I read the book once again. This time it struck me how the Indian way of life and culture is built largely on legends and passed down from one generation to the next—and how my grandfather tried to communicate this in written form. I see it as a preservation of what he knew, what he’d heard and learned directly. Concerned that the old storytellers were dying off and that new generations would be swept up in assimilation, he gathered up their stories and put them in book form so that those who came later might learn and understand.—Charles Norman Shay (x–xi)
In an audacious and unprecedented move on 26 October 2007, the 188th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine passed a resolution calling for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the titular head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, to disavow and rescind the 1496 royal charter granted to John Cabot and his sons.1 Originally issued by England’s King Henry VII in March 1496, that charter established the legal foundation for England’s version of the infamous Doctrine of Discovery.2 Under the charter, Cabot, his sons, and their heirs were authorized to “conquer, occupy and possess” any and all peoples and lands “which before this time were unknown to all Christians.” If “unknown to all Christians,” these peoples and lands were considered as yet undiscovered.3 Thus, according to the charter, “whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed,” could now be claimed by the Cabots for “the dominion, title and jurisdiction” of the English crown (“First” 9). Of course, by 1496, large parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East were already well known to Christian Europe and, following upon Christopher Columbus’s voyages, Europe was now beginning to explore westward across the Atlantic. In effect, therefore, the charter issued to the Cabots had its greatest impact in North America and, more specifically, in those territories supposedly yet undiscovered by the Christian world and now legally available to be claimed for England by Cabot and all subsequent explorers sailing for the British crown. [End Page 81]
The proponents of the 2007 resolution in Maine had no illusion that they were in any way reversing the consequences of the long and ugly history that unfolded from the 1496 charter’s Doctrine of Discovery. Nonetheless, they hoped at least to force their church into a public acknowledgment of a wrong in which both church and crown had been complicit. As one member of the October 2007 Convention put it, “We who enjoy so much privilege owe it to those whose privilege was taken away to call a wrong a wrong” (188th). A few days after the passage of the resolution, John Dieffenbacher-Krall, a member of the Diocese’s Committee on Indian Relations, the group that originally sponsored the resolution, explained in the Bangor Daily News: “My objective is universal recognition that the doctrine [of discovery] is repugnant.” In his view, “The doctrine . . . should not be used to justify the taking of property and other rights from indigenous people” (Harrison B1). Needless to say, the Doctrine of Discovery had been used to justify England’s claims to traditional tribal homelands in Maine—the only real “property” that Europeans understood the Indians to possess—and nothing in the resolution passed by the 2007 annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine does anything to alter this fact of dispossession. But the return of the land to the Indians is not what motivated those who sponsored the resolution. With the 1980 settlement of the Maine Indian Land Claims lawsuit, that dispossession had already been at least partially redressed.
First filed on 17 July 1972 by the Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe (and later joined by another federally recognized Maine tribe, the Houlton Band of Maliseets), the suit generally argued that the federal government and the State of Maine had broken or ignored long-standing treaty agreements to protect in perpetuity large swaths of tribal lands. Despite years of frustrating legal setbacks...