How to be a Better Settler #2: Our shared history started at Contact

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Understand the origins of our cultural conflict by learning Indigenous history in relation to settler history. It will give you an idea of where your [settler] cultural conditioning has come from.

Let’s start way back on May 4, 1493, just one year after Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean. That’s when the Doctrine of Discovery was issued. It was a papal bull, issued by Pope Alexander VI. It basically stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be discovered, claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers. This Doctrine of Discovery has been the basis of all European claims in the Americas.

It means that the Pope gave divine right to Catholic Christian European explorers to explore, conquer and exploit the New World. This was the first piece of legislative-type document that granted Europeans dominion over Indigenous peoples, primarily to spread Christianity, and to establish title to ‘discovered’ land.

If you think it was way too long ago to have any relevance, that the Doctrine of Discovery is weird and creepy and racist and totally wrong (which it is), know this: In 1823, the United States Supreme Court set a precedent stating that the Doctrine held true, meaning that colonial settlers had title rights to land by virtue of discovering it, meaning Indigenous peoples did not.

It has since been repudiated by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in response to the Truth and Reconciliation report. You can read it here.

The Vatican is considering Canadian Indignous requests to rescind the bull.

The Doctrine of Discovery of 1493 is outdated and wrong, but it is not irrelevant. It is where it all started–at Contact.