More than five centuries after it was formulated in a series of papal decrees, the Vatican issued a formal announcement on March 30 repudiating the Euro-supremacist “Doctrine of Discovery.” In essence, the “doctrine” said that all lands not occupied by “Christians” passed into the hands of the European conquerors as soon as they were “discovered,” and their inhabitants enslaved.
Composed of decrees issued between 1452 and 1497, it served as the quasi-legal justification for the expropriation of entire continents in the name of spreading the Catholic faith. The repudiation by the Pope is the culmination of decades of struggle by Indigenous peoples in the United States, Canada and around the world demanding its withdrawal.
But while the Pope has now renounced it, the U.S. Supreme Court has not. The high court continues to treat the “doctrine” as an integral basis of U.S. law, particularly in regard to the rights — or lack thereof — of Native peoples.
Most notable in recent times was a 2005 decision authored by the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg which invoked the “Doctrine of Discovery” in her majority ruling against the Oneida Indian Nation. The Oneidas were seeking to recover lands and rights in central New York State guaranteed to them under the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua treaty with the U.S., signed by George Washington, then president.
It was the Supreme Court itself that incorporated the “doctrine” into U.S. law, which became foundational in dealing with Native nations, in a key 1823 case, Johnson v. McIntosh.
The decision by Chief Justice John Marshall, declared that, in keeping with the “Doctrine of Discovery,” Native people had only the “right to occupancy” of land and not the right to title or ownership. Only the federal government, Marshall ruled, could own and sell Native lands and that “the principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands”
Following the Vatican’s repudiation, the struggle will intensify for the U.S. government to do the same.Vatican Renounces Euro-supremacist “Doctrine of Discovery” – Global ResearchGlobal Research – Centre for Research on Globalization