Tamara Baldhead Pearl is cautiously optimistic the Vatican's repudiation of The Doctrine of Discovery can lead to change in what she refers to as "white supremacy in Canadian case law."
"The greater the consensus that the Doctrine of Discovery is fundamentally racist and immoral, the harder it is for Canadian courts to continue to decide cases based on this fundamental doctrine," said Pearl, who is from One Arrow First Nation, in an interview with Day 6.
Pearl, who's also an assistant law professor at the University of Alberta, says she hopes there will be increased pressure to "try to rethink how Canadian law can be brought into conformity with the contemporary understanding of Indigenous rights and equality among peoples."
The Doctrine of Discovery is a set of colonial-era theories, backed by 15th-century papal bulls, which was used to legitimize the seizure of Indigenous lands by colonial powers. Legal decisions in both the U.S. and Canada invoked the doctrine in some form.
The Vatican says in its statement the doctrine was not a Catholic teaching and had been manipulated for political purposes by colonial powers.
"The Church's magisterium upholds the respect due to every human being," the statement reaffirmed.
There have been calls to repudiate the doctrine for decades, but they gained more visibility in Canada during Pope Francis' visit last summer. Two women held a banner reading "Rescind the Doctrine" at the altar of the National Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré on July 29, 2022. They were escorted from the basilica without incident, but draped the banner outside as part of a protest.
During the visit, Pope Francis apologized to Indigenous people for the residential school system that forcibly removed Indigenous children from their homes. However, he was criticized by some for not taking the opportunity to repudiate the doctrine.