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'An important step on the journey to reconciliation': Vatican rejects Doctrine of Discovery

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The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says the Vatican's rejection of a centuries-old doctrine that justified colonialism is going to change the public's perception of Canadian history.

On Thursday, the Vatican announced it was formally repudiating the "Doctrine of Discovery," which was used to legitimize the seizure of Indigenous lands during the colonial era.

"It's an important step on the journey to reconciliation," said Jennifer Wood, commemoration and community engagement liaison officer with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR).

Wood said the decision shows that Pope Francis' visit to Canada last summer to formally apologize for the Catholic Church's role in creating residential schools had a real impact on him.

"It shows that he has a lens of consciousness and that there is hope for the future. They are actually stepping up to the plate and recognizing their wrongs and correcting their wrongs," said Wood.

The Doctrine of Discovery was created by popes in the 15th century. These declarations - known as “papal bulls” –led Christian nations to invade and subjugate non‐Christian lands, claim their resources, and impose Christianity on their people.

In Canada, both French and English colonial powers used the Doctrine of Discovery to claim Indigenous lands and force their cultural and religious beliefs on Indigenous peoples through residential schools.

Wood said the rejection of the doctrine will change people's perception of Canadian history, "Especially in the school system," she said. "They weren’t taught the correct history of our people, and now I believe that’s going to all change."

Wood said the Vatican's announcement is promising. "I hope that it's going to have a rippling effect, that we're going to start walking down this road together because that’s what reconciliation is."

She said announcements like this will break the colonial mindset of Canadians.

"If those keep happening, the general larger public is going to hopefully sit back in their living room chairs and realize that this did happen to us," said Wood.

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