Sask. Indigenous man says centuries-old Papal policy still affects people today

Wayne Poitras believes that the Catholic Church's doctrine of discovery is responsible for many problems currently inflicting Canada's First Nations. (CTV News Prince Albert)

Wayne Poitras from Peepeekisis First Nation says many of the problems First Nations people face today are rooted in the doctrine of discovery.

“The battle, the effects of what happened 400-500 years ago, it's still happening, it's still there today,” he said.

According to the Assembly of First Nations, the doctrine emanates from a series of formal statements from the Pope and extensions originating in the 1400s.

"Discovery was used as legal and moral justification for colonial dispossession of sovereign Indigenous Nations, including First Nations in what is now Canada. During the European 'Age of Discovery,' Christian explorers 'claimed' lands for their monarchs who felt they could exploit the land, regardless of the original inhabitants," the AFN said in a 2018 paper calling for Pope Francis and Canada to denounce the policy.

Indigenous delegates present at the Vatican last month also asked the pope to rescind the doctrine of discovery.

“It was a recognition that all of those non-Christian territories were not occupied or the occupiers of the land did not own the land,” said University of Regina associate professor James Daschuk, who studies the effect of environmental change on the health of Indigenous people.

He said the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have both called for renouncing the policy.

“And really what it is, it’s calling for the powers that be to say that this was a mistake," said DaschukWe’ve got recognition of Indigenous title here in Canada, we're still sort of working that out. But I guess on paper that still exists in 2022.”

If the doctrine is renounced, the ownership of land in Canada that was expropriated from Indigenous people could come into question, he explained.

“Academic research and legal investigations are muddying that field because First Nations are adamant that they agreed to share the land rather than surrender the land," Daschuk said.

“It was just to take over everything in the land,” Poitras said about the doctrine. “Claim it and whatever happened, happened. Good or bad, but mostly bad.”