter” by including the history the history of the Indian Residential Schools and of Canadian missionary work with its “weaknesses and strengths”

•Encouraging partnerships between Indigenous groups and health care facilities

•Encouraging a restorative justice model within the criminal justice system

•Supporting the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women

•Deepening relationships, dialogue and collaboration with Indigenous People

•Inviting Catholic parishes and institutions to become better acquainted with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The second of the two Catholic documents “considers and repudiates illegitimate concepts and principles used by Europeans to justify the seizure of land previously held by Indigenous Peoples and often identified by the terms ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ and terra nullius.”

The signatories say “now is an appropriate time to issue a public statement in response to the errors and falsehoods perpetuated, often by Christians, during and following the so-called Age of Discovery.” After outlining five principles which reject how these legal constructs have been used to disenfranchise Indigenous Peoples, the signatories again affirm the eight commitments made in their first document. An appendix provides an historical overview of the development of the two legal concepts vis-a-vis Catholic teaching and of their repudiation.


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  1. If the Catholic Church in Canada is really concerned with reconciliation then they should dig into their coffers and come up with the balance of the $20,000,000.00 which they shorted on the amount they promised to give to Boarding School survivors. The government of CANADA got into the forgiveness business and forgave the Church her sins and allowed then to only pay 20% of what they promised.

    You cannot deny their conspiracy in them matter- Father Albert Lacombe at Treaty 8 negotiations in 1899. ” I am here because I think it is a good thing for you to take the Treaty. Your forest and river life will not be changed by the Treaty, and you will have your annuities, as long as the sun shines and the earth remains. Accept!”

    The Catholic Church can fund a drive to identify all the children who died in their hospice and properly mark their graves like those in their churchyards. The Catholic Church can publish a list of all known or suspected abusers in their organization and justify them like the police justify themselves for the illegal actions. ‘I am sorry’ does not cut the 400 years of abuse. In their own book which gives them supposed God given authority over us admonishes them that faith without works is dead. Time to start working there mister Jorge Mario Bergoglio and get some works behind your empty faith.
    The Catholic Church should open its libraries and research into the wrongs of the Church to help repair itself for the future but this is like the RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson who does not sin and could not accept a speeding ticket even though he had been caught red handed by his own admission. When these organizations police themselves we see true justice just like the Senate scandal and the handling of Sammy Yatim’s killer. Where is the conscience of the world in these matters…..

  2. Yes we must and need to speak out and support the rescinding of the “Doctrine of Discovery”. it is rime we as indigenous peoples must be afforded equal rights under the laws of humanity, respect and existence.

  3. It’s a good start…. now it would be nice to hear the same from the Vatican and the “Holy See” (aka the Pope).

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