Doctrine of Discovery
What is the Doctrine of Discovery?
Bruce McIvor, lawyer, historian, partner at First Peoples Law LLP answers this question:
“The Doctrine of Discovery is a legal principle that European countries extinguished Indigenous sovereignty and acquired the underlying title to Indigenous Peoples’ lands upon ‘discovering’ them.
The Doctrine of Discovery is inspired by racist 15th century papal bulls dividing up “uncivilized” Indigenous lands for European powers. It became a legal principle through United States Supreme Court decisions of the 1820s and 1830s (the “Marshall Decisions”). It made its way into Canadian law in the 1880s through the St. Catherine’s Milling decision.
While it has been repudiated around the world, the Supreme Court of Canada has grounded its interpretation of section 35 of the constitution on the dubious and racist legal principles that underlay the Doctrine of Discovery. The often-used phrase ‘assertion of Crown sovereignty’ is a Canadian euphemism for the Doctrine of Discovery.
The continued centrality of the Doctrine of Discovery to modern Canadian Aboriginal law is the source of many Indigenous people’s rejection of the Canadian legal system and government policies on ‘reconciliation’.”
Indigenous Values Initiative, “What is the Doctrine of Discovery?,” Doctrine of Discovery Project (30 July 2018)
Recent articles about the Doctrine of Discovery:
Talks by Bruce McIvor explaining “Why Reconciliation Fails”
Truth and Reconciliation Report Calls to action
Action 49 explicitly asks religious denominations to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery
UUA resolution to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery
A list of faith communities that have signed on in Canada and the US, can be found here: