Colubus landing in the Americas in 1492.

The Doctrine of Discovery & Congressional Acts

"Genocide Conceled as Education, European Expansion"

The writer is Indigenous Day Award recipient Phillip B Gottfredson, the author of My Journey to Understand Black Hawk's Mission of Peace.

The following explains the role religion played in the Doctrine of Discovery and Congressional Acts designed to justify the extermination and enslavement of indigenous peoples in North and South America.

The Doctrine of Discovery was created in 1493, a year after Columbus arrived on the shores of North America; Christian Monarchies decreed that anyone who did not believe in the God of the Bible were deemed "heathens," "infidels," and "savages."

Steven T. Newcomb, Indigenous Law Institute and author of "Pagans in the Promised Land" said it succinctly: "Indian nations have been denied their most basic rights ... simply because, at the time of Christendom's arrival in the Americas, they did not believe in the God of the Bible, and did not believe that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah... This is the land promised by the Eternal Father to the Faithful, since we are commanded by God in the Holy Scriptures to take it from them, being idolaters, by reason of their idolatry and sin, to put them all to the knife, leaving no living thing save maidens and children, their cities robbed and sacked, their walls and houses leveled to the earth. This is the basis for the denial of Indian rights in federal Indian law and remains as true today as it was in 1823."

"The ways of life, identities, well-being and very existence of Indigenous People are threatened by the continuing effects of settler-colonization and national policies, regulations and laws that attempt to force them to assimilate into the cultures of majoritarian societies. A fundamental historical basis and legal precedent for these policies and laws is the "Doctrine of Discovery", the idea that Christians enjoy a moral and legal right based solely on their religious identity to invade and seize indigenous lands and to dominate Indigenous Peoples." - World Council of Churches

"Papal authority is the basis for United States power over indigenous peoples but this fact is not generally understood, even by lawyers who work with federal Indian law. This is due in large part to the sophistry of John Marshall, one of the greatest figures in the pantheon of the U. S. Supreme Court in 1801. Marshall borrowed from Papal Bulls the essential legalisms needed for state power over indigenous peoples. Johnson v. McIntosh has never been overruled. "Christian discovery" remains the legal foundation for United States sovereignty over indigenous peoples' lands. But it is concealed, as most foundations are, because Johnson v. McIntosh acts as a laundromat for religious concepts. After Marshall's opinion, no lawyer or court would need to acknowledge that land title claims in United States law are based on a doctrine of Christian supremacy. From that time on, in law and history books, "European" would be substituted for "Christian," so that school child and lawyer alike could speak of the "age of discovery" as the age of "European expansion." - by Peter d'Errico, Legal Studies Department, University of Massachusetts/Amherst, American Indian Sovereignty: Now You See It, Now You Don't. Author of the book Federal Anti-Indian Law: The Legal Entrapment of Indigenous Peoples.

The Doctrine of Discovery gave birth to Andrew Jackson's systematic Indian Removal Act of 1830 and Manifest Destiny in 1839.

See english version of the original "Doctrine of Discovery:

Dum Diversas

Papal Bull Dum Diversas 18 June, 1452

Pope Nicholas V issued the papal bull Dum Diversas on 18 June, 1452. It authorised Alfonso V of Portugal to reduce any “Saracens (Muslims) and pagans and any other unbelievers” to perpetual slavery... Indigenous Values Initiative, "Dum Diversas," Doctrine of Discovery Project (23 July 2018)

We have provided several videos by Steven T. Newcomb Indigenous Law Institute and author of "Pagans in the Promised Land" on the Doctrine of Discovery that are well worth the time to watch.



There was a series of congressional acts designed to diminish tribal lands, or reservations, the Dawes Allotment Act, the Reorganization Act, the Termination Act, the Self Determination Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Then came the boarding schools and the LDS Church Indian placement program.

The Dawes Act in 1887, so named for its author, Senator Henry Dawes of Massachusetts. Also known as the General Allotment Act, the law allowed for the President to break up reservation land held in common by the members of a tribe into small allotments which were then parceled out to individuals. To each head of a family, approximately 60 acres were given. To each single person over eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section was given. To each orphan child under eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section; and to each other single person under eighteen years now living, or who may be born prior to the date of the order of the President directing an allotment of the lands embraced in any reservation, one-sixteenth of a section, and so forth.

The purpose of the Dawes Act was to break up the reservations and tribal unity. Tribal members were given the choice whether to take part in the allotment act or not. Those that did were automatically given U.S. citizenship as an incentive, so it became clear that the purpose was to assimilate Native people into white-man's culture through boarding schools where Native children were severely punished for speaking their Native language. And those who did participate were able to sell their allotted land, which resulted in a checkerboard reservation. It also opened the door to any number of attempts by white-man to trick the Native people into trading their land titles for things such as a new car or truck. In the end, the Dawes act resulted in the loss of indigenous cultures, traditions, and land across the U.S., totaling some 90 million acres of treaty land. Because of this, the Dawes Act failed miserably and died a natural death.

Next came the Reorganization Act of 1934. Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Reorganization on June 28, 1934. It was designed to undo some of the devastating problems caused by the Dawes Act. It did away with the boarding schools and ended the allotment of tribal lands. It recognized tribal governments and encouraged tribes to adopt constitutions. It prohibited lands from being taken away from tribes without their consent, which the Dawes Act didn't, and it gave the tribes the power to manage their assets, which consisted mainly of land at the time.

Then came the Termination Act of 1953. Enacted by Congress, it was intended to end all relations between the Federal Government and the Native Nations. It was yet another attempt to assimilate the Native American peoples into white-man's culture. It was intended to grant full rights and privileges of citizenship to the Native peoples, and tax their land. Native populations were found to be living in extreme poverty by this time as a result of gross Federal Government mismanagement. The government’s answer to the problem was to eradicate the tribes of North America. The goal was “as rapidly as possible to make Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States.” (House Concurrent Resolution 108)

From 1953-1964, one hundred and nine tribes were terminated, and federal responsibility and jurisdiction were turned over to state governments. Approximately 2,500,000 acres of trust land was removed from protected status, and 12,000 Native Americans lost tribal affiliation. The lands were sold to non-Indians, and the tribes lost official recognition by the U.S. government.

Public Law 280 which was passed in 1953 turned power over to state governments to enforce most of the regular criminal laws on reservations as they were doing in other parts of the state. State governments and tribes disapproved of the law. tribes disliked states having jurisdiction without tribal consent, and state governments resented taking on jurisdiction for these additional areas without additional funding. With such mutual dissent, additional amendments to Public Law 280 have been passed to require tribal consent in law enforcement, and in some cases, the states have been able to return jurisdiction back to the federal government.

Next was the Indian Education and Self Determination Act of 1970. Richard Nixon told Congress that “the Federal government should begin to recognize and build upon the capacities and insights of the Indian people.” But it was not until 1975 that Congress passed the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. This meant that the Federal government could now contract with tribal governments for services. Native American people were now able to operate their own schools. They could take control of their own education and bring their own languages, beliefs, and philosophies into their schools.

After that came the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Just imagine, since the days of the Dawes Act in 1887, the American peoples by law were denied the right to practice their religion. The Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 states that it shall be the “policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.” However, as a joint resolution, the act had no provisions for enforcement.

It was not until 1993 that another act provided American Indians with help to retain their sacred sites, and a 1994 act made it legal for peyote to be used for ceremonial purposes. It should be noted not all tribes use peyote. And There are many who don't use drugs of any kind in their ceremonies.

In 2007, I had come across a rare video of a young Native man who was on the steps of the Utah State Capitol about 1998, and he was talking before news cameras about his inherent right to practice his Native religion. He said before cameras that the day before he was at the burial site of Chief Black Hawk making an offering and giving tribute to a great Chief when he was approached by two police officers who told him he needed to leave. The young man argued he had a legal right to be there and pray, but the officers told him “if you do not leave now you will be making your prayers at the point of the mountain.” All locals know that 'the point of the mountain' is in reference to the Utah State Prison. Apparently, the State of Utah hadn't got the memo on the American Indian Religious Freedom Act having been passed in 1978. Wanting to use the clip in my documentary film, I was able to make contact with the young man who I learned was Choctaw and lived in Oklahoma. I asked him for permission to use the clip to which he replied, “It's not necessary to get my permission, but thank you for your kind consideration.” We became friends after that for a while until he passed in 2010.

Called the “Indian Placement Program,” the “Indian Student Placement Program,” and also the “Lamanite Placement Program,” the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon's) founded and operated the program from 1954 to about 1996. The prerequisite to qualifying for this program, Native American children, mostly Navajo, had to be baptized members of the LDS church and in ”good-standing” and with their parents’ consent.

Though the program was described as being an educational opportunity for Native children as opposed to foster care, then Church leader Spencer W. Kimball, speaking at the October LDS General Conference, extolled the success of the program, and noted that for the Native children in the program, their dark skin was getting notably lighter and “delight-some.”

The Mormon Church believes that they have a divine obligation to convert Utah's American Indians to Mormonism, according to church doctrine, and in so doing, the so-called "loathsome" Indians would become a "white and delightsome people" and would be forgiven of the sins of their forefathers. (Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 5:21-23) According to church doctrine, the nature of the dark skin was a curse, the cause was the Lord, the reason was because the Lamanites (Indians) "had hardened their hearts against him, (God)" and the punishment was to make them "loathsome" unto God's people who had white skins.

Numerous complaints were filed with the Bureau of Indian Affairs claiming the Church was using the program as a tactic to assimilate Native children into western culture and as a tool to increase membership. Many lawsuits were filed by Native people involved in the program, claiming sexual abuse along with physical and mental abuse. At the same time, of the some 20,000 who went through the program, there are differing opinions regarding the good of the program. Never the less, the LDS church discontinued the program in 1996.

(See John L. O'Sullivan on Manifest Destiny, 1839: "With a bible in one hand, and a gun in the other they came to save the heathans from hell... and get rich.")