Opinion | World

Steven Newcomb: The Doctrine of Discovery is still alive and kicking






"The Aboriginal Memorial" is a sculpture consisting of 200 hollow log coffins that Aboriginal artists created to mark the 200th anniversary of European settlement in Australia. Photo: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

The United States isn't the only government asserting authority over indigenous peoples. Steven Newcomb (Shawnee / Lenape) of the Indigenous Law Institute looks at the way Australia has side-stepped its treatment of Aboriginal people:
In 2012, at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Kate Gumley, then Head of the Australian Delegation, delivered an intervention titled “The Doctrine of Discovery.” The first paragraph of the document demonstrates how skillfully the Australian government side-stepped the issue of domination. “The key agenda item for discussion this afternoon,” the Australian government’s statement began, “is the ‘doctrine of discovery’, an international public law concept which has received the attention of this forum because it directly addresses the question of lawful conquest during the period of colonisation [sic].” (emphasis added)

The Australian government officials who drafted the statement failed to identify the question that Indigenous Peoples’ representatives were raising by calling for a focus on the so-called “doctrine of discovery.” What the state of Australia framed as “lawful conquest” is, in actuality, nothing other than a claim by state governments to possess a right of domination in relation to our original nations and peoples.

If we had been provided the opportunity, we could have asked the Australian government: Do invaders have the right to dominate other nations on their own lands and in their own territories? On the basis of what frame of reference or standard of judgment might we answer? Are we obligated by some strange loyalty to the invaders and their descendants to answer such questions only from the viewpoint of their invasive mindset or standards of judgment?

Read More on the Story:
Steven Newcomb: Australia’s Response to the Doctrine of Discovery (Indian Country Media Network 3/17)