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  • Doctrine of Discovery: How a papal teaching subjugated Australia’s First Nations people

Doctrine of Discovery: How a papal teaching subjugated Australia’s First Nations people

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In his July 2021 article titled, ‘The Uncomfortable Legacy: Colonisation and the Church,’ Brian McCoy argues for the need for the Church to have a serious conversation to redress causes of the uncomfortable legacy of colonisation. I argue that, while the Church is deeply implicated in the practice of colonisation, the problem that McCoy highlights extends beyond the Church.

In the past, domineering Australian governments have maintained, and often continue to maintain, a false Christian front to justify their wealth and power acquired through the dispossession of Australia’s First Nations people and the theft of our lands and waterways. But colonial atrocities did not occur in a vacuum, but were instead informed by past Christian ideology and doctrine fortified and enforced by the Catholic Church.

The subjugation of the world’s First Nations people was enshrined in the Doctrine of Discovery, a series of papal decrees made by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 where any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be ‘discovered,’ claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers. The Doctrine of Discovery legitimised Christian explorers’ claims to land uninhabited by Christians, promoting and fortifying Christian domination, and forcing original inhabitants into Christianity. The Doctrine of Discovery fed into more modern Christian claims to lands, through the process of colonisation and via the illegal fiction of terra nullius.

These lies, formulated in 15th century Europe, were echoed in 1778 to legitimise British claims to Indigenous land in Australia. I believe these fabrications, having originated out of medieval Christian doctrine are perpetuated by contemporary governments to maintain their hold on First Nations’ lands.

 

'A treaty embodying Christ’s teachings will end Aboriginal enslavement and repair the enduring effects of past wrongs.' 

 

The country we now know as Australia was invaded by a supposedly Christian nation under the guidance of a medieval Christian doctrine. To fulfil the requirements of this doctrine, the invading nation had to be Christian in order to bring ‘Christ’s civilizing light’ to the ‘dark corners’ of the globe populated by allegedly primitive peoples. According to the Doctrine of Discovery, occupation as a Christian nation must take place to legitimise ownership over claimed lands and control over its people.

I believe any claim to Christianity by the Australian Government is a facade to continue fulfil the requirements of the Doctrine of Discovery. Australian governments simultaneously say they are doing all they can to help, whilst they are doing all they can to stifle Aboriginal wellbeing. Similarly, the Australian Government often claims to be Christian, yet wilfully operates contrary to God’s law.

In keeping with God’s commandments, Aboriginal people maintain unbroken occupation over Australia as Australia’s first nation people. God determined the lands for which all peoples where to occupy. In Acts 17:23-26, St Luke writes, ‘God hath made of one blood of all nations to dwell on all the face of the earth and hath determined the bounds of man’s habitation’. In their quest for new frontiers, the British disobeyed God’s laws by stealing our lands and disrupting our lifestyle. And in 1778, pursuant of the statute of discovery laws, Australian Aboriginal people fell victim to slavery when the English Crown assumed ownership and control over Aboriginal people and our lands. 

With the Emancipation Proclaimation in the United States of America, the last of chattel slavery was abolished in the Western world in 1863. However, Aboriginal people still endure a form of slavery informed by Christian doctrine and imposed by domineering Australian Governments. Australian citizenship was enshrined in the 1901 Australian constitution but was forbidden to Aboriginal people. Under this constitution, we were further alienated from our lands when it was reaffirmed that we were subjects to the crown and could not practice our customs and laws. The imposition of English laws informed by Christian domination stripped us of freedoms and our humanity.

As a Christian and First Nation Elder, and in light of the Plenary Council in July 2022, I exhort the Catholic Church and other Christian churches to call for an end to governments’ hypocritical Christian domination, which persists for selfish gain,  undermines God’s rule and distorts his teachings. Moreover, unruly Christian domination exists to enslave Australia’s first nation people, stripping them of freedoms and lands. A treaty embodying Christ’s teachings will end Aboriginal enslavement and repair the enduring effects of past wrongs. A treaty would enable a multicultural peace for posterity.

The epistle of James 3:18 states: ‘And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace’. A treaty based on self-determination would end slavery and the causes of Aboriginal misery. A treaty would reinstate Aboriginal wealth and freedoms. It would permit a higher quality of life for Aboriginal peoples and greater Aboriginal nationwide contribution for a lasting and fruitful multicultural peace. A sovereign peace treaty is within God’s will and is fitting for overcoming today’s problems by rectifying today’s fallout from past Christian wrongs.

 

 

 


 

BJ Cruse is a Monaroo Elder and the current chairperson of the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC), a position he has held for 35yrs. BJ has been active in Indigenous politics since 1966 when he joined the Wallaga Lake Political Youth Group as the group's treasurer.

Main image: Thousands of people take part in the NAIDOC march in Melbourne, Australia. The march marks the start of NAIDOC Week celebrations, held across Australia each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Topic tags: BJ Cruse, Terra Nullius, Treaty, First Nations, Australia

 

 

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Existing comments

Agree in total with Elder BJ Cruse's article . A treaty /ies are long overdue in this Land, now called Australia. The church and Nation State must engage in these issues now.
There are some very important contributions to the current senate inquiry on the " Application of the UNDRIP " in Australia which call for treaty/ies now -not in 20years.
As submission 41 from Gudanji For Country adds, ... "Treaties between the federal government and First Nations are what is required to achieve selfdetermination for First Nations. Current commentary suggesting that the treaty-making process must, necessarily, take at least ten to twenty years are nothing more than self-serving statements
made by people and institutions which reap the benefits of maintaining the status quo. Genuine
government desire to recognise First Nations' rights to self-determination requires immediate action
on Treaties, in conjunction with the proposed Voice To Parliament and Truth Telling Commissions.
In addition to this, there needs to be a recognition of, and respect for, own political and economic
structures (referenced in Article 4), which have prevailed for millennia. Our political structures have
been dismantled and replaced by surrogates in the form of land councils and government. This has
had the dual effect of not only destroying our cultural heritage, but also our social structures. Our
Country is Women’s Country - our traditional self-governance involved senior women decision
makers. By completely disregarding our political structures, the government and land councils have
simultaneously diminished the rights of women in our community as well as elevated the voices of
those who have little relevance to the management of our Country. For many years, the bodies of
our women have been violated in every way imaginable. The current illegal fracking occurring on our
Country perpetuates these violations. Our voices, though never silent, continue to be marginalised,
drowned out by the noise of the white patriarchy. This practice needs to stop and we must be
allowed to return to our traditional political structures and processes (Articles 5, 18 - 20)." ... refer sub 41, also e.g. at https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Legal_and_Constitutional_Affairs/UNDRIP/Submissions


Georgina | 08 July 2022  

Brian, I think this article a year later (July 2022) by Elder BJ Cruse titled :"DOCTRINE OF DISCOVERY: HOW A PAPAL TEACHING SUBJUGATED AUSTRALIA’S FIRST NATIONS PEOPLE " is very worth responding to He concludes . ... "As a Christian and First Nation Elder, and in light of the Plenary Council in July 2022, I exhort the Catholic Church and other Christian churches to call for an end to governments’ hypocritical Christian domination, which persists for selfish gain, undermines God’s rule and distorts his teachings. Moreover, unruly Christian domination exists to enslave Australia’s first nation people, stripping them of freedoms and lands. A treaty embodying Christ’s teachings will end Aboriginal enslavement and repair the enduring effects of past wrongs. A treaty would enable a multicultural peace for posterity.
The epistle of James 3:18 states: ‘And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace’. A treaty based on self-determination would end slavery and the causes of Aboriginal misery. A treaty would reinstate Aboriginal wealth and freedoms. It would permit a higher quality of life for Aboriginal peoples and greater Aboriginal nationwide contribution for a lasting and fruitful multicultural peace. A sovereign peace treaty is within God’s will and is fitting for overcoming today’s problems by rectifying today’s fallout from past Christian wrongs." https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article/doctrine-of-discovery--how-a-papal-teaching-subjugated-australia-s-first-nations-people?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Eureka%20Street%20-%20Thursday%207%20July%202022&utm_content=Eureka%20Street%20-%20Thursday%207%20July%202022+CID_642da9004faa0ad8ea2cb862a1a8dab0&utm_source=Jescom%20Newsletters&utm_term=READ%20MORE . Currently there are calls to treaty now- not in 20/30 years. EG from Guandji for Country : ... ""Treaties between the federal government and First Nations are what is required to achieve selfdetermination for First Nations. Current commentary suggesting that the treaty-making process must, necessarily, take at least ten to twenty years are nothing more than self-serving statements
made by people and institutions which reap the benefits of maintaining the status quo. Genuine
government desire to recognise First Nations' rights to self-determination requires immediate action
on Treaties, in conjunction with the proposed Voice To Parliament and Truth Telling Commissions.
In addition to this, there needs to be a recognition of, and respect for, own political and economic
structures (referenced in Article 4), which have prevailed for millennia. Our political structures have
been dismantled and replaced by surrogates in the form of land councils and government. This has
had the dual effect of not only destroying our cultural heritage, but also our social structures. Our
Country is Women’s Country - our traditional self-governance involved senior women decision
makers. By completely disregarding our political structures, the government and land councils have
simultaneously diminished the rights of women in our community as well as elevated the voices of
those who have little relevance to the management of our Country. For many years, the bodies of
our women have been violated in every way imaginable. The current illegal fracking occurring on our
Country perpetuates these violations. Our voices, though never silent, continue to be marginalised,
drowned out by the noise of the white patriarchy. This practice needs to stop and we must be
allowed to return to our traditional political structures and processes (Articles 5, 18 - 20)." see submission


George | 08 July 2022  

The British were Anglicans. They weren’t doing a Catholic pope’s bidding. Terra nullius is a secular concept derived from classical Rome that if no one owns a piece of land, the first person to come upon it can become its owner.

It’s a pity the article does not stand up. Just because you use a legal principle as an excuse for doing other things doesn’t mean the principle doesn’t apply. If Christianisation was the legal foundation of why the British stayed, then Australia is a Christian country unless the Constitution expressly or impliedly says otherwise.

Given that the High Court believes in deep connections to land, judging that an Aborigine by virtue of being Aborigine is Australian and can’t be deported or denied formal citizenship, it could also judge that the European existence in Australia is based upon claiming the land for Christ, and that mention of the Commonwealth not imposing a religion means not favouring one Christian denomination over another.

However, Terra Nullius is not the Doctrine of Discovery and Australia isn’t, by law, intrinsically Christian just as, by law, a (genetic) Aborigine is intrinsically Australian. So, while the writer should leave Christianity out of it, Christian Australians should do the opposite by doing something about making Australia culturally, if not legally, a Christian country because, at the end of the day, religion is a philosophy and philosophy governs everything because the attitudes of human minds influences much of what their corresponding bodies feel.


roy chen yee | 09 July 2022  

Thankyou. Your words are truth telling and the truth of the violent abusive Christian past controlling Aboriginal people in Australia is one of greatest shame.
I appreciate that asking for forgiveness and being granted forgiveness and saying sorry are valuable attributes as a Christian, the greatest shame though is we could not even mean we are truly sorry in 2008, as we did nothing to assist change. Shame on Christian people who have turned a blind eye. I pray each day for proppa self determination as representing the proppa sorry.


Jan Wright | 11 July 2022  

"Go, therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit." Pity the Creator got so much wrong!!!!


john frawley | 12 July 2022  

Thank you Elder B.J.Cruse

Your article is a very important one.

When I first read it, it reminded me of the 1986 film The Mission starring Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro which raises similar concerns. The Mission is based on events surrounding the Treaty of Madrid in 1750, in which Spain ceded part of Jesuit Paraguay to Portugal.

It tells the story of a Jesuit mission established by Spanish priests in Argentina who protect the indigenous people from slavery, but as happened so often, the colonisers and slavers followed the missionaries. The papal teaching you referred to had a very catastrophic effect on the peoples of Latin America

And that brutal history is not all that much different to the British invasion of this country.

Your reference to Aboriginal slavery in Australia is correct. While slavery was supposedly abolished throughout the western world in1863, Aboriginal workers in the beef industry were working for handouts of beef, flour, sugar and tobacco. The sheer exploitation was tantamount to slavery and led to strike action in the 1940s in the Pilbara and the NT in the 1960s.

The strikes in the 1940s in the Pilbara were organized by Don McLeod and Aboriginal elders with support of unions around the nation stopped free Aboriginal labour in the Pilbara

And the 7 year Gurindji strike at the Wave Hill cattle station in Kalkarindji, Northern Territory which began in 1966 was led by Vincent Lingiari With the support of Australian unions and a strong public campaign this led to the end of the slave labour imposed by Lord Vestey. In 1975, the then PM Gough Whitlam gave part of the Gurindji people back their land by symbolically pouring some of the soil into Vincent Lingiari’ s outstretched hand..

Australian author – Frank Hardy - wrote a book about the struggle and the famous Darwin wharfy and East Timor solidarity activist – Brian Manning – drove his truck full of provisions for the strikers and their families. This truck is now a national treasure.

All Australians must now support the demands of Aboriginal people for a treaty, a First Nations’ voice in the Australian Constitution, an Aboriginal forum to advise federal governments on First Nations’ issues, truth telling about the history of invasion and occupation.

This support should also mean more resources for social services and land rights for Aboriginal people and more representation on our national symbols – eg an Aboriginal emblem on our flag (Some believe that this could replace the Union Jack.

The fact is that we still have much to do to effectively continue the Reconciliation process.


Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 17 July 2022  
Show Responses

'a First Nations’ voice in the Australian Constitution'

In which the Voice' of Aborigines will drown out the 'Voice' of Torres Strait Islanders on numbers unless we have two Voices. 'First Nations' is plural.

Sometimes, the truth of a proposition can be tested by seeing if its principle stands up in another context. Any takers on a Voice of Black Americans to the US Congress because of the slave past?


roy chen yee | 18 July 2022  

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