Reconciliation and Canada’s Claim of a Right of Domination Over Native Nations

Let’s take a closer look at the Truth and Reconciliation process embraced by Canada. In one context, “to reconcile” means “to restore a friendship.” Let’s be clear. It is not possible to “restore” a friendship that neverexisted between the dominating society of Canada and the Original Nations and Peoples of the continent. Let’s consider another

Let’s take a closer look at the Truth and Reconciliation process embraced by Canada. In one context, “to reconcile” means “to restore a friendship.” Let’s be clear. It is not possible to “restore” a friendship that neverexisted between the dominating society of Canada and the Original Nations and Peoples of the continent.

Let’s consider another definition of reconciliation, “to cause to submit or to accept,” and “to bring into acquiescence with.” Suppose the government of Canada (and its various provinces) has been using the word “reconciliation” in an effort to “cause” Indigenous peoples “to submit to or to accept” Canada’s claim of a right of “Crown domination.” Suppose it has wanted to “bring” Native nations “into acquiescence with” Canada’s claim of a right of domination over Native nations.

There is an excellent reason for a country such as Canada to initiate a process termed “reconciliation” in relation to our Original Nations. Canada has wanted to use that process to trick Native nations into passively accepting the idea that Canada has a legitimate claim a right of “sovereignty” over the original nations and peoples of the continent. The potential to secure the financially lucrative acquiescence of Native nations to the claim of Crown Domination created an excellent incentive for the government of Canada to use the concept of “reconciliation.”

Reconciliation is not a word of liberation. It’s a word of submissiveness and timidity. It is now typically used by the Catholic Church in place of “confession.” It’s a trap word. It can lead, for example, to our original nations caving in to the claim of crown or federal sovereignty (domination) over our very existence. The word reconciliation is designed to quell and pacify noisy discontentment such as Idle No More or Standing Rock. In my view, it’s a word that’s been used by non-Native governments in an effort to put us to sleep.

Evidence to support this assessment is found in the July 2019 Final Report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). After discussing at great length the so-called doctrine of discovery, the report states: “We would not suggest that the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery necessarily gives rise to the invalidation of Crown sovereignty.”

Let’s express that again, in simple English: The analysis of the Doctrine of Discovery by the drafters of the Final Report did not cause those drafters to question the assumption that the claim of a right of Crown domination (“sovereignty”) has validity. The drafters of the Final Report seemed to be saying, “We are willing to accept the claim of Crown domination [“sovereignty”] as valid even though the premise for the claim of a right of Crown domination [“sovereignty”] is the invalid doctrine of discovery” that deserves to be repudiated.

The TRC’s Final Report expresses the view of the government of Canada, as a British Commonwealth country. It should not be surprising that representatives of “the crown” were willing to accept the crown’s claim of a right of “crown domination” (“sovereignty”) in relation to Original Nations and Peoples.  

The Final Report of the TRC says “the Doctrine of Discovery. . .has been invoked as a justification for the ongoing exploitation of” the “lands, territories, and resources” of Indigenous peoples.” Let’s make that point more precise: It’s the British Crown’s claim of a right of domination, traced back to the John Cabot charter of 1496, and the series of papal bulls from the fifteenth centuries, that Canada has been using to justify the ongoing exploitation of the “lands, territories, and resources” of Indigenous peoples.

The claim of a right of crown domination originates with the image of a Christian monarch being the first representative of the Christian empire (Christendom) to locate non-Christian lands, lands over which no system of Christian domination had yet been established.  A definition of property matches the crown’s claim to the lands and territories of the original nations of the continent: “the first establishment of socially approved physical domination over some part of the natural world.”

We find this imagery being expressed in the John Cabot charter, of 1496, for example. The Cabots were to go forth, in the name of the king, and “subjugare” (dominate) the lands of “heathens and infidels” “previously unknown to all Christian people.” That Cabot commission is just one such document used to justify the ongoing domination and exploitation of the lands, territories, and resources of our Original Nations of Great Turtle Island.

Yet the TRC final report stops short of challenging the crown’s claim of a right of domination. That Report only frames the doctrine of discovery in terms of “European” history, and avoids calling it “Christian.” The Report thereby avoids acknowledging that the so-called doctrine of discovery is rooted in the idea of the Chosen People and the Promised Land, the Bible, and Christianity. The report says that crown sovereignty is still valid even after the very basis of the claim of “crown sovereignty) (domination) has been rejected.

How do you repudiate the conceptual foundation of the crown’s claim to a right of domination over Original Nations and Peoples while maintaining the crown’s claim of a right of domination?  You do so by claiming that although the source of the crown’s claim of a right of domination is revealed to be invalid, you must claim that this revelation does not lead to the conclusion that the claim which emerged from that invalid source is also invalid.

By carefully writing in a “reconciling” (“acquiescing”) manner toward Canada’s claim of a right of crown domination, the drafters of the TRC’s Final Report called for a repudiation of the conceptual foundation of “crown sovereignty” without calling for a repudiation of the idea of “crown sovereignty” (domination). The TRC authors of the Final Report said “there are other means to establish the validity of Crown sovereignty.” They stopped short of saying what those other means were. Perhaps they stopped short of sharing that information because they couldn’t figure out what those other means were.

In any event, the TRC Final Report fails to explain what reason the Original Nations of the continent would have for simply acquiescing in the Canada’s claim of a right of crown domination over them. As it now stands, the conceptual basis of the crown’s claim of a right of domination over Native nations has been revealed to be a scam based on the Bible, Christianity, papal bulls, and European racism, as well as the ideas expressed by Chief Justice John Marshall in the Johnson v. McIntosh ruling that was issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1823.

Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) is co-founder and director of the Indigenous Law Institute, and author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum, 2008). He can be contacted at stv4newcomb@yahoo.com.

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