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Stand for Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples and Renounce the 'Doctrine of Discovery'

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When the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues convenes
on May 7th in New York, native peoples around the world will turn
their eyes to the most important effort to renounce the Doctrine of
Discovery, a 15th century Papal bull that has been exploited for five
centuries to deny the human rights of hundreds of millions of people
who continue to be subject to its power.

The Doctrine got its first expression in 1452, when Pope Nicholas V
issued a papal bull to Portuguese King Alfonso V authorizing the King
to "invade, capture, vanquish and subdue ... all Saracens and
pagans, and other enemies of Christ ... to reduce such persons to
perpetual slavery" and further "to take away all their possessions and
property." This bull was issued as Portuguese ships began colonizing
areas of Africa occupied by millions of indigenous non-Christian
peoples.

Forty years later, soon after Christopher Columbus' voyage across the
Atlantic ignited an imperialist rush by European powers to control the
so-called New World, Pope Alexander VI issued Inter Cetera, a new
Papal bull that granted those European monarchs the right to claim
sovereignty over these newly "discovered" lands occupied by
non-Christian "barbarous nations." Those non-Christians were what we
now call American Indians, including my ancestors in the Onondaga
Nation, part of the confederacy of Indian nations we call
Haudenosaunee, and Americans and Canadians call the Iroquois.

It didn't matter to the Christian invaders that we had lived here for
millennia, or that 500 years earlier, our forebearers ended
generations of war by creating a peaceful confederacy that became a
model for the
United States government. All that mattered was that we -- along with
hundreds of millions of other indigenous peoples living in
non-Christian lands across the globe -- were living on land that the
conquerors, and the colonists that followed, wanted for their own.

It has been a long path to get the United Nations Permanent Forum on
Indigenous Issues to confront the racist underpinnings of the Doctrine
of Discovery, in part because the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican's
representative to the UN, has claimed it is ancient history and no
longer relevant.

But as recently as 2005, the United States Supreme Court, relying on a
series of Indian law cases going back to 1823, specifically cited the
Doctrine in its decision denying the right of the Oneida Indian Nation
of New York to restore its right of sovereignty over land it owned
within the footprint of territory set aside for the Nation under
treaties dating back to the 18th century.

"Under the Doctrine of Discovery ... fee title to the land occupied
by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign --
first the discovering European nation and later the original States
and the United States," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the 2005
decision.

It is glaring who is left out of that formulation -- the people who
lived here for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived.

In fact, the Doctrine of Discovery is the basis for all Indian land
law in this country, and it has imposed similar burdens on
indigenous peoples all over the world -- in Canada, Australia and New
Zealand, in Africa, in Latin America and in the island nations of the
Caribbean and Oceania. More than 500 million indigenous peoples around
the globe live today with the effects of the Doctrine's oppressive
racism.

We are encouraged that people of faith in this country and around the
world have joined in the call for the Catholic Church to formally
renounce the Doctrine to help heal the grievous injuries that its
promulgation has released. Most recently, the World Council of
Churches, at its meeting this past February in Switzerland, denounced
the Doctrine "as fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ
and as a violation of the inherent human rights that all individuals
and peoples have received from God." The World Council went on to urge
governments "to dismantle the legal structures and policies based on
the Doctrine of Discovery and dominance, so as to empower and enable
Indigenous Peoples to identify their own aspirations and issues of
concern."

This is not ancient history to Indians in this country, or to
indigenous peoples around the world. It is a living insult to our
rights as citizens of the world and must be renounced. We are on the
Earth to heal the world. This wound must be healed.