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NCTR Statement on Doctrine of Discovery Repudiation


The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is encouraged by the Vatican’s formal repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery and its support for the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Doctrine of Discovery is a legal theory that has been traced to 15th Century Papal declarations authorizing European powers to seize the lands of other nations and subjugate their peoples. The Doctrine of Discovery is understood to be a crucial part of how the English Crown justified the theft of Indigenous Peoples’ lands and the assertion of its control over their lives.

In a public statement, the Vatican said that it “repudiates those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of Indigenous peoples.”

In Call to Action 46, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called on all parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, including the churches and government, to “repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery” and to “reform laws, governance structures, and policies… that continue to rely on such concepts.”

The Vatican statement also expressed “strong support” for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, noting that its implementation “would improve the living conditions and help protect the rights of indigenous peoples as well as facilitate their development in a way that respects their identity, language, and culture.”

The repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery is one step among many that should be taken by the Catholic Church towards taking responsibility for its actions. Residential school Survivors and their families continue to expect sincere, significant, and immediate action that addresses the ongoing harm caused by the Church.

We hope that the Vatican’s statement will spur renewed conversations about the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the duty to address the profound harms that have been inflicted through colonial laws and policies. 

We urge all governments in Canada to work with Indigenous Peoples to reform all laws, policies, and legal structures based on racist ideologies like the Doctrine of Discovery.

The NCTR will continue to work with the Government and the Catholic Church in furthering reconciliation and ensuring that Survivors, their families and communities lead the way in the pursuit of justice and healing from the harms caused by colonization.

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“Ka-kí-kiskéyihtétan óma, namoya kinwés maka aciyowés pohko óma óta ka-hayayak wasétam askihk, ékwa ka-kakwéy miskétan kiskéyihtamowin, iyinísiwin, kistéyitowin, mina nánisitotatowin kakiya ayisiniwak, ékosi óma kakiya ka-wahkotowak.”

Cree Proverb