Impact of the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ on indigenous peoples

The concluding session of the 11th Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues addressed the “Doctrine of Discovery” issues, on 18 May in New York.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues concluded its eleventh session with the approval of a set of nine draft recommendations, highlighted by a text approved on the special theme, the ongoing impact of the Discovery Doctrine on indigenous peoples and the right redress.  That fifteenth century Christian principle was denounced throughout the session as the “shameful” root of all the discrimination and marginalization indigenous peoples faced today. 

The Permanent Forum noted that, while such doctrines of domination and “conquest”, including terra nullis and the Regalian doctrine, were promoted as authority for land acquisition, they also encouraged despicable assumptions:  that indigenous peoples were “savages”, “barbarians”, “inferior and uncivilized,” among other constructs the colonizers used to subjugate, dominate and exploit the lands, territories and resources of native peoples. 

According to the text, signs of such doctrines were still evident in indigenous communities, including in the areas of  health; psychological and social well-being; conceptual and behavioural forms of violence against indigenous women; youth suicide; and the hopelessness that many indigenous peoples experience, in particular indigenous youth. 

In his closing remarks, Grand Chief Edward John, Chairman of the Forum, welcomed the adoption of the recommendations, saying it was indeed necessary to redress the many issues that had emerged over the years the doctrine had been in place.  There was a pressing need for indigenous peoples to rediscover and to celebrate their own cultures and heritage.  The challenge now was to enter a new area in which the effects of the doctrine of discovery did not continue to be felt by indigenous peoples in the countries in which they lived, he said.

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