If you’ve lived in Canada and have been present for a government meeting, speech, or other event it is likely that you have heard a Land Acknowledgement (LA). It usually starts with something along the lines of, ‘we would like to acknowledge that we are on the ancestral and unceded land’ of the Indigenous people’s territory you are gathered on.
In Unama’ki you gather on the ancestral and unceded land of the Mi’kmaq. I can’t believe that I have to explain ancestral and unceded, but for those who don’t know those meanings, here they are. Ancestral - our (Indigenous) parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so forth. Ancestors are those who we have come from, they include all the people who have passed on to the spirit world who walked this physical earth before us. I say ‘our’ in Canada because Indigenous people were here first, hence, First Peoples. You also have ancestors; they just didn’t originally come from here.
Unceded- refers to land that was never won, purchased, handed over, or legally given to the Crown, through a treaty or other agreement. It means that we did not relinquish the land. It was taken illegally, usually by force; violence; trickery; and language gaps. It is what it is.
I’d like to highlight that New Brunswick doesn’t like to use Land Acknowledgements because of what the government calls language and legal technicalities associated with land claims.
If you’re wondering who the Crown is, currently it’s the guy who was married to Princess Diana, he’s now known as King Charles III. Basically, the Crown is a legal term for his Majesty the King or Her Majesty the Queen. They hold power over your country, this country, called Canada and 14 other Commonwealth countries.
If I wanted to be a smart ass, and I’m going to be, King Charles III is my master and commander of all Indians who are registered under the Indian Act, my Government daddy is Charles, as I am a registered Indian.
Anyway, I’ve digressed. Basically, a LA is a way for setters to say that they are on the traditional land that was occupied by different Indigenous peoples (the First Peoples), and they want to honour and recognize that we Indigenous people were the first to take care of the land. It’s also about treaty relationships, you may have heard of the Peace and Friendship Treaties.
No? Well, Treaties were signed in 1752 and 1779 between the Wabanaki Confederacy and the Crown. We refer to them as the Peace and Friendship Treaties, and they are specific to this territory.
I explained who belongs to the Wabanaki Confederacy in my very first column, you are now reading the third column in The Third. So if you missed the last two issues, you can take a look back and catch up. But for those who need to know right now, the Wabanaki Confederacy includes the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik, Abenaki, Penobscot, and the Passamaquoddy people of the Maritime and Gaspe region.
I forgot where I was going with this, oh yah, LA’s and things you should know about them. I’ve basically outlined the purpose of a Land Acknowledgement. Now, I want to share some of my personal dos and don’ts when putting a Land Acknowledgement together.
You should absolutely not ask the Indigenous person in your office to write your LA or do the Land acknowledgment on behalf of settlers. It’s a disrespectful request to ask us to write your settler Land acknowledgment. I’m not going to explain why but if you don’t get it then you shouldn’t be the one to pen it either.
We, Indigenous peoples, can absolutely help you by asking you to think about how you want to honour the land. We can also help you to think about the language in the Treaties that we hold Charlie Boy (remember the Crown King guy) and you accountable to, but don’t ask us to write it for you.
It has no meaning, in my opinion, if we write it. I’m sure there are people who will disagree with me, but I think it’s just lip service if you don’t take the time to understand what a Land Acknowledgment signifies.
I was asked once if I could give the land acknowledgement for a meeting, and I flat out said “no”. My response was met with a look of utter disbelief and shock. So, ten minutes before a public meeting was about to start, I had to explain that I had an issue acknowledging the land that was taken from me and my people by force and assimilation and that maybe this one particular duty could be found in the minutes of a previous meeting and re-read.
When that person finally made the LA, they stumbled on their words and those in attendance noticed that it wasn’t a fluid and honest Land Acknowledgement, but more like a requirement that had to be checked off.
I hoped that the stumbling of their words and slight embarrassment would be a lesson to the individual that they needed to take greater care in their role and do better with a statement that means so much to the original people of this territory. We are still here folks, and your LA should be meaningful.
For me, being asked to do a LA is a slap in the face, it tells me that the Land Acknowledgment is just part of an agenda, something that is on the itinerary. It tells me that there isn’t any serious thought into what is being said and the honour and respect is therefore lost to me, and that’s not how it’s supposed to be – or feel.
So, if you’re asked to help create a LA for your organization; business; or government office, please remember that these words should have meaning and substance. Yes, ask for guidance and help from your Indigenous co-workers or Indigenous friends. It’s a great way to start a dialogue or better yet, a friendship. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask the questions in an honest and respectful way. You are not going to understand if you sit quietly like a mouse and agree to everything, dialogue and conversation is key.
And don’t be scared like New Brunswick. We ain’t going to go looking for all our land back. But we do want you to be aware that the land you now stand and gather on, was illegally given to your ancestors, and that it was once cared for by Indigenous peoples. We cared for the animals and the water. We cared for and tended to the medicines that saved our people, and then yours. We took only what was needed and we always acknowledged the Creator and ancestors for providing us with what was needed.
We have forgotten those teachings, even as Indigenous people we have forgotten our old ways about need and want. This planet has everything we need as humans to sustain but we continue to take and take and take.
I suggest that if you have a LA you should take another look at it to ensure it is genuine and thoughtful. Create a Land Acknowledgement that makes you proud when read aloud. But most importantly, believe in the words that are being spoken, because your word should mean something.
We are all stewards of this land. It is the responsibility of all Treaty people, the Red; White; Black; and Yellow people to take care of it for the next seven generations, not just the Indigenous seven generations, but for all people.
Honour the First peoples as the caretakers and stewards of the land in the same manner that you want to be respected and honored.