Dene and Métis leaders from across the Dehcho are calling on the Roman Catholic Church to throw out the Doctrine of Discovery and any related 14th century Papal orders that helped drive colonialism and harm to their ancestors and traditional ways of life.

Stanley Sanguez, the interim Grand Chief of the Dehcho First Nations (DFN), is a residential school survivor.

“For eleven years they tried to beat the Indian out of me at residential school in Fort Simpson, but they didn’t succeed,” he told NWT News/North.

Sanguez was also chief of his home community of Jean Marie River for seven terms. He said that working at the regional level as interim Grand Chief in support of eight Dene First Nations and two Metis Councils, his eyes have been opened further.

“It’s a big step, standing up for eight communities. We got to educate our youth in the schools about this history now. They need to learn about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights),” urged Sanguez.

In a June 1 news release, the DFN criticized the Doctrine of Discovery for falsely claiming that “our nations were not already governing the lands and waters of Turtle Island long before Europeans arrived. This fraudulent and evil doctrine was promulgated and promoted by the Vatican and other churches in order to claim that the destruction and genocide of colonialism was justified as ‘God’s will’ rather than a criminal exercise in the destruction of nations.”

Jon Hansen, bishop for the Roman Catholic diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, said there’s several new documents from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) that echo calls to action from the TRC and UNDRIP.

“I can only speak for my diocese, but there are numerous official statements from the CCCB and Vatican. However, the Doctrine of Discovery now can be seen as a vile document and has no standing. It was rescinded hundreds of years later. It’s replaced every time a new pope writes new encyclicals,” explained Hansen.

He added that he hopes Pope Francis will address this issue during his upcoming visit to Canada to meet with Indigenous peoples, and that there will be a contingent of people from the NWT at the gathering with the pontiff in Edmonton.

Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine was with the Assembly of First Nations delegation that met with Pope Francis in Rome this past spring.

Antoine said “our words really stuck over in Rome.”

Pope Francis is expected to visit Canada July 24-29 and possibly at the highly visited Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage site in Alberta.

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