Print of the painting entitled “Discovery of Okanagan Lake” by George H. Southwell. GVMA 2186.

The Doctrine of Discovery was a late-medieval philosophy that provided early Christian European explorers with the spiritual, legal, and political grounds for the seizure of land inhabited by non-Christians. It was used in Africa, Asia, New Zealand, and the Americas.

The Doctrine stemmed from a series of Papal Bulls, particularly Romanus Pontifex (1455), and Inter Caetera (1493). 

Romanus Pontifex “granted” King Alfonso V of Portugal a monopoly of trade and colonization with all lands south of Cape Bojador in Africa. It also encouraged the seizure of land from Saracen Turks, and the enslavement of non-Christians. 

Inter Caetera “granted” King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castille sovereignty to any “unclaimed” lands west and south of the Azores and Cape Verde islands. It resulted in the colonization of the Americas.

The Doctrine of Discovery in CANADA

Romanus Pontifex

1455

“We [therefore] weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso — to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit — by having secured the said faculty, the said King Alfonso, or, by his authority, the aforesaid infante, justly and lawfully has acquired and possessed, and doth possess, these islands, lands, harbors, and seas, and they do of right belong and pertain to the said King Alfonso and his successors.”

 

 

The Documentary “Doctrine of Discovery: Stolen Lands, Strong Hearts,” was produced by the Anglican Church of Canada* and reflects on the implications of Inter Caetera on the Indigenous People of Canada. *The Museum and Archives of Vernon (MAV) is not affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any way officially connected with the Anglican Church of Canada, or any of its subsidiaries or its affiliates.

The Doctrine of Discovery undoubtedly informed Canada’s earliest European explorers, whose voyages to the “New World” paved the way for France and England to lay claim to the land.

In looking at Canada’s more recent history, the Doctrine of Discovery has never been explicitly cited in a Land Title Claim case; however, many argue that its implications continue to inform Canadian Law and negatively impact Indigenous Peoples. For instance, during the 1990 Supreme Court of Canada R. v. Sparrow case, the following was stated:

“It is worth recalling that while British policy towards the native population was based on respect for their right to occupy their traditional lands, a proposition to which the Royal Proclamation of 1763 bears witness, there was from the outset never any doubt that sovereignty and legislative power, and indeed the underlying title, to such lands vested in the Crown.”

Actions like the introduction of Bill C-15 into the House of Commons in 2020, an attempt to establish a process for implementing the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), which includes a complete rejection of colonialism and the Doctrine of Discovery, demonstrate that this medieval philosophy is not merely an artifact of the past. 

Join the conversation! Learn + Connect: Towards Reconciliation is a free online program that has been developed so participants can explore colonial perspectives of history, reflect on how they influences our understanding and actions, and discuss ways we can move forward.

The first session, which explores the Doctrine of Discovery via the “Stolen Land, Strong Hearts” documentary, will take place on January 20, 2022, from 7:00-8:30 PM via Zoom. All are welcome to join!

 

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On September 30, the public is asked to wear orange to mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The above logo was created for non-profit use by Andy Everson of the K’ómoks First Nation.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

On June 3, 2021, the Canadian Government declared September 30 National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in commemoration of the lost children and survivors of residential schools. This announcement marked the most recent development in Canada’s efforts towards Reconciliation, which remains an ongoing process. The following timeline highlights some of the local and national developments in this fight for justice, but is by no means comprehensive.

 

A Timeline of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada

June 30, 1970: The St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School in Cranbrook closes after 80 years of operation. Most Syilx students were sent either to Cranbrook or Kamloops.

May 5, 1977: The North Okanagan Friendship Center Society (NOFCS) is established in Vernon to provide programs, services, and support to the community. 

July 31, 1978: The Kamloops Residential School closes after 88 years of operation.

1994: The Indian Residential School Survivors Society begins as a working committee of the First Nations Summit.

1996: Canada’s last federally-funded residential school, the Gordon’s Residential School in Punnichy, Saskatchewan, closes.

March 31, 1998: The Aboriginal Healing Foundation is established to fund projects that address the intergenerational impacts of Canada’s residential school system.

2001: The documentary “Survivors of the Red Brick Schoolhouse” is produced by a group of former Syilx students of the St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School, under the direction of Virginia Baptiste.

Nov. 23, 2005: The Canadian Government announces a $2-billion compensation package for Indigenous Peoples who were forced to attend residential schools.

2008: Prime Minister Stephen Harper offers an apology to residential school survivors.

2008: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) is officially launched. Over the course of 6 years, the TRC interviews more than 6,500 witnesses, and hosts 7 national events to engage and educate the Canadian public.

2015: The TRC releases its final report which includes 94 Calls to Action.

2015: The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) establishes the Syilx Indian Residential School Committee.

Nov. 28, 2017: The ONA unveils the Syilx Okanagan Indian Residential School Monument in Penticton.

June 18, 2020: OKIB Chief Byron Louis and Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming begin regular meetings to develop a stronger relationship between the Band and the City.

 

To learn more, please join us at the museum on September 30, 2021, to honour National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with a series of presentations and displays. Click here to learn more. 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

Museum Begins Process of Reconciliation

 

October 13, 2020

The Greater Vernon Museum and Archives (GVMA) is honoured to host the Cultural Safety Program, facilitated by local Indigenous Elders. The program provides training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, and anti-racism for partners in arts, culture, and heritage in the North Okanagan as they share positive information about Syilx People and participate in a process of reconciliation and future collaboration. 

Elders and program leaders, Christina “Chris” Marchand is a Sixties Scoop survivor, and Eric Mitchell the survivor of a residential school. Together, they created the Cultural Safety Program in 2008, initially for nursing students at UBCO. Since then, the training has expanded to students, professors and staff from all faculties – and now to partners from cultural organizations in the Greater Vernon area.

Marchand and Mitchell have dedicated their life’s work to educating non-Indigenous people about the impacts of racism and intergenerational trauma to begin the process of working toward reconciliation in the future. For their work, Marchand and Mitchell were honoured with honourary law degrees from UBCO in August 2020.

 

Chris Marchand

 

Eric Mitchell

Providing this training to staff and leaders of cultural organizations, “is an important – and necessary – step towards answering the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action 57,” believes GVMA Executive Director, Steve Fleck.

Call to Action 57 calls for federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

The first group of North Okanagan cultural partners will begin the four day training in the GVMA’s Community Hall on Friday October 16, 2020.  To mark this historical step in cultural connection, diversity and reconciliation, Mayor Victor Cumming will join the GVMA and the Arts Council of the Okanagan in welcoming the Elders at a private ceremony at 10:30 AM. 

As Fleck notes, “As cultural partners, we hope to foster a safe and collaborative environment that results in deeper sharing, learning and understanding with the Syilx People in the Okanagan Territory.”

This program is would not be possible without support from the Regional District of North Okanagan and the BC Arts Council. For more information, please contact the Vernon Museum: mail@vernonmuseum.ca