AMC Responds to the Vatican’s Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery

March 30, 2023

Treaty One Territory, Manitoba

AMC Communications

Treaty One Territory, MB – The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) responds to a joint statement issued today by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the Dicastery for Culture and Education, stating that the Vatican formally repudiates the Doctrine of Discovery and the associated Papal decrees that legitimized the colonial-era seizure of Indigenous lands.

“Since European Contact, our ancestors have known these claims over our lands, resources, and Peoples to be illegitimate,” said Grand Chief Cathy Merrick. “The Doctrine of Discovery upholds the historic and the resulting displacement of First Nations has continued to cause trauma and pain for many First Nations.”

The Doctrine of Discovery refers to a principle in international law which originally arose to authorize European Nations to assert sovereignty in “undiscovered” non-European lands. This notion, which is supported by 15th-century papal decrees, disregards that Indigenous Nations were already inhabiting the land. Thus, the Doctrine is grounded in European superiority and disregards the inherent Indigenous rights that pre-existed colonization. These racist foundations have fostered the dehumanization, exploitation, subjugation, and dispossession of First Nations Peoples, which has embodied itself in the reserve systems, Indian Residential Schools, Indian Day Schools, the Sixties Scoop, and the Indian Act. Meanwhile, these same foundations directly benefitted Europeans and the Catholic Church itself.

“This statement by the Vatican is a positive step towards healing for many but must mark the beginning of more substantial commitments towards reconciliation and accountability, led by First Nations,” said Grand Chief Cathy Merrick. “The Doctrine of Discovery continues to inform Canadian laws, attitudes, and Treaty relationships. Now is the opportune time for Canada to undertake meaningful discussions with First Nations surrounding the implementation of UNDRIP and on establishing a First Nations-led plan to eradicate any remnants of these racist decrees from all government policies and laws.”

The 2007 adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) represented an international recognition of the special rights that are inherent to Indigenous Peoples. In 2008, the AMC Chiefs-in-Assembly formally adopted UNDRIP and moved to assert that the Government of Canada should do the same. In 2021, UNDRIP received Royal Assent and finally came in to force in Canada. This new legislation and the Vatican’s repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery creates space for foundational and concrete shifts in Canadian policy, including the repudiation of Canada’s version of the Doctrine of Discovery, which is “Crown Sovereignty,” and all policies flowing from that framework.

For more information, please contact:
Communications Team
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs

About the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
The AMC was formed in 1988 by the Chiefs in Manitoba to advocate on issues that commonly affect First Nations in Manitoba. AMC is an authorized representative of 62 of the 63 First Nations in Manitoba with a total of more than 151,000 First Nation citizens in the province, accounting for approximately 12 percent of the provincial population. AMC represents a diversity of Anishinaabe (Ojibway), Nehetho / Ininew (Cree), Anishininew (Ojibwe-Cree), Denesuline (Dene) and Dakota Oyate (Dakota) peoples.