New this week: The Doctrine of Christian Discovery - its impact on U.S. property law
This week we will highlight a video on our website and in the TV schedule called The Doctrine of Discovery 3/3/17: Unmasking the Domination Code. This event featured a showing of the film of the same name by Sheldon Wolfschild, based on the book Pagans in the Promised Land by Steven Newcomb. Peter d'Errico introduced the film, and Grandmother Strong Oak Lefebvre facilitated a talking circle after the film showing. This event was held at the Mount Toby Meetinghouse in Leverett on March 3rd. The film was presented by the Mount Toby Peace and Social Concerns Committee, and the event was cosponsored by the American Friends Service Committee of Western Massachusetts, Arise for Social Justice, The New England Peace Pagoda, Traprock Center for Peace and Justice, and Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle Intertribal Coalition.
Peter d'Errico, a consulting attorney on indigenous issues, who formerly taught Legal Studies at UMass, was consulted in the making of the film. He introduced the film on the March 3rd event by challenging viewers to watch it with the awareness that history is not something just in the past, that it is very much alive through the ways it has affected the present. He challenges all to watch the film and not come away with the conclusion that they have watched a movie about something that happened long ago, but with the conclusion that they now understand the present in a new light and understand the forces that have shaped the way they understand the world. To paraphrase d'Errico: The Doctrine of Christian Discovery was pronounced about 500 years ago by the Pope to authorize Spain and Portugal to colonize the Americas, and to authorize Portugal to conduct slave raids on the African coast. These legal, religious documents underpinned the history of slavery and the history of colonialism. An 1823 Supreme Court case incorporated these notions into United States property law, to decide the question of, "Who owns the continent?" deciding that the U.S. must own the land because the Crown of England claimed to own the land under the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, and that therefore the Indians could not own the land, but merely "occupy" it with permission. This case has been cited over 300 times since 1823 in making decisions about rights to the land, such as in the 1955 case Tee-Hit-Ton vs. the United States.
Grandmother Strong Oak Lefebvresays that we have a chance to heal the culture we live in by telling the truth of how the current structure got put in place, by decisions such as the little known to Doctrine of Discovery which has been kept from the people to hide the violence, domination and occupation that happened in this land and continues to happen all over the world. She opens the circle for the input of each person present in the room about how we can work on reversing what happened through the doctrine of discovery. She says, recent government mandates against the immigration of People of Color into the United States may as well be going back to the 1493 doctrine, when the structure which set in place, that in 1794 law, only white Christians could come to this continent from overseas. She reminds us of the many things Presidents have tried to do to deny humanity to indigenous people, such as removing them and sending them off to boarding schools. She underlines the importance of working toward decolonization.
Watch the video at https://vimeo.com/207521645 to learn more about what was said in the room on March 3rd, and if you can, watch The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code by Sheldon Wolfschild and Steven Newcomb. The event footage will also air on our TV channel this Thursday at 11 AM and Friday at 12:30 AM.
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