Call this tragic anniversary “Doctrine of Discovery Day.”
On this day in history, 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued one of the important bulls (edicts) in what has come to be known as the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. In the bull Inter caetera, the Church granted Spain the right to conquer and claim newly found lands to the west. The Pope issued this edict just one year after Columbus sailed; it triggered the start of Catholic missions in what is now North America. According to an English translation of Inter caetera published on the website nativeweb.org, the papal bull states in part:
“Among other works well pleasing to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this assuredly ranks highest, that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”
It puts Christianity into a category of domination and forced conversation rather than a religion of love.
Later, the “Discovery Doctrine” became part of U.S. law through a series of 19th Century Supreme Court decisions, notably Johnson v. M’Intosh.
Many Native American leaders and organizations have been working to educate people about the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and to get the Catholic Church to officially rescind it. Locally, Sheldon Wolfchild of the Lower Sioux Community has produced a documentary on the Doctrine of Discovery. (Follow this blog for information on upcoming showings.)
Inter Caetera is not the only Papal bull considered to be part of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, but since it is so close in time to the Columbus voyage, it seems like a good anniversary to highlight, and to reflect on repairing the massive harm it did.
There are rays of hope in the work being done locally by Native-led organizations. And there are ways that we as individuals and institutions can, in small ways, support them in repairing the loss of Native lands, languages, and cultures that are synonymous with the Doctrine of Christian Discovery.
Here are just a few of the organizations that could use your support. Continue reading