Some Indigenous advocates ambivalent to land acknowledgments

Others say the scripts can be disingenuous token gestures, a symbolic way for settlers to appease First Nations without taking meaningful action

A billboard-size highway sign that highlights the province’s rich Mi’kmaq heritage stands along the Trans-Canada Highway near Amherst, N.S. on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Canada’s growing embrace of Indigenous land acknowledgments appears to have left some First Nations advocates ambivalent about whether they are a form of reconciliation — or institutional hypocrisy.

The remarks, recognizing the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories, have become increasingly ubiquitous at the start of school days, conferences, ceremonies, and other events.

READ MORE: First Nation supporters march to Premier John Horgan’s MLA office in Langford

At classical music concerts in Halifax, for example, audience members are told: “Symphony Nova Scotia would like to acknowledge that we are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People.”

For some, it signals a seismic cultural shift. But others say the scripts can be disingenuous token gestures, a symbolic way for settlers to appease First Nations without taking meaningful action.

“It’s become meaningless and patronizing,” says Lynn Gehl, an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley.

“It’s like an apology but your behaviour stays the same,” she says. “We want action, we don’t just want beautiful, lovely rhetoric.”

Still, Gehl has written her own Algonquin Anishinaabe land acknowledgment for use before an event in Algonquin territory and says the formal statements still have benefits.

“It’s meaningless to me, but it may not be meaningless to someone else,” she says. “I do think it serves a purpose in terms of education.”

It’s a dilemma facing many Aboriginal advocates, who worry the statements have become perfunctory and yet still see value to them.

READ MORE: B.C. chief says they didn’t give up rights for gas pipeline to be built

In a small way, advocates say such acknowledgments — rooted in a traditional Aboriginal practice going back generations — show respect for the Indigenous Peoples who first inhabited the land and help educate people about the historical and ongoing impact of colonization.

“They’re getting people to think about how for over 150 years, Indigenous Peoples have been marginalized and pushed to the corners of society, prevented from engaging in their own traditional subsistence activities or benefiting from the wealth that many Canadians have gotten off these lands,” says Naiomi Metallic, a Dalhousie University law professor and Chancellor’s Chair in Aboriginal Law and Policy.

“It’s simply a recognition of facts,” she adds, saying that especially in areas without land cession treaties, it should be a “relatively uncontentious” statement.

However, there’s also debate about how they could be interpreted, with some suggesting land acknowledgments could be used by Indigenous Peoples to assert a legal right to the land.

Critics have suggested that admitting land is unceded could be interpreted to mean Indigenous Peoples own the land, and could take it back at any time.

Territorial acknowledgments haven’t always been so commonplace.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said the statements could help promote reconciliation. Then under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the statements became standard at the start of federal announcements and events.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en strike tentative deal with RCMP allowing access to protect camp

They have become commonplace in recent years — the Winnipeg Jets, for example, announce that they play hockey on land formerly used by the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and the Metis Nation.

“It’s becoming a habit for many institutions across the country — and I believe it’s a good thing,” says Ovide Mercredi, a former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

“It keeps the awareness alive that there’s a pre-existing burden on Canadian sovereignty.”

The flip side, he says, is that territorial acknowledgments can be said without a commitment to addressing land claims.

“Reconciliation requires more than just an expression,” Mercredi says. “Now that you acknowledge this is our territory, what’s the next step … what are you prepared to do for us to become land owners — not landless in our homeland.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Ginger Goodwin’s Cumberland cemetery grave desecrated

Just days before the Miners Memorial weekend, Ginger Goodwin’s grave has been… Continue reading

Cannabis store proposed for west side of Courtenay

Courtenay Council has approved second reading of a zoning amendment for a… Continue reading

North Island College celebrates 150th bachelor of business administration graduate

The North Island College School of Business marks a milestone in 2019… Continue reading

Former volleyball star runs to kill cancer

Since 2012, Stephanie Kurz has been pushing herself to the limit as… Continue reading

VIDEO: Firefighters stop blaze from spreading after BMW crashes at Saratoga Speedway

Victoria-based businessmen were ‘corner training’ on Father’s Day when incident took place

Man to be sentenced for sexual abuse of young girl in Nanaimo

Stephen Mark Castleden also sentenced for child pornography-related charges

MPs hear retired B.C. nurse’s petition to change compensation for fatal medical errors

Teri McGrath wants provinces to implement no-fault system for medical errors

Horgan says he’ll still defend B.C. coast after second Trans Mountain approval

Meanwhile, one B.C. First Nation has announced plans for a legal challenge

Courtenay council adopts bylaw to regulate plastics

Courtenay council adopted a bylaw to regulate the business use of single-use… Continue reading

Demonstrators on either side of Trans Mountain debate clash in Vancouver

Crowd heard from member of Indigenous-led coalition that hopes to buy 51% of expansion project

Grieving B.C. mom hopes Facebook message leads to new investigation into son’s Surrey homicide

Criminal Justice Branch didn’t lay charges, concluding no substantial likelihood of murder or manslaughter conviction

Comox man arrested after gun incident at Quinsam Lake

43-year-old man from the Comox area has since been charged with multiple offences

B.C.’s measles vaccination program gains traction in May

More than 15,000 doses of the MMR vaccine has been administered across the province

Most Read