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Reconciliation and the Claim of Crown Sovereignty

In one context, “to reconcile” means “to restore a friendship.” A question thus arises regarding the kind of relationship now existing between our Original Nations and dominating societies, such as Canada or the United States: How do we go about restoring a friendship that has never existed between those societies and our Original Nations and Peoples?

We can further our discussion with another definition of reconciliation, “to cause to submit or to accept: to bring into acquiescence with.” There is an excellent reason for a country such as Canada to initiate a process termed “reconciliation” in relation to our Original Nations, especially if that process can trick us into passively accepting Canada’s claim to possess a valid dominating sovereignty over our Original Nations and Peoples. The potential to win our acquiescence creates an excellent incentive for a government such as Canada to use the concept of “reconciliation” in relation to our Nations.

Reconciliation is not a word of liberation. It’s a word of submissiveness and timidity. It is now typically used by the Catholic Church in place of “confession.” It’s a trap word. It can lead, for example, to our Original Nations’ caving in to and going along with the claim of crown or federal sovereignty (domination) over our existence. Reconciliation is designed to quell and pacify noisy discontentment and dissatisfaction such as expressed by Idle No More. In my view, it’s a word that’s being used by non-Native governments and the Catholic Church in an effort to put us to sleep.

Evidence to support this assessment is found in the final report released last year by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). After discussing at great length the so-called doctrine of discovery, the report states: “We would not suggest that the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery necessarily gives rise to the invalidation of Crown sovereignty.” Let’s re-express that in simple English: “Our analysis of the Doctrine of Discovery does not result in us questioning the validity of Crown sovereignty.” More to the point, “We still accept the assumption of Crown sovereignty as valid despite it being premised on an invalid doctrine of discovery that ought to be repudiated.”

Who is the “we” in the above sentence? It’s the royal “we’” of the crown government of Canada. The fact that Indigenous drafters were working for “the crown” as part of the TRC does not change the fact that the TRC’s final report expresses “the crown’s” view, and that of the government of Canada as a British Commonwealth country. It ought to go without saying that the crown is going to bolster and accept its own assumption of crown sovereignty in relation to our Original Nations and Peoples, despite the doctrine of discovery being revealed as a cruel joke based on papal grants, royal charters, and “ceremonies” (rituals) of domination (“possession”).

The TRC final report says it is “the Doctrine of Discovery that has been invoked as a justification for the ongoing exploitation of” the “lands, territories, and resources” of Indigenous peoples. This misses the point: It is theclaimof crown sovereignty (right of domination), premised on the claim of firstChristian discovery, that has been used and continues to be used to justify that ongoing exploitation of the lands, territories, and resources of our Original Nations of Great Turtle Island.

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The claim of crown sovereignty originates with the image of a Christian monarch being the first representative of the Christian empire (Christendom) to locate non-Christian lands, lands over which no Christians have previously claimed or asserted a right of physical domination and economic exploitation. This matches perfectly one definition of property, “the first establishment of socially approved physical domination over some part of the natural world.”

We find this imagery being expressed, for example, in the John Cabot charter of 1496. It instructed the Cabots to go forth, in the name of the king, and “subjugare” (to dominate) the lands of “heathens and infidels” “previously unknown to all Christian people.” That royal charter is just one of the documents that has been used to justify the ongoing domination and exploitation of the lands, territories, and resources of our Original Nations of Great Turtle Island. Yet the TRC final report stops short of challenging the crown’s claim of “sovereignty” predicated on first Christian “discovery.” The TRC final report uses “European” instead of Christian. It thereby avoids the doctrine’s roots in the Bible and Christianity. In any case, the final report implies that crown sovereignty is still valid even after the very basis of the assumption of “crown sovereignty) (domination) has been rejected.

How do you repudiate of the source of the crown’s claim to sovereignty (i.e., the Doctrine of Christian Discovery) and still maintain the claim of sovereignty over Original Nations and Peoples? You do so by claiming that when the source of something is found to be invalid, that finding does not lead to the conclusion that the thing itself that emerged from that invalid source is therefore invalid.

Through a careful process of “the crown” writing in a “reconciling” manner toward itself in the TRC final report, the claim of crown sovereignty ends up being accepted (acquiesced in) by the TRC at the same time that the TRC’s final report calls for a repudiation of the “discovery” premise of “crown sovereignty.” How is this accomplished”? It is accomplished by the TRC final report authors saying “there are other means to establish the validity of Crown sovereignty.”

Strangely, the final report does not specify what those “other means” consist of (perhaps they are available upon request). Nor does the TRC final report explain this: What reason would our Original Nations have for simply acquiescing in the claim of crown sovereignty (right of domination)? Why indeed, given that the very basis of the assumption of “sovereignty” over our nations and our territories is now revealed to be a scam based on the Bible and Christianity and European racial superiority?

Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, and author ofPagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery(Fulcrum, 2008). He is a producer of the documentary movie,“The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code,” directed and produced by Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota), with narration by Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree). The movie can be ordered from