Statement by the Ministers of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Indigenous Services,  and Northern Affairs on the Catholic Church’s rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery


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Ottawa, Ontario — April 1, 2023, unceded Anishinaabe Algonquin Territory — The Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services, and the Honourable Daniel Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs, issued the following statement today in response to the Catholic Church’s rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery:

“For years, Indigenous Peoples have called on the Vatican to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, a racist Doctrine that was exploited by governments to enforce colonial systems and policies. This Doctrine was used to take land from Indigenous communities and justify atrocities committed against Indigenous Peoples. It is part of Canada’s shameful history and its legacy continues to impact Indigenous Peoples to this day.

We acknowledge the Catholic Church’s response to the calls from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Survivors, Elders, leaders, and communities, and its rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery. This repudiation supports the healing of Indigenous Peoples who have been impacted by the legacy of colonialism. In its statement, the Catholic Church was clear – Papal Bulls did not reflect the rights and dignity of Indigenous Peoples, and that this Doctrine was manipulated for political use by colonial powers. This was a failure of the Catholic Church to uphold the inherent human rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the acknowledgement of this failure, by the Vatican, is an important step as we work towards reconciliation.

The Government of Canada accepts that ancient doctrines such as this have no place in Canadian law and do not define our ongoing relationships with Indigenous Peoples. The Catholic Church’s statement addresses the centuries long opposition to the Doctrine of Discovery, which was raised directly with His Holiness Pope Francis by residential school Survivors during his recent visit to Canada. Canada will continue to work with Survivors, Elders, Indigenous leaders, partners, all levels of government, and the Catholic Church to make progress on the commitments made by Pope Francis to Indigenous Peoples.

This is a historic moment for Indigenous Peoples in Canada and around the world. The rejection of this Doctrine only happened because of the resiliency and advocacy of Indigenous voices. Canada cannot be the judge of whether this is sufficient; it is up to Indigenous Peoples.

The Government of Canada is working to renew its relationship with Indigenous Peoples. A key focus of this renewal is working with Indigenous partners to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action 46 and 47 by developing a Covenant of Reconciliation that specifically addresses the rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery.

Furthermore, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act passed by Canada states that ‘all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating the superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences, including the doctrines of discovery and terra nullius, are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable, and socially unjust.

The repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery by the Catholic Church is an important action showing that Indigenous voices, that were ignored for centuries, are being heard. This is only one of many necessary steps in continuing the dialogue of reconciliation and renewing the relationship with Indigenous Peoples. A lot of work remains and the Government of Canada will continue to work alongside Indigenous partners and the Catholic Church in pursuit of the truth and of a better Canada, one that’s more inclusive of Indigenous realities.”


For more information, media may contact:

Aïssatou Diop
Press Secretary and Communications Advisor
Office of the Honourable Marc Miller
Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations

Zeus Eden
Press Secretary
Office of the Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Indigenous Services

Kyle Allen
Press Secretary
Office of the Honourable Daniel Vandal
Minister of Northern Affairs

Media Relations
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada

Media Relations
Indigenous Services Canada

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