This week for our class, we were supposed to look up a recent news article that featured Native Americans in some capacity. One of the articles that I found while searching through Google was focused on an issue that the Onondaga Nation wished to discuss with the new Pope. Of course, I had heard about the shocking retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the process that was taking place in order to appoint a new leader for the Catholic Church. However, this article placed these events in a new context by focusing on the “Discovery Doctrine” which was written by Pope Nicholas V in 1455 and used as a justification for taking lands from the indigenous people of the Americas. Despite the outdated nature of the decree, it has never been recanted and is actually still cited during legal cases about Native American land claims. This article narrates the message that the Onondaga Nation wished to send to the newly elected Pope, mainly that the Doctrine of Discovery should be rescinded because it infringes upon Native Americans’ right of title to their land. The article also looks at the past Popes’ reaction to the Onondaga Nation’s requests which began in 1992, the responses ranging from being open to discussing the issue to believing that it was “old history” (Brown). Now, Native Americans must wait and see how the new Pope will respond to their repeated call for this vital correction to a major historic oversight.
I chose this article because it discussed an issue that I had very little previous knowledge of but in which I was greatly interested. Although the article was rather short, I feel that it presents a legitimate concern that I believed had been settled long ago. In school, I grew up learning about the different methods that the European nations used to justify their domination of other peoples, including paternalism and religion. Many of these strategies I have even seen in readings and Native American accounts that we looked at for this class. For example, tt was oftentimes the case that the United States government used claims of protection and betterment in order to justify forced changes on the Native Americans that usually resulted in economic gains for the US. Yet I believed that since we recognized these tactics for what they truly were, we would be able to use our history as a lesson and prevent these mistakes from happening in the future. Obviously, I was wrong. Even though we recognize all the ways in which we tricked, mistreated, and persecuted the indigenous peoples of North America, we are still not willing to do what needs to be done in order to make a mends and change our mistaken way of thinking, as evidence by this article. The Doctrine of Discovery was based on the ethnocentric idea that Native Americans were less human than Europeans because of their difference in religious faith, and therefore it was acceptable to take away their land as they were enemies of the religion. Clearly, these beliefs are biased and the doctrine unjust in its flippant dismissal of an entire race of people based on religious difference. As such, it is disheartening and downright criminal that this outdated decree is still in effect, and I am baffled that no one has been brave enough to change it.
Additionally, one of the things that shocked me the most while reading this article was that the “Discovery Doctrine” was still being used against Native Americans today. The article cited a legal case as recent as 2005 which had used this decree in its defense against the Oneida Indian Nation’s land claim. The mention of this doctrine reinforced the notion of the “government’s sovereignty over lands, even if they are sold to an Indian Tribe” (Brown). If the “Discovery Doctrine” really is “old history” as Pope Benedict claimed, how can it still be cited as a reliable source in legal cases? After reading this article, I believe that the only solution is for Pope Francis to recant to Doctrine of Discovery and to apologize for all the harm the decree caused. For me, there really is not other options to consider; the correct solution is obvious.
Overall, this article reminded me that governments are reluctant to admit that they have made a mistake and slow to correct one once it has been recognized. The plight of the Native Americans over the past several hundred years is exemplary proof of these statements. Yet it is crucial that these mistakes are rectified and the wronged liberated. These changes require action, of which the first step should be recanting the Doctrine of Discovery.
For more information, here is a website I found which goes into detail about the history of this doctrine and its effects: http://ili.nativeweb.org/sdrm_art.html
Also, here is the article that I used in this post: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/natives-pope-treat-humans-article-1.1287151