Doctrine of Discovery film hailed for ‘helping Canadians to understand some important truths’ about colonial past and present
Hundreds of people attended the March 8 premiere screening of a documentary that seeks to help Canadians understand the Doctrine of Discovery.
Produced by Anglican Video with support from the Anglican Foundation and General Synod, Doctrine of Discovery: Stolen Lands, Strong Hearts describes the history behind the doctrine, a set of beliefs and legal framework that justified European colonization of the Americas. The doctrine asserted that Indigenous territory was terra nullius, or the property of no one. Through interviews with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, the 67-minute film documents how the doctrine informed centuries of racist policies and practices, such as the residential school system—and how Canada must transcend its lingering effects to achieve healing and reconciliation.
As the end credits rolled in the Fairview Library Theatre in Toronto, an audience member took the stage at the invitation of master of ceremonies Riscylla Shaw, area bishop for Trent-Durham in the diocese of Toronto. Bob Watts, chief of staff to Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde, gave greetings on behalf of the national chief and acknowledged the presence of residential school survivors and their children before offering his thoughts on the film.
“It was so beautiful for me to watch this,” said Watts, who was one of the negotiators for the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and helped set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). He called the documentary an “incredible piece of work.”
“To see this beautiful film, the manifestation of so many people’s dreams and works, and helping Canadians to understand some important truths—this film will do a lot of work,” Watts said. “Powerful, powerful messages in this.”
Melanie Delva, national reconciliation animator for the Anglican Church of Canada, described the film as a “game-changer” in terms of the church living out its commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and in educating people on the Doctrine of Discovery.
She said she also believed that the impact of the film would be felt broadly outside the church as a tool for education and action.
“My hope is that it will clear up misconceptions but will also be a catalyst for people taking the next step to get involved in reconciliation, to ask what they can do, even if it’s challenging their friends, myths and beliefs,” Delva said.
The Primate’s Commission on Reconciliation, Discovery, and Justice commissioned the film to educate people on the Doctrine of Discovery and its continuing effects today.
Anglican Video Senior Producer Lisa Barry oversaw the making of the film, which took more than two and a half years to produce and required a vast amount of research. To prepare, Barry said, she read around 25 books on the history of colonization and Indigenous and Canadian constitutionalism, and she studied TRC research material.
Interviews—with, among others, National Chief Bellegarde and Senator Murray Sinclair, chief commissioner of the TRC, as well as Anglican leaders and representatives of other churches—required many hours, while the subsequent editing process took months.
“In interviewing all these brilliant people, I became convinced that [the Doctrine of Discovery is] deeply entrenched in our laws and our society and in our racist views, far more than we even realize,” Barry said.
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald said Stolen Lands, Strong Hearts has great potential “to change the narrative and conversation for a lot of people…I really think it has a possibility of lifting some very destructive ways of thinking and acting that are embedded in most people’s lives, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”
The film is available free on the Anglican Church of Canada website, YouTube and Vimeo, as well as on flash drives and DVDs. It also has an accompanying study guide and can be viewed all at once or in multiple installments. Copies will be distributed to churches, colleges and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, commended Barry and executive producer Ginny Doctor for making an “absolutely first-class documentary,” praising its dramatic opening, fast pacing and the variety of voices heard.
The primate said Stolen Lands, Strong Hearts was a significant resource that would help people understand world history, the nature of colonial expansion and its impact on Indigenous populations. For Anglicans, he said, the film would illuminate “the transition that our church is going through as we shed the vestiges of the colonial church and embrace a new way of being church, particularly in relation to Indigenous peoples.”
“If they don’t understand why today’s church is so immersed in matters related to repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, matters related to honouring the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, matters related to the Calls to Action of the TRC in Canada, and matters related to self-determination for Indigenous people within our church, they’re going to get why that is.”