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Call to Action # 47: Royal Proclamation and Covenant of Reconciliation (45-47)

200 Years of Denial: Johnson v. McIntosh and the Doctrine of Discovery

March 2, 2023

First Peoples Law Report by Bruce McIvor

This week marks the 200th anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s 1823 decision Johnson v. M’Intosh. In the decision, Chief Justice Marshall relied on the racist doctrine of discovery as the basis for European nations’ asserted sovereignty over Indigenous Peoples’ lands upon ‘discovering’ them.

The doctrine was imported into Canadian law through the St. Catherine’s Milling decision and the Supreme Court of Canada continues to rely on it as the basis for the Crown’s asserted sovereignty over Indigenous Peoples’ lands across the country.

Indigenous Peoples around the world continue to call on governments and courts to repudiate the doctrine. 
We thought it would be useful to provide a list of resources for anyone wanting to learn more about the doctrine of discovery and support Indigenous Peoples’ calls to reject it. 

It is not a comprehensive list. We would welcome any feedback or recommendations. You can also read it on our website.


Here is a video introduction to the doctrine created by Anna Socha with audio from a podcast interview I did with the Globe and Mail. 

The Walrus, “Discovery: The Lawful Conquest of Indigenous People Through Magic | Harry Laforme | Walrus Talks” (7 May 2014), oneline (video): YouTube <>. 

7GenFund, “Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery – Professor Robert J. Miller” (20 April 2013), online (video): YouTube <>.
TonaTierra, “North American Caucus Statement on the Doctrine of Discovery” (8 May 2012), online (video): YouTube <–YEiaM>. 

The Anglican Church of Canada, “Doctrine of Discovery: Stolen lands, Strong Hearts” (11 April 2019), online (video): YouTube <>. 


Should the Pope reverse a 500-year-old Church law on his trip to Canada? – The Globe and Mail 


What is the Doctrine of Discovery? | Bruce McIvor | First Peoples Law LLP  

Residential Schools and Reconciliation: A Canada Day Proposal | Bruce McIvor | First Peoples Law LLP 

Robert J. Miller, “The Ten Legal Dimensions of the Doctrine of Discovery: The International Law of Colonialism” (26 September 2022), online (blog): Doctrine of Discovery <>. 

North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus, “North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus Statement” (8 May 2012), online (blog): UNPFIP Network <>. 


John Borrows, “The Durability of Terra Nullius: Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia” (2015) 48:3 UBC L Rev 701 

Karen Drake, “The Impact of St Catherine’s Milling” (2018) Osgoode Digital Commons Articles & Book Chapters 2682. 

Kent McNeil, “The Doctrine of Discovery Reconsidered: Reflecting on Discovering Indigenous Lands: The Doctrine of Discovery in the English Colonies, by Robert J Miller, Jacinta Ruru, Larissa Behrendt, and Tracey Lindberg, and Reconciling Sovereignties: Aboriginal Nations and Canada, by Felix Hoehn” (2016) 53:2 Osgoode Hall Law Journal 699. 

Kent McNeil, “The Source, Nature, and Content of the Crown’s Underlying Title to Aboriginal Title Lands” (2018) 96:2 Canadian Bar Review 273, 2018 CanLIIDocs 176. 

Robert J. Miller, “The Doctrine of Discovery: The International Law of Colonialism” (2019) 5:1 The Indigenous Peoples’ Journal of Law, Culture & Resistance 35 (eScholarship). 

Robert J. Miller, “The International Law of Colonialism: A Comparative Analysis” in Symposium: The Future of International Law in Indigenous Affairs: The Doctrine of Discovery, the United Nations, and the Organization of American States (Symposium: Lewis & Clark Law Review, 2011) 847. 


Peter P. D’Errico, Federal Anti-Indian Law: The Legal Entrapment of Indigenous Peoples(Westport: Praeger, 2022). 

Kent McNeil, Flawed Precedent: The St. Catherine’s Case and Aboriginal Title (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2019). 

Robert J. Miller, Jacinta Ruru, Larissa Behrendt, and Tracey Lindberg, Discovering Indigenous Lands: The Doctrine of Discovery in the English Colonies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). 

Lindsay G. Robertson, Conquest by Law: How the Discovery of America Dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of their Lands (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) 


The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Canada’s Residential Schools: Reconciliation, vol 6 (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company Ltd., 2015) 

Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: Looking Forward, Looking Back,vol 1 (Ottawa: The Commission, 1996). 

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action, 45-47 and 49 (2015). 

Court cases 

Johnson & Graham’s Lessee v. McIntosh, 21 U.S. 543 (1823) 

St. Catherine’s Milling and Lumber Company v. The Queen (1888), 14 App. Cas. 46 (P.C.) 

R. v. White and Bob, 1964 CanLII 452 (BC CA) 

Calder et al. v. Attorney-General of British Columbia, 1973 SCR 313 

Guerin v. The Queen, 2 SCR 335 

R. v. Sparrow, 1 SCR 1075 

R. v. Van der Peet, 2 SCR 507
Mitchell v. M.N.R., 1 SCR 911 

Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, 2014 SCC 44 

Thomas and Saik’uz First Nation v Rio Tinto Alcan Inc., 2022 BCSC 15 


United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, S.C. 2021, c. 14
Bruce McIvor, lawyer and historian, is partner at First Peoples Law LLP. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law where he teaches the constitutional law of Aboriginal and Treaty rights. A member of the bar in British Columbia and Ontario, Bruce is recognized nationally and internationally as a leading practitioner of Aboriginal law in Canada. Bruce’s ancestors took Métis scrip at Red River in Manitoba. He holds a law degree, a Ph.D. in Aboriginal and environmental history, is a Fulbright Scholar and author of Standoff: Why Reconciliation Fails Indigenous People and How to Fix It. He is a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation.

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First Peoples Law LLP is a law firm dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of Indigenous Peoples. We work exclusively with Indigenous Peoples to defend their inherent and constitutionally protected title, rights and Treaty rights, uphold their Indigenous laws and governance and ensure economic prosperity for their current and future generations.

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