Image credits: Upstander Project

The Doctrine of Discovery was promulgated by Western colonialists to establish a spiritual, and legal justification for colonisation and seizure of aboriginal land. It had been invoked in 1493 through a Papal decree, which aimed to promote Christian domination, and was applied to land in Africa, Asia, the Americas, etc.

If an explorer proclaims to have discovered land in the name of a Christian European monarch, and reports their discovery, the land is now theirs, even if inhabited by someone else first. If aboriginals reinforce their claim on the land, their way of life could be deemed inadequate according to European standards. This ideology supported the dehumanisation of non-white races, promoting their murder, and forced assimilation, as well as white supremacy, as European settlers claimed they were instruments of divine design and possessed cultural superiority.

The case of Johnson v M’Intosh (1823) integrated this claim into US law, and led to Native Americans being stripped of their land in mass numbers for years. Since then, it has become an important aspect of public international law, and its validity is debated to this day. The doctrine and its legacy continues to influence American imperialism, neo-colonisation, and the treatment of indegnious people.

“Until the lions have their own historians, the

history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

-Chinua Achebe