I don’t expect many Christians are aware of this.  When I was both a Christian and in grade school in the US, I certainly was not made aware of this.  Then later, when I took a college course in early American History, I did not hear about it then either.

Doctrine of Christian Discovery

“The heightened awareness of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s fight for clean water has equally brought awareness about the flawed system of dispute resolution utilized by the judicial branch of the United States that Native Nations must navigate in their pursuit of protecting their natural resources.


During remarks, Chairman Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Chairman JoDe Goudy of the Yakama Nation read the proclamation calling to question how historical documents of domination and dehumanization have historically—and in present day—been used against Native Nations and peoples.


The proclamation calls upon Pope Francis to revoke the historical Roman Catholic Church Papal Bulls of Dum Diversas (1452), Romanus Pontifex (1455), and Inter Caetera (1493), questioning their unholy orders of domination and dehumanization, and the manner in which these historical papal decrees laid the foundation of modern day Federal Indian Law. The historical papal decrees also resulted in the “Doctrine of Discovery,” utilized not only in the formation, but the current function of the U.S. government.


The proclamation highlights the extreme contradiction of the separation of church and state in dealing with disputes among Native Nations.


“The United States government claims the ‘right of Christian Discoverer’ to dominate our Nations, lands, and waters,” Chairman Archambault stated. “This claimed ‘right’ is stated in U.S. Supreme Court decisions—starting with Johnson v. McIntosh in 1823, and reaffirmed by Tee-Hit-Ton v. U.S. in 1955, City of Sherrill, N.Y. v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York in 2005, and many others.””






“The lesson to be learned is that the papal bulls of 1452 and 1493 are but two clear examples of how the “Christian Powers,” or “different States of Christendom,” viewed indigenous peoples as “the lawful spoil and prey of their civilized conquerors.” [Wheaton:270-1] In fact, the Christian “Law of Nations” asserted that Christian nations had a divine right, based on the Bible, to claim absolute title to and ultimate authority over any newly “discovered” Non-Christian inhabitants and their lands. Over the next several centuries, these beliefs gave rise to the Doctrine of Discovery used by Spain, Portugal, England, France, and Holland – all Christian nations.

The Doctrine of Discovery in U.S. Law

In 1823, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery was quietly adopted into U.S. law by the Supreme Court in the celebrated case, Johnson v. McIntosh (8 Wheat., 543). Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice John Marshall observed that Christian European nations had assumed “ultimate dominion” over the lands of America during the Age of Discovery, and that – upon “discovery” – the Indians had lost “their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations,” and only retained a right of “occupancy” in their lands. In other words, Indians nations were subject to the ultimate authority of the first nation of Christendom to claim possession of a given region of Indian lands.” [Johnson:574; Wheaton:270-1]



Can we still wonder why the many treaties drawn up between indigenous, “first peoples” tribes had so little merit and were not worth the paper they were written on?  And yet, Americans still regularly sing: “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”  I have heard that ignorance of the law is no excuse.  But what American school board would allow this to be taught?  Thus we are bound in ignorance and continue to wonder why the rest of the world do not love us as we expect to be loved.  The American government continues to dishonor great numbers of it’s citizens, such as, the hanging of the picture of Andrew Jackson and laying down of a wreath at his grave on Memorial Day.

“The Indian Removal Act set in motion the Trail of Tears, which attributed to the genocide of thousands of American Indians and the death of one-quarter Cherokee people. For this reason, Jackson is referred to by American Indians as the “Indian-killer” president and does not feel he should be honored or celebrated in any fashion.”  http://nativenewsonline.net/currents/day-history-may-28-1830-andrew-jackson-signs-indian-removal-act/