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Vancouver Island religious and First Nations leaders respond to Vatican renouncing Doctrine of Discovery

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The Vatican is asking Indigenous people from across the globe for forgiveness as it revokes the "Doctrine of Discovery," which was used by the church and states to justify colonial conquests.

On Vancouver Island, there's relief from Indigenous and religious leaders, as well as curiosity about what it means for land claims.

Eddy Charlie, cofounder of Victoria Orange Shirt Day and a residential school survivor, is one of many people who has been advocating for the Vatican to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery.

"The identities that were lost were important," he said.

"For the past 40 years, give or take, Indigenous people have been trying to get the government and the Vatican to revoke that," said Charlie.

When the Vatican renounced the 15th-century policy, Charlie says he felt relief.

"It's also one of the biggest root causes of pain that Indigenous people are feeling today," he said.

The doctrine gave support to the theft of Indigenous lands and formed the basis of some property law in Canada.

"We’ve been waiting for it for such a long time. Maybe we need some fireworks, I don’t know," said Judith Sayers, Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council president, with a laugh.

On Thursday, the Vatican said that the policy did not reflect the equal dignity and rights of Indigenous peoples.

The bishop for Victoria's Roman Catholic Diocese hopes that Thursday's statement will establish equality in negotiations with colonial governments.

"When you’re trying to speak to a correction of history that’s centuries long, you need to do your homework and you need to get it right," said Bishop Gary Gordon.

"The courts, up until quite recently, have still been using this so-called doctrine of discovery to defend certain colonial and vested interests in development and in land," he said.

The Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council says it wants Canada to revisit those court cases.

"How do we reverse those? There’s a whole series of questions now that the doctrine has been revoked," said Sayers.

High on the list of questions is if Thursday's statement will actually help First Nations get their land back.

"We’ve always had to prove that the land is ours," said Sayers. "The government that came in and stole our lands and resources has never had to do that."

She hopes one day Indigenous governments never have to do that again and says Thursday's long-awaited renouncement will help make that happen.

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