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Doctrine of Discovery resolutions presented to USET, NCAI

INDIAN ISLAND, Maine – A former Penobscot Indian Nation chief is calling on national indigenous organizations to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and all laws and policies based on it.

Penobscot elder and former Chief Jim Sappier has drafted an identical resolution for the United South and Eastern Tribes and the National Congress of American Indians in support of the Episcopal Church’s “Call for Justice for Indigenous Peoples” to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.

The resolutions have been forwarded and will be presented at USET’s semi-annual meeting June 14 – 17 in Mobile, Ala., and NCAI’s mid-year conference June 20 – 23 in Rapid City, S.D.

The national Episcopal Church passed a resolution last summer disavowing the Doctrine of Discovery and calling on the United States government to endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. USET and NCAI have already passed resolutions supporting the endorsement of UNDRIP.

The Doctrine of Discovery was a principle of international law developed in a series of 15th century papal bulls and 16th century charters by European monarchs. It was a racist philosophy that gave white Christian Europeans permission to claim the lands and resources of non-Christian peoples and kill or enslave them – if other Christian Europeans had not already done so.

Sappier said the resolutions are based on the crucial need for education about the history of the indigenous peoples and the U.S. government.

“The reason for doing this is that I’m really sick and tired of hearing people saying whatever they want to say about Indians – people who don’t know a darn thing about the history of the United States of America with regard to Indian tribes. It’s time for academics and schools out there to start telling the truthful history of the United States,” Sappier said.

Sappier’s resolutions come on the heels of the Ninth Session of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which took place in New York last month. North American Regional Representative to the Permanent Forum Tonya Gonnella Frichner, a citizen of the Onondaga Nation, an attorney and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance, presented a preliminary study on the Doctrine of Discovery and its historical impacts on indigenous peoples.

The study states that the Doctrine of Discovery and its interpretative framework have been used for more than 500 years to grab Native lands and violate indigenous peoples’ human rights. Frichner called for a comprehensive study to investigate the Doctrine’s global scope and its “claim by one people of a right of dominance over another” as a key source of violations of indigenous peoples’ human rights.

Like the Episcopal resolution, Sappier’s resolution asks the pope and Queen of England to publicly disavow the Doctrine.

Even though the 15th century papal bulls were “denounced” by the pope in 1537, white Christian Europeans continued to conquer and plunder indigenous peoples and their lands. As an example of the brutality effected by the Doctrine, Sappier cites a 1755 proclamation by the Massachusetts’ Bay Colony to pay colonists for Penobscot scalps.

Although Indians aren’t being scalped anymore in this country, Doctrine of Discovery-based laws and policies are still being applied to the Wabanaki nations in Maine and other indigenous peoples around the country and the world, Sappier said.

U.S. Indian law is based on an 1823 Supreme Court decision in Johnson v. M’Intosh in which Justice John Marshall cited the Doctrine as “the basis for asserting that the indigenous peoples of this land possessed only a right of occupancy and not title to this land,” the resolution says.

“If you take a look at the foundation of Indian law, you can’t get away from that first Supreme Court decision and the sense of paternalism they had and that attitude of whatever they see, they own,” Sappier said.

The resolution calls for support of the Episcopal Church’s request to ask the Queen of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury to “immediately repudiate the John Cabot charter” – a 1496 patent granted by King Henry VII to John Cabot and his heirs to “claim and possess” whatever lands the Spanish and Portuguese hadn’t already claimed. It also asks Pope Benedict XVI to reissue the 1537 papal bull denouncing the Doctrine of Discovery.

But Sappier said he’d like the resolutions to be taken up by all of the tribes represented by USET and NCAI and expanded. And he’d like the requests to the Queen of England and the pope to be made in person rather than in writing.

“It would be great if each of the tribes drew up their own resolution and included their own histories of their relationships with the United States and put it together as one resolution. It would be huge. And we should also start to put together a delegation of tribal leaders to visit the Queen of England and the pope to rescind the Cabot charter and reaffirm that the papal bulls have been denounced, because if they say it people will pay attention,” Sappier said.

The resolution further requests that “all religious faiths” be asked to rescind the Doctrine and endorse the Declaration, and that all tribes be notified of these actions taken by the tribes of North America “on their behalf and for their support in their respective countries for changes much needed for all peoples.”