MAY 2023 “Doctrine of Discovery”

Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation

Vatican’s Repudiation of the “Doctrine of Discovery”

The “Doctrine of Discovery”, based on three papal bulls (Dum Diversas in 1452, Romanus Pontifex in 1455 and Inter Caetera in 1493), gave religious backing to the Portuguese and Spanish kingdoms to expand their territories in Africa and the Americas under the guise of spreading Christianity. The Indigenous Peoples of those lands, as non-Christians, had no rights. They could be enslaved and their land declared the property of the explorer’s homeland. It was understood that ownership and sovereignty over land passed to European countries because they “discovered” it. The term “Doctrine of Discovery” was coined in an 1823 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Johnson v. M’Intosh.

During his 2022 visit to Canada, Pope Francis was met with demands for a formal repudiation of the papal bulls. Last year, Michelle Schenandoah of the Oneida Nation called for the Vatican to rescind the papal bulls when she delivered the closing remarks of the First Nations delegation that met with Pope Francis. They were not alone or the first. Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists have fought for decades to bring attention to this issue. Christian denominations and organizations, including Catholic, have issued repudiation statements for several years.

The statement by the Vatican repudiating the “Doctrine of Discovery”, issued March 30th, is important but it offers no evidence that the three papal bulls had themselves been formally abrogated, rescinded or rejected. Instead it cited a subsequent bull issued in 1537, Sublimis Deus, which reaffired that Indigenous peoples shouldn’t be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property and were not to be enslaved.

How does this affect Indigenous Peoples now? These racist underpinnings still define much of the legal mechanisms used to deny Indigenous peoples their rightful standing among the nations of the world. The Supreme Court decisions Johnson v. M’Intosh in 1823, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg statement in Sherrill v. Oneida in 2005 are just two examples of legal decisions that explicitly cited the church’s theological justification of enslavement, exploitation, and extraction providing a carte blanche for the mistreatment of Indigenous nations and peoples. The “Doctrine of Discovery” still continues to undergird “Indian Law” in the US today.

There is much debate over whether the Vatican was sufficiently responsive to the concerns of activists and the needs of Indigenous Peoples. Undoubtedly that will continue for some time.

Some background reading to delve further:

Continuing Christian Domination: A Response to the Vatican’s Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery

Sublimis Deus, Pastorale Officium and Non Indecens Videtur – A Historical Dive Into the Vatican’s Failure to Rescind the Doctrine of Discovery

Vatican: ‘Doctrine of discovery’ is not Catholic teaching

NOON acknowledges that we are on the territory of the Onondaga Nation, council fire of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

We are thankful for their stewardship of our environment.


Ganondagan State Historic Site, 7000 County Road 41 (Boughton Hill Road) Victor, NY 14564

WAMPUM/OTGOÄ Exhibition, Opened March 25th, 2023runs through September 16th, 2023, Seneca Art & Culture Center will showcase the WAMPUM/OTGOÄ exhibition featuring18 important objects from the museé du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, four wampum belts from the Rochester Museum and Science Center and feature five contemporary Hodinöhsö:ni’ artists in this exhibition. The objects from France come from a time before the United States was formed and represent the complicated legacy of diplomacy between Indigenous nations and the colonial French.

Tai Chi and Qi Gong Series, Biweekly Tuesdays – April 4 and April 18, May 2, May 16 and May 30 June 13 and June 27, 11AM – 11:45 AM

Bark Longhouse opens for the season, 5/3, May- October

Seneca Iroquois National Museum, 82 W Hetzel St, Salamanca, New York 14779


New Exhibit Opening and Dedication Ceremony for Longhouse Replica, May 27 @ 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Iroquois Museum, 324 Caverns Road, Howes Cave, NY 120922023 Featured Exhibit, April 1st – November 30th

Skä•noñh – Great Law of Peace Center After a period of being open only to scheduled group tours, the Center has reopened its doors to the public for walk-ins! Skä•noñh is now open from 10am-4pm Wednesday-Friday, and 11am-4pm on Saturday. _________

NOON Steering Committee Open Meeting, Next meeting May 16, 7-8:30 PM, virtual. Since new people often have a lot of questions and you will need contact info for the virtual meeting, we recommend contacting Lee Cridland, Peace Council Staff, before the meeting.


Columbus Statue Removal Clarkson University and Arizona State University Professors Develop “Stories from the Circle” Augmented Reality App

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From ‘Yellowstone’ to ‘Reservation Dogs’: How the West was won back by Native Americans in US television shows

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Onondaga Nation Newsletter

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Because the Syracuse Peace Council office is only open sporadically, contact Lee Cridland so she can arrange to get them to you.

The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code film is premised on Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, a book based on two decades of research by Shawnee, Lenape scholar Steven T. Newcomb. Available to borrow. Contact Lee Cridland via email or phone 315-472-5478

Standing on Sacred Ground Videos. Each of the 4 episodes is 60 min. Pilgrims and Tourists, Profit and Loss, Fire and Ice and Islands of Sanctuary. If you have a group of friends or know an organization that would like to view any of these films, please contact Lee Cridland phone 315-472-5478.

In addition NOON has organized dozens of educational programs over the past 20 years which are available on line at SPC’s You Tube Channel. Fifteen years ago we coordinated the historic series Onondaga Land Rights and Our Common Future. Check out the videos here.

WITNESS TO INJUSTICE: UNRAVELING HISTORIC NATIVE & U.S. RELATIONS. This inter-active group exercise is a 2 hour teaching tool that uses participatory education to raise awareness of the history of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in the part of the world now known as the United States. Through the use of meaningful quotes, and blankets that represent part of Turtle Island (the Western Hemisphere), we explore this shared history that most people rarely learn in traditional settings. We engage in a conversation about the European colonization of Turtle Island in order to deepen our understanding of the denial of Indigenous peoples’ nationhood throughout U.S. History. NOON is offering this exercise to groups, organizations, schools and churches. A good will offering to support NOON’s work is appreciated. If you would like additional information or to schedule a time for a presentation, contact Cecelia Elm.


Indigenous Music and Arts Festival, 7/22- 23, Ganondagan State Historic Site

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