Sometimes you do have to discuss death, taxes or religion

Canada is built on a house of cards of faulty doctrines

To the Expositor:

It’s been said that one should not discuss death, taxes or religion. But sometimes, stuff gets into one’s face and it becomes impossible to avoid discussing unmentionables. Take, for instance, the pope’s visit to Canada this summer, 2022. Its purpose was for the pope to apologize in person to Indigenous peoples for the wrongs committed against us. 

The Indian residential school system, the Indian day school system, the Sixties Scoop, and murdered and missing Indigenous women, have roots in laws created 927 years ago half-way around the globe from the Americas. In 1095 during the Crusades era, Pope Urban II made a law which gave kings and princes in Europe the right to “discover” and claim land in non-Christian areas. Peoples in the Americas at the time exercised many and varied belief systems, none of them Christian. Non-Christians were seen as sub-human and uncivilized, so if they were sub-human and uncivilized they therefore had no rights to lands or nations. Pope Nicholas V added to this law in 1452, when he issued Romanus Pontifex in which he declared war against all non-Christians throughout the world and authorized conquest of their lands and territories. The 1452 law also gave Christians the right to take and control lands, colonize and enslave non-Christian beings. 

In 1493, Pope Alex VI issued Inter Caetera, a Papal Bull which provided that any land where Christians did not live was allowed to be “discovered,” taken and used by Christian rulers. In 1537, Pope Paul III proclaimed Sublimus Deus, in which he stated that Indigenous peoples of the Americas were to be regarded as “rational beings with souls.” So, if Indigenous peoples were rational beings with souls, this gave license to Christians to attempt to indoctrinate Indigenous peoples with Christianity.

In 1550 the Valladolid Controversy erupted. This was a debate organized by King Charles V of Spain, to discuss the question of whether or not Indigenous peoples were capable of self-governance and of ownership of property. The question was: do Indigenous peoples have souls and should they be treated with the same respect as Europeans? Three of the debaters were Sepulveda, Las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria. Sepulveda’s opinion was that Indigenous peoples were barbarians, inferior and uncivilized. 

Las Casa’s opinion was that Indigenous peoples had organized states, workable laws, excellent customs and humane religions. Living in city-states, Indigenous peoples exercised many laws that were more efficient than those of Europeans at the time. 

Francisco de Vitoria, espoused the idea that Indigenous peoples had basic human rights that all human beings held by reason of their humanity, and that these rights fit within the dialogue of international law. Vitoria’s opinions were later adopted by the papacy and the Spanish crown. Vitoria further developed his ideas by stating that Europeans could not obtain title to Indigenous lands only by “discovering” them, because the Doctrine of Discovery applied only to lands that belonged to “no one.” However, as events further unfolded, “conquest” of Indigenous peoples took place through mapping, in writing, and in the development of laws. Indigenous peoples had been “conquered” merely by being “discovered.”

Scholar Tracey Lindberg states: “Crown sovereignty could not replace Indigenous sovereignty just by virtue of non-Indigenous peoples settling in Indigenous territories and homelands.” Edward Cavanagh in a Cambridge University publication stated that very few historical or legal experts are willing to regard that part or all of Canada was ever “terra nullius.”

The papal visit highlights the concept that Canada was built on a “house of cards.” That house of cards emerged from faulty doctrines, shady principles and laws that ignored the humanity of Indigenous peoples. Stark truths need to be uncovered. Reconciliation is too fuzzy a concept to be workable. It smacks of people being willing to accept the unacceptable. The better word to use is restitution.

Mii sa iw.

Marie McGregor-Pitawanakwat