American Indian Law Alliance

The Fight for Indigenous Peoples Day

It is essential to remember, or learn in the first place, that Columbus’ transatlantic voyages and those of the other European explorers were protected under the Doctrine of Discovery, especially Inter Caetera, issued in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI as European powers began jockeying to divide up the so-called New World. To this day, the Doctrine forms the basis of Indian land law in North America, what indigenous people call Abya Yala, or Great Turtle Island.

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly cited that doctrine to reject claims By indigenous nations to the land we have lived on since time immemorial. As recently as 2005 in City of Sherrill vs. Oneida Indian Nation, Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited the doctrine in rejecting the Oneida’s claim to repurchased land within its treaty-established homeland.

Indigenous peoples have reached out to Pope Francis, the first Pontiff from the Americas, asking him to rescind the doctrine and begin a healing process. We have met with the Papal Nuncio at the United Nations, and traveled to the Vatican and to sites of papal visits in the Americas to draw his attention to this ongoing wound.