Haudenosaunee to address Pope: ‘Revoke the Doctrine of Discovery’

Indigenous Peoples deserve justice for the harm done to us. Revoking these Bulls is one small way of correcting a historical wrong and moving forward to a better future.

Press Release: Haudenosaunee External Relations Committee: Haudenosaunee to address Pope.

The Haudenosaunee External Relations Committee (HERC) is in Quebec City to address Pope Francis, requesting the revocation of the Papal Bulls that make up the Doctrine of Discovery, while the Pope is here to apologize for its abuse of Indigenous children in the Canadian Indian Residential Schools System.

We are here to address the root cause of the genocide that was carried out against our People.

The First Nations Delegation stand for a photo after meeting with the Pope at the Vatican in Rome. (Photo: Vatican media)
The First Nations Delegation stand for a photo after meeting with the Pope at the Vatican in Rome. (Photo: Vatican media)

The Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois or Six Nations Confederacy, has been at the forefront of exposing the fiction created by the Pope in the 1400s that had any right to declare that newly discovered lands that were not occupied by Christians – could be claimed by European monarchs for themselves.

The Papal Bulls Dum Diversas (1452), Romanus Pontifex (1455) and Inter Caetera (1493) were used to enslave and dispossess Indigenous Peoples in Africa and the rest of the world during the so-called Age of Discovery. The lands that European explorers “discovered” had already long been settled by the Peoples indigenous to those lands.

These Papal Bulls, particularly Inter Caetera of 1493, were used by monarchs to claim the Americas for themselves. Each of these Papal Bulls was based on the same premise – that Indigenous Peoples, the rightful inhabitants of the Americas, were a lower form of humanity, the same as only the flora and fauna.

These Papal decrees became the basis for the legalized possession of all lands in North America, which we call Turtle Island. It remains ingrained in the constitutional, legislative, and legal systems in Canada and the United States, where our Haudenosaunee and Indigenous relatives continue to reside.

For decades, the Haudenosaunee have raised the issue of the Papal Bulls, referenced in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). UNDRIP is an internationally recognized statute that affirms all doctrines, policies and practices based on the superiority of Peoples on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic, or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust.

The Haudenosaunee have been on a campaign for many years to convince the Vatican to finally revoke these Papal Bulls and to support the Indigenous Peoples by educating the world to this effect.

The Haudenosaunee traveled to Rome in 2016 in peace and friendship to explain, at length, our position to His Excellency, Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace; and during a special audience with His Holiness Pope Francis, how the Papal Bulls of Discovery are still being used today to dispossess and disempower Indigenous Peoples, and why they must be revoked.

Again in 2018, our Haudenosaunee External Relations Committee traveled to Rome to meet with Vatican officials for the same purpose. As recently as 2022, the HERC supported Haudenosaunee representation in the presentation of a cradleboard to Pope Francis to reflect upon the impacts of Indian Residential School upon our families and again to request the revocation of this Doctrine as the primary source of these harms.

See related story: Haudenosaunee women, the Pope and the journey of an empty Native baby cradleboard

Each time, no conclusion was reached or response provided by the Church. However, we shall continue our campaign until a real truth is accepted and publicly shared: the Papal Bulls of Discovery were the template, the blueprint, that colonizing nations have used toward the suffering and dispossession of Indigenous Peoples’ rights and dignity over the last 500 years.

Governments today still use the Doctrine of Discovery as the basis to claim sovereignty over Indigenous lands and to deny our inherent right to live in peace and dignity.

So today, we continue our efforts to use every opportunity to reach out to the Pope directly to revoke these Papal Bulls and ask that the Vatican make the following declaration:

The Vatican has said in the past that Sublimus Deus nullified previous decrees that denied the rights of Indigenous peoples to their freedom and property, and now shall issue a new Papal Bull, ratifying Sublimus Deus and giving it full force and effect, and specifically, by name revoking, now and forevermore, and with retroactive effect, the Papal Bulls Dum Diversas (1452), Romanus Pontifex (1455) and Inter Caetera (1493).

We shall now work with Indigenous Peoples to enact a new Papal Bull and to publicly support and stand beside them in the position that all nation-states may never legally rely upon or act upon these previous Papal Bulls again.

This is a great step forward toward human rights, environmental rights, and the rights of future generations of Indigenous Peoples, all Peoples, our Mother Earth and future generations.

An apology to Indigenous Peoples without action is just empty words. The Vatican must revoke these Papal Bulls and stand up for Indigenous Peoples’ rights to their lands in courts, legislatures and elsewhere in the world.

The Vatican has not responded to many overtures from the Haudenosaunee and other Indigenous nations regarding the revocation of these Papal Bulls.

Indigenous Peoples deserve justice for the harm done to us.

Revoking these Bulls is one small way of correcting a historical wrong and moving forward to a better future.

Kenneth Deer
Haudenosaunee External Relations Committee

Release also found here.

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