Most Holy Father,
Han (Hello). My name is Cankudutawin (Red Road Woman). I am Native American Indian, of the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation). We predate the United States. Our traditional homelands are in the Great Plains of North America. I was born in Fort Yates, North Dakota on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and I am an enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate (People).
My grandmothers Katherine Ray and Stella Pretty Sounding Flute were both devout Catholics. People say that you are good, and that you are unique from your predecessors. There is talk among my people that you will listen to me, a simple Native woman from the Reservation.
After Christopher Columbus landed in 1492, the existence of Indigenous peoples in North and South America was forever changed. The historical trajectory of my people was altered too. Besides being subject to diseases like smallpox that we had no immunity to, we were starved, brutalized, and murdered. Millions of Indigenous people were slaughtered in the name of Manifest Destiny, born from the Doctrines of Discovery and in particular the 1493 Papal Bull.
The Papal Bull Inter Caetera, a solemn edict authored by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, gave Christians dominion over Indigenous lands and called for the subjugation of Native Indigenous peoples for the purpose of propagating Christian doctrine. In fact, Christians were charged with the duty of overthrowing Indigenous Nations in order to convert them to Christ, and Christian heirs were granted “full and free power, authority, and jurisdiction of every kind.” Those who attempted to controvert this Papal document were threatened with incurring “the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul.”
What this Papal Bull granted was right of conquest. Colonization began with Spain and Portugal, and every other Christian European power followed their lead. European invaders who stole Indigenous lands and lives were anointed with the ability to do so through the church, which was the foundation of state laws. Some three hundred years after Pope Alexander VI invoked deprimantur against my ancestors, John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, took the Papal Bull Inter Caetera principle of Right of Reduction, based on the Christian Latin concept of dominorum Christianorum, and made Christian dominion law vis-a-vis the invention of the Doctrine of Discovery. This Doctrine itself has no legal foundation. Using the reasoning of the Inter Caetera, the Supreme Court invalidated the Indigenous land claims of Natives whose ancestors had lived in North America for thousands of years and gifted title to American colonists who were governed by Christian leaders.
Without this Papal Bull, the United States of America would be forced to reconcile termination and assimilation policies it carried out against its Native inhabitants, theft of Indigenous lands and resources, treaty breaches, and the genocide it carried out through massacres like those that occurred at Sand Creek, Wounded Knee, and Whitestone Hill, among others. The United States and other colonial countries justified atrocities such as these by hiding behind the church.
As long as the Papal Bull Inter Caetera remains in effect, Indigenous people will continue to suffer. All U.S. law concerning Native American Indians is built upon the Marshall trilogy, that of the Doctrine of Discovery. The Right of Reduction, under the guise of the Doctrine of Discovery, is being used to feed the colonial beast and used to empower capitalism, as multinational corporations piggyback on religious quasi-legal concepts like the Doctrine of Discovery to steal from Indigenous peoples globally. In the pursuit of timber, oil, jewels and other riches, they disregard our lives.
I come to you with humility and respect, as someone who recognizes the authority of He who heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds; the One who came not to condemn the world, but to save it.
For the good of all, we ask that you formally revoke the Inter Caetera Bull of 1493. Doing so will restore our fundamental human rights and bring healing to Indigenous people and in turn, the entire world. Only you have the power to accomplish this.
Please meet with me, as a representative of Indian country, for an interview when you visit the United States next year. Mitakuye Oyasin.
With every good wish to Your Holiness,
Cankudutawin, Red Road Woman
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9
Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton Wahpeton & Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota) is a writer, blogger, biologist, activist and judge.