Land acknowledgements

Was listening to a rebroadcast yesterday of Unreserved on CBC. The best description I can find of the show comes from their website:

Unreserved is the radio space for Indigenous community, culture, and conversation. Host Rosanna Deerchild takes you straight into Indigenous Canada, from Halifax to Haida Gwaii, from Shamattawa to Ottawa, introducing listeners to the storytellers, culture makers and community shakers from across the country. The Unreserved team offers real talk from the people behind the headlines, with a soundtrack from the best in Indigenous music.

Yesterday’s show, a rebroadcast from June, talked about several topics, but the theme was the idea of maps (colonial contrasted with Indigenous) and also land acknowledgements.

I was struck by everything I heard, but I was keenly interested in the piece on land acknowledgements. You know those – a short bit of information at the start of a meeting, stating the Indigenous land you are currently occupying.

The person being interviewed for the piece I was listening to, Hayden King, is an Anishinaabe writer and educator who also has responsibilities at Ryerson University that include teaching courses, but also in an advisory capacity. One thing that King did was write Ryerson’s land acknowledgement:

Ours basically said that Ryerson is on the territory of the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabek, and it’s a territory that is governed by the Dish With One Spoon Treaty, a treaty that committed these nations to share the territory in peace, friendship and respect and all newcomers are invited into this treaty and in the spirit of those obligations.

He now regrets what he wrote.

I think that as the conversation has advanced around territorial acknowledgements, some more scrutiny was put onto ours, among others. I think internally, we were having an internal conversation about it and it’s [like], who are we, really, to invite anybody into the Dish With One Spoon Treaty?

For me, personally, I think I started to see how the territorial acknowledgement could become very superficial and also how it sort of fetishizes these actual tangible, concrete treaties. They’re not metaphors — they’re real institutions, and for us to write and recite a territorial acknowledgement that sort of obscures that fact, I think we do a disservice to that treaty and to those nations.

What King is encouraging people to do now is go beyond making those blanket statements, ones that were intended to get people (specifically non-Indigenous people) thinking and hopefully acting.

King proposed something that I felt was doable and very important. He proposes that people add to the land acknowledgement calls to action – what are the responsibilities laid out for colonizers in the specific treaty for the land you are acknowledging.

As King says, It’s one thing to say, “Hey, we’re on the territory of the Mississaugas or the Anishinaabek and the Haudenosaunee.” It’s another thing to say, “We’re on the territory of the Anishinaabek and the Haudenosaunee and here’s what that compels me to do.

King proposes the idea that land acknowledgements need to have a call to action.

It could look like, as King says, a provost of a university make the land acknowledgement and then state what the university is going to do to make good on the commitments of the Treaty for that particular land. In a place like B.C., where there are no treaties, it is a completely different call to action than in Ontario.

In Ontario, we have treaties that have commitments that the Crown agreed to for Indigenous people – access to hunting or fishing grounds for instance.

But the spirit of the treaties means that institutions need to be leaders in calling for action – how, as King states, the institutions will be breathing air into the colonizers commitments of the treaties.

(If institutions are wondering what that action can look like, there’s this little document called The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action.)

It is important to consider this next step as presently these acknowledgements are, as King states, becoming a box that gets ticked off on the agenda items for meetings or gatherings and do not have the intended meaning.


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