United Nations E/C.19/2010/13
Economic and Social Council
Distr.: General 4 February 2010 Original: English
10-23102 (E) 020310 *1023102*
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
New York, 19-30 April 2010
Items 4 and 7 of the provisional agenda*
Future work of the Permanent Forum, including issues of the Economic and Social Council and emerging issues
Preliminary study of the impact on indigenous peoples of the international legal construct known as the Doctrine of Discovery
Submitted by the Special Rapporteur
At its eighth session in May 2009, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues decided to appoint as Special Rapporteur Tonya Gonnella Frichner, a member of the Permanent Forum, to conduct a preliminary study of the impact on indigenous peoples of the international legal construct known as the Doctrine of Discovery, which has served as the foundation of the violation of their human rights, and to report thereon to the Forum at its ninth session.
This preliminary study establishes that the Doctrine of Discovery has been institutionalized in law and policy, on national and international levels, and lies at the root of the violations of indigenous peoples’ human rights, both individual and collective. This has resulted in State claims to and the mass appropriation of the lands, territories and resources of indigenous peoples. Both the Doctrine of Discovery and a holistic structure that we term the Framework of Dominance have resulted in centuries of virtually unlimited resource extraction from the traditional territories of indigenous peoples. This, in turn, has resulted in the dispossession and impoverishment of indigenous peoples, and the host of problems that they face today on a daily basis.
Given that United States of America federal Indian law is most accessible to the Special Rapporteur, and because it serves as an ideal example of the application of the Doctrine of Discovery to indigenous peoples, this preliminary study provides a detailed examination of the premise of that system as found in the United States Supreme Court ruling Johnson’s Lessee v. McIntosh. Evidence is then provided demonstrating that the Doctrine of Discovery continues to be treated as valid by the United States Government.
The Special Rapporteur concludes by recommending that an international expert group meeting be convened to discuss in detail the findings and implications of this preliminary study of the Doctrine of Discovery, and present its findings to the Permanent Forum at its annual session. Further study and review will be needed to ascertain to what extent and how the Doctrine of Discovery and the Framework of Dominance are applied to indigenous peoples throughout the world.