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The Doctrine of Discovery

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Janet Newton

The Doctrine of Discovery

Southeastern Oklahoma State University

Geography and Treaties

The Doctrine of Discovery

The Discovery Doctrine is a perception of the law that has been demonstrated by the United States Supreme Court in more than one decision, starting with Johnson v. McIntosh in 1823. It is based on a series of 15th century Papal Bulls that gave Christian explorers the right to claim title to the lands they claim to have discovered, and has the right to claim those lands for their Christian Monarchs. It is also noted, that any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be claimed, and exploited. If the paganism people could be converted, they might have a chance to be spared. If the pagans could not be converted then, they could be enslaved or killed. Given these instructions, the European nations claimed for themselves the entire Western Hemisphere. It has shown the remarkable mannerism of time. This has resulted in the subjugation, genocide, relegating Native peoples to a subhuman standing in international politics.

The case of Johnson v. McIntosh was the beginning to the Discovery Doctrine. The Discovery Doctrine permitted Europeans to claim lands that Natives already lived on and occupied. The Doctrine of Discovery gave European Christian countries to have complete control, power, and legal rights over the non-Christian Native Americans. In order for them to do well for their own countries, many European monarchs and their legal systems developed this belief, which has become institutionalized in law and policy, at national and international levels. Today, the Doctrine of Discovery is still being applied to Native peoples not withstanding its religious and racial foundations, and is often marked by the violations of cultural practices and spiritual expressions, expropriation of lands, territories and resources and ongoing violations of Native peoples’ human rights.

Native peoples have been laboring and suffering under that status right up until the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Native people was established in 2007, in which, this was the first time that Native people were recognized as people. Until recently, Native people were politically denied human rights. Native People are known to have the oldest living culture in the world.   The way of life, identities, and their well-being is very existence of Native People as they are threatened by the continuing effects of colonization and national policies, regulations and laws that attempt to force them to integrate into the cultures of majoritarian societies. An important historical basis and legal example for these policies and laws is the “Doctrine of Discovery”, the notion that Christians would relish a moral and legal right based merely on their religious identity to invade and to take control of Native’s lands, and also control the Native People.

The United States seized possession of large amounts of Indian land after Christopher Columbus discovered America. The United States claiming the land of America using the Christendom’s theory, declaring that Christian nations should have total control over non-Christians territories. There were several Acts and Treaties that also used to defeat this doctrine of domination; the Indian Removal Act in 1835 well illustrates this practice. Originally intended to show the integrity of Indians territories, the Removal Act that was formed, created many conflicts between the Native’s and Christian communities that resulted in the removal of the Native people from their own homeland, and as a result of the Americans wanting to conquer the Indians territories. Additionally, the United States labeled the Indian people to be “domestic dependent nations” and also as “migratory hunters” with no claim to their homelands, therefore the lands of America were supposedly uninhabited and available for Christians ‘nations to govern. Everything that I have mentioned above is to show that the Europeans Christian nations, that also includes the United States, used the Doctrine of discovery to take the Indian land from the first known occupants.

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