Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery

The United States Constitution sparingly covers the role and legal status of Native Americans and Alaskans. A complex series of treaties has set the basis for the relationship between tribes and the U.S. government, under a system most Americans assume gives native tribes sovereignty. The judicial system has instead asserted that native tribes are “dependent nations” and “wards of the United States”, using this legal philosophy to seize native land and declare the supremacy of federal power. This surprising approach stems from the Doctrine of Discovery, a religious doctrine implemented by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, which has been ingrained in U.S. law for over 4 centuries. This activity will walk students through primary sources with document-based questions to help understand the reality of U.S. law regarding the Doctrine of Discovery and how it still plays a role into the modern day.

School name: 

Nome-Beltz Jr./Sr. High



Grade Level: 


Subject Area Focus: 

Social Studies/History

Estimated days to complete: 


Creator Name: 

Aaron Blankenship