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Indigenous Peoples and Discovery Doctrine

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05 August 2018
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Ben Sherman, Oglala Lakota, President World Indigenous Tourism Alliance, at the United Nations of Geneva
Ben Sherman, Oglala Lakota, President World Indigenous Tourism Alliance, at the United Nations of Geneva

Statement presented at the UN in Geneva on the occasion of the 11th session of the EMRIP, Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Dear Chair,

This agenda item is about Country Engagement. I will remind you that Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. Pope Francis is the head of the country and of the Holy See within those boundaries.

In this statement I will be quoting passages that I modified for purposes of brevity from the United States newspaper Indian Country Today in two articles published in 2014 regarding Pope Francis and the Doctrine of Discovery.

In his landmark speech on July 10, 2014, Pope Francis apologized for the "grave sins" of colonialism against Indigenous Peoples of America in a speech to grassroots groups in Bolivia.

In the speech he admitted, "Some may rightly say, 'When the pope speaks of colonialism, he overlooks certain actions of the church.' " Pope Francis added, "I say this to you with regret: Many grave sins were committed against the Native people of America in the name of God.”

He said, "I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America."

He spoke, standing side-by-side with Bolivian President Evo Morales, the Andean nation's first Indigenous president

Many have called for him to outright rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, which paved the way for centuries of oppression against Indigenous Peoples.

Exactly two months after the statement in Bolivia, the same newspaper wrote about a group of Catholic nuns who urged Pope Francis to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, the set of 15-century papal bulls that gave tacit permission to seize lands and justify colonization of Indigenous populations.

The Catholic nuns pointed out that the Doctrine of Discovery's tendrils are woven throughout modern race relations, from the wiping out of indigenous languages and cultures, to treaty and sovereignty issues.

Ben Sherman interviewed by Rosalba Nattero for Shan Newspaper
Ben Sherman interviewed by Rosalba Nattero for Shan Newspaper

In 1992 Steven Newcomb and Birgil Kills Straight from my home community called upon Pope John Paul II to formally revoke the Inter Caetera papal bull of May 4,1493. And on May 4, 2016 Mr. Newcomb met with Pope Francis to personally ask him to revoke the papal bull.

It’s not the first time a pope has been asked to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, nor would it be the last. In 2006 the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues called on Pope Benedict XVI to revoke and renounce those documents.

Today I call upon the EMRIP expert panel and the Human Rights Council to appeal to Pope Francis and the Holy See to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, and to join Indigenous peoples in our march toward justice and full human rights.

Thank you.


Source: United States newspaper Indian Country Today in an article titled Pope Francis Apologizes to Indigenous Peoples for ‘Grave Sins' of Colonialism, published July 10, 2014. Another related article from the same newspaper titled Nuns Urge Pope to Rescind Doctrine of Discovery was published by the same newspaper on September 10, 2014.


Ben Sherman, Oglala Lakota, President World Indigenous Tourism Alliance


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