What you should know: Doctrine of Discovery
Volume 2, Issue #11, American Logo newsletter by Bill Annett
We are not descended from men who kept silent. -Edward R. Murrow
Ask an average American (or Canadian): “What is the Doctrine of Discovery?” You’re likely to get a blank stare, an uncomfortable pause, the changing of the conversation to politics or rock stars, or perhaps the stuttered response: “You mean like Dr. Oz?”
And yet the DoD, as it is referred to by academics, unsuccessful politicians, native people and others on the receiving end, is a basic legal assumption, born of Holy Writ and therefore both sanctified and legal, 500 years ago, when the sun rotated around the European world and the earth was flat. Was it just a naïve part of that past, that ignorant and illiterate peasant flotsam of Western Europe, and now long forgotten?
Hell, no. That incredible, inhuman law, mindset and modus operandiis still alive and well, solidly embedded in the ubiquitous practice of governing law. And where? Today, it dominates, subtly but pervasively as a daily fact of life, over 1.5 million people in Canada, three million in the U.S., six million in Mexico and a massive population in the rest of the Hemisphere, as well as in Australia, New Zealand and large swatches of Southeast Asia and Oceania. Perhaps 400 million people in total, more than the entire U.S. population.
What is it and how did it get its start?
Actually, Pope Nicholas V was a builder, and like Hitler’s autobahns in the Thirties, he repaired infrastructure such as aqueducts destroyed during the collapse of the Roman Empire. That construction, as a matter of fact, was analogous to the Roman Church’s succeeding the Roman Empire as the confluence and tributary conveying the brutality of empire masquerading as civility and Christian humanism.
But Nicholas is best remembered for his political balancing act between the Portuguese king and the threat of the Ottoman Empire. One element was the papal bull Dum Diversas, which granted Portugal “full and free power”:
to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be… and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery.
A follow-up document, Romanus Pontifex, allowed that same empire to seize for itself the lands of any non-Christians they encountered. The Doctrine of Discovery was established.
After Columbus’s “discovered” the New World, (although indigenous people had practised Occupy Turtle Island for some 10,000 years) Pope Alexander VI in 1493 issued another bit of papal bull known as Inter Caetera, commanding Spain
“to instruct the aforesaid inhabitants and residents and dwellers therein in the Catholic faith, and train them in good morals…”
opening the way for Catholic missions to conquer everything and anybody in the new world, except for the newly arrived Portuguese.
England quickly got into the act four years later, when King Henry VII granted John Cabot rights to possess all lands in the New World not already claimed by Portugal and Spain. In return, John Cabot, like an obedient Mafia soldier, wet the beak of his king with 20% of the total take. All of which not only legitimized but commanded the enslavement, pillaging and killing of millions of indigenous peoples all over the world. The toll (as we palefaces like to journalize) so far for the Western Hemisphere alone totals around 100 million people. According to one academic, (Anthony Hall of the University of Lethbridge) “the greatest re-engineering of a civilization in history.”
Does the DoD still live? One early Supreme Court case, Johnson v. M’Intosh in 1823, according to Robert Miller,* resolved a tribal land dispute, ruling that Native American land is inalienable. They cited the Doctrine of Discovery, which stated that Christian Europeans owned all land explored and claimed, and in any event, only the federal government could buy land occupied by Native Americans, meaning that the federal government could therefore pretty much name its own price.
Supreme Court cases as recent as 1973 and 1990 have used the Doctrine of Discovery to delimit native rights to prosecute any individuals on their lands for crimes. In 2005, certain tribes were denied sovereignty and the ability to repurchase traditional land previously held.
“Apparently, Euro-Americans possessed the only valid religions, civilizations, governments, laws, and cultures, and Providence intended these people and their institutions to dominate the North American continent. The human, governmental, and property rights of Native Americans were almost totally disregarded as Discovery and then Manifest Destiny directed the United States’ expansion. Under Manifest Destiny it was ‘clear’ that God wanted Indians to get out of the way of American progress.”
In other words, a significant part of American political practice blindly follows the Doctrine of Discovery, that ancient tossing off of political intervention by the Roman church we all accept whether we want to or not. (It’s part of of the Holy Church’s Concordat with all civilized nations.) American acceptance of this Doctrine is a modern world atrocity that parallels a universe of conflicting opinion, often denied, pernicious in its global fact.
Slavery, war, genocide are all facts that flow from this medieval nonsense. It defined the treatment of the world’s indigenous people that remains today in all but the most enlightened societies. It has even – in a minor key – warped our confusion about immigration, notably the migration of indigenous peoples in the Americas, many of whom are in constant flux (perennially fluxed) and on the move because U.S. policy vis-a-vis Latin America has delimited economic opportunity.
Professor Miller has delineated and compared the Doctrine’s effects as well as practice in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain and (of course) the United States.
*The International Law of Colonialism: A Comparative Analysis, Robett J. Miller, Lewis & Clark Law Review