Call to Action # 49

We call upon all religious denominations and faith groups who have not already done so to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.

Why “Complete?”

The Settlement Parties – United Church, Anglican Church, Catholic Church and Presbyterian Church – have all formally repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius. A number of other church organizations have made commitments to Reconciliation as well.

Mar. 30, 2023: The Vatican formally repudiates the Doctrine of Discovery, the 15th-century papal bulls, or decrees that legitimized the colonial-era seizure of Indigenous lands and form the basis of some property law today.

The Vatican statement also declares that these “papal bulls did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of Indigenous peoples” and have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith. It said the documents had been “manipulated” for political purposes by colonial powers “to justify immoral acts against Indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesial authorities.”

July 27, 2022: Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops asks Vatican to issue statement on the Doctrine of Discovery that they (CCAB) repudiated on March 19, 2016 when they issued “The “Doctrine of Discovery and Terra Nullius: A Catholic Response“.

The problem is that the CCAB is not the Vatican and their renunciation has no weight to influence the government’s continued reliance on both concepts to justify Canadian legal jurisdiction over Indigenous lands.  Even the Supreme Court has declared that Aboriginal title existed before Canada existed.

A renunciation of both concepts from the Vatican would bring considerably more weight to bear on governments all over the world who have displaced Indigenous people from their lands.

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Call to Action
last updated

March 22, 2024

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Actions and Commitments

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Church Repudiation of The Doctrine of Discovery

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Background Content

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What is the Doctrine of Discovery?

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Indigenous Responses to Vatican Repudiation

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