A new documentary film exploring the connection between a five-century old Papal edict and the subsequent colonization of Indigenous peoples and dispossession of their lands will make its world premier in Vancouver next week.
The release of the Doctrine of Recovery coincides with Pope Francis’ planned visit to Canada in late July, in the wake of a national reckoning over residential schools.
At the heart of the film is its namesake, the “Doctrine of Discovery,” a legal principle distilled in the late 1400s that justified the colonization and seizure of lands not occupied by Christians by virtue of “discovery.”
“(It) gave permission to the Europeans primarily to invade, steal, rape and kill across the North and South Americas as well as other indigenous territories, all in the name of God,” Casey Camp-Horniek, environmental ambassador for the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, told Global News.
Camp-Horinek is one of three generations of Indigenous women that anchor the film, along with Trickster actress Crystle Lightening of the Enoch Cree Nation and Langley Hayes, presenter of the award-winning MMIWG documentary, Say Her Name.
The doctrine continues to resonate in U.S. legal precedent and the Canadian Indian Act, and must be rescinded by the Pope, the film argues.
In March, a delegation of Indigenous leaders met with Pope Francis in the Vatican, where they called on him to rescind the doctrine.
Now, the premiere of the film at the Assembly of First Nations’ annual general meeting couldn’t be more timely, said Union of BC Indian Chiefs secretary-treasurer Kukpi Judy Wilson, given the Pope’s impending visit.
“It’s an important message for everyone just as the work we’re doing on the ground on the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery,” she said.
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While the documentary covers centuries of ground, it remains heavily focused on how the Doctrine of Discovery still looms over every aspect of modern Indigenous life.
“We have the devastation in our lands from tarsand oil, from fracking, from mining, we don’t have to look far to see that, and it accumulates to the man-made climate crisis,” Wilson said.
The filmmakers’ hope is it leaves a lasting impression on the value of Mother Earth and why the Doctrine of Discovery must be replaced with edict acknowledging Indigenous people and their lands should be treated with dignity and respect.
“The Doctrine of Recovery seems to be a process of people reclaiming how to live within the natural laws, and how to align human law with natural law, within the context of where they are,” Camp-Horniek said.
“As an elder, I am seeing the prophecies of our people in the Indigenous community was that we had a responsibility … to pay attention to how life would be for the seven generations to come, just as the generations before us had done. In other words, to make sure we had a place that is the one mother of all of us, the Mother Earth, that has clean water, good food, clean air.”
The film premieres at the Vancouver Convention Centre on Tuesday, July 5.
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