Squamish Nation Welcome Figure. Photo Credit: Ruth Hartnup

Beyond Land Acknowledgments

June 17, 2020

I believe we are now at a point where we can move into deeper conversations, which has already begun in many spaces, beyond territorial acknowledgements.  What do I mean by this?

Let’s start at the beginning of what is a land acknowledgement. I’m sure at some point in the past few years, you have been present for some form of land acknowledgement or traditional welcome, in your personal or professional life.

A land acknowledgement is an accurate way to recognize the traditional First Nations, Métis and/or Inuit territories of a place. They can be presented verbally or visually: think signage, short theatre presentations or simple spoken-word greetings. Land acknowledgements were Inspired by the 94 recommended calls to action contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (now known as the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, or NCTR), land acknowledgements are a necessary first step toward honouring the original occupants of a place. They also help Canadians recognize and respect Indigenous peoples’ inherent kinship beliefs when it comes to their land, especially since those beliefs were restricted for so long.

A traditional welcome is having an Indigenous Elder, Chief, or Nation member from that area welcome you to their traditional territory and it may contain the sharing of a traditional song, shared in their traditional language, and some thoughts about why they are there and what may happen that day. This is different from doing the land acknowledgement, as the Elder, Chief or Nation Member is from that territory and is actually ‘welcoming’ you to their land.  This was always done when guests of another community came into another territory.  There are protocols followed by each Nation on how they welcomed their guests. For the Coast Salish People, we would welcome our guests coming to shore on their canoes, by listening to each canoe ask for permission to come to our shore, state their business or purpose and acknowledge their kinship ties to the welcoming Nation.  This would be followed by the Chief acknowledged by the words shared by the visitors to the Chief and his community and either denying or welcoming them to their territory, asking them to come and feast with them and do their business.

Elder Audrey Rivers (Squamish Nation) giving blessing in 2012 during Salisih Sea protest gathering at Ambleside Park. Image source: Montreal Gazette.

...[A]s we are already seeing, territorial acknowledgments can become stripped of their disruptive power through repetition. The purpose cannot merely be to inform an ignorant public that Indigenous peoples exist, and that Canada has a history of colonialism.

-âpihtawikosisân, 2016

What do I mean by moving beyond a land acknowledgment? The government of Canada has to commit to seeing Indigenous Communities/Nations as distinct and self-determining communities by resolving the land question, Title and Rights and creating equity and equality through economic reconciliation. Canadians have to commit to true reconciliation as well. Non-Indigenous Canadian citizens need to move away from the “us vs. them” mentality in relation to Indigenous People.. They have a responsibility to heal from past injustices and to forgive themselves and their ancestors. By forgiving, they can acknowledge the truth of that injustice. All Canadians need to accept that this history is our truth, without attempting to conceal it. The truth is Canada’s colonial past did harm, there are continued stereotypes and racism in our country, understanding that a majority of the land they live on in BC is unceded, we have title and rights and land claims exist, there is an Indian Act still, etc.  They must acknowledge that we are knowledgeable, capable and creative peoples.

Once all of these things, and so much more, have been deeply acknowledged, understood, and reconciled, they must be followed by action-based commitments to move into relational Economic Development.  Meaning that there is equity and equality in Indigenous wealth and well-being.  That we are fully empowered to make decisions on our wealth generation, management and distribution.  Let’s move beyond trying to Indigenize or ‘brown up’ colonial/non-indigenous policies, strategies, plans, guides, toolkits, etc. Let’s have Indigenous people take the lead in the development of this work, so that their epistemology truly informs this work.

An example of inequitable Economic power dynamics in this region: BC Hydro's monopoly position in the province's electricity system is preventing First Nations from reaping the environmental and economic benefits of renewables; whilst 5 BC Municipalities are allowed to do just that.

We have to STOP seeing Indigenous people, First Nations, etc. as something separate than everyone else.  We need to start asking why do we still do that? What does this continue to perpetuate?  Whose benefit is this truly for? Is suppressing Indigenous People, First Nations, etc. hindering the economic well-being of the region and nationally?  We have to move past token reconciliation efforts and into actionable strategic efforts that are led by Indigenous People for Indigenous people.

The world has just turned on its axis, literally and figuratively, and where we go from here is an opportunity to honestly generate new ways of being for ourselves and every other being on this planet.  Indigenous people’s knowledge has not been lost nor is it something we practice on the side lines.  Our knowledge is who we are, from our cultural framework, our connection to the land spiritually, our understanding of our place and responsibility in relation to all things, in this world and beyond. So, you ACTUALLY may some have something to learn from us now, not just about us.  I’m not here to ask permission, I’m here telling you that this is what is going to be.