I do not know where you come from, what your background is, or what you are going through right now but I want you to take a moment to imagine. Imagine all your values and beliefs being swept out from underneath you, out of your control, and deemed as a criminal offence. I do not want you to imagine this as a way of condemning or mustering up feelings of guilt, but instead to imagine this as a way of encouraging an increased understanding of Indigenous People’s and what has been happening throughout history.
Before contact with Europeans, Indigenous People’s did not own the land in which they inhabited, but it was their home. In Henry David Thoreau’s book, Walden (2004), he states, “Enjoy the land, but own it not”. I have learned that this is exactly what Indigenous People’s have done, since time immemorial. Mother Earth, is exactly that, our Mother. Therefore, we do not own her. We honour her, and respect her, as we tread lightly upon her.
When Columbus claimed to have first discovered Indigenous homeland, he did not hesitate to spread the word and fast. He brought this discovery back to Europe, reporting to the government and the Vatican. He was ordered to go back to the land he discovered and render the land empty. The land was in fact not empty but inhabited by a Civilization of people, who were rich in community, spirit, love for one another, and for their Mother, the Earth. However, this did not matter, since those who inhabited the land were not Christians. The land was considered, terra nullius, defined as, “nobody’s land”, and Indigenous People’s were not considered human beings, and cleared from their homeland. This is known as the Doctrine of Discovery, justified by, “patriotism and religion“. The Doctrine of Discovery derived from the Papal Bull “Inter Caetera,” created by Pope Alexander VI, on May 4, 1493, as a way of ensuring Spain’s right to lands discovered by Columbus.
The Doctrine of Discovery effected Indigenous People’s in a number of ways. Dehumanize is a word that comes to mind when I think about these effects. To dehumanize, means to, “deprive of human qualities, personality, or spirit.” Indigenous People’s were stripped of their sense of self-worth, meaning, and agency through colonial forces. Thankfully, human, is not all that we are, but we are spirit, also.
Drawing on Lynn Gehl’s book, Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit (2017), she brings forth an important point regarding the human spirit, and states, “While an essence of the human spirit resides within us, an essence also resides outside of us.” This may be a difficult concept for readers to wrap their heads around but bear with me. I reside with a feeling of hope that despite the fact that Europeans came and cleared Indigenous People’s from their homelands, a strong spirit still remained, on, and all around the land. Let me explain further, Europeans did not only claim the land as their own, they also criminalized Indigenous cultural ways of knowing, such as their ceremonies, and their language, in turn, colonizing the spirit that dwells within Indigenous People’s. However, the spirit residing outside of the body remained, and thrived, through traditional ceremonies and their language being practiced underground (in secret). Due to this, Indigenous People’s have the chance to regain their identities and meaning through decolonizing their spirits that dwell within the body. “It is what is outside that ignites and activates the spirit within” (Gehl, 2017, p. 67).
Thankfully, Indigenous People’s are reclaiming their ancestral rights to land that they deserve, and no longer have to practice their ceremonies underground, but much work still needs to be done in dismantling the Indian Act, reviving treaty relationships, and mending broken promises.
Progress towards undoing the injustices’ that have been done, cannot happen in isolation. I cannot stress enough that all communities, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous, must work together.
The 94 Calls to Action, deriving from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), exemplify the ways in which Canada is working towards reconciliation. Listed below are a few Calls to Action regarding the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, as well as the importance of reconciling Treaty relationships:
• Call to Action 46 (ii) states, “…repudiation of concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, and the reformation of laws, governance structures, and policies within their respective institutions that continue to rely on such concepts.”
• Call to Action 46 (iv) states, “…support for the renewal or establishment of Treaty relationships based on principles of mutual recognition, mutual respect, and shared responsibility for maintaining those relationships into the future.”
• Call to Action 47 states, “We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal government to repudiate concepts send to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and lands, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, and to reform laws, government policies, and litigation strategies that continue to rely on such concepts.”
The Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, as well as encouragement of the renewal of Treaty relationships, continues throughout the 94 Calls to Action. My hope is that these 94 Calls to Action (Despite the fact that the Pope has recently refused to apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools) continue to enhance reconciliACTION amongst both, Indigenous and non-Indigenous People’s, for generations to come.
“Whether we are young or old, whether our skin is light or dark, whether we are man or woman, we share a common humanity and are all headed for a common destiny. That should bind us together more strongly than divisions can push us apart. So long as anything other than love governs our relationship with others, we have work to do.” (Kinew, 2015, p. 268)