We can and should know whose land we live, work, and play on. And we should acknowledge that when we meet and gather together. But, if you're like me, you may be finding land acknowledgements have become a bit of performance without substance.
As Métis artist and educator Suzanne Keeptwo puts it: "Land Acknowledgements often begin academic conferences, cultural events, government press gatherings, and even hockey games. They are supposed to be an act of Reconciliation between Indigenous peoples in Canada and non-Indigenous Canadians, but they have become so routine and formulaic that they have sometimes lost meaning. Seen more and more as empty words, some events have dropped Land Acknowledgements altogether."
Crafting your land or territorial acknowledgement should be done thoughtfully. The Canada School of Public Service offers a useful overview.
We can and should also go deeper. I wondered, what responsibility do we (our sector) and newcomers have when it comes to truth and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples? Here is my take, and it is evolving. I'm still learning. So what I have here will be imperfect. As I learn, I'll share more here.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada provides two specific Calls to Action related to newcomers.
Newcomers to Canada
This one has been done.
So let's focus on this one:
The Welcome to Canada guide was last updated in 2013, so this is still pending. But it looks like work is being done on it.
Fostering Safe Spaces for Dialogue and Relationship-building Between Newcomers and Indigenous Peoples from Immigration Partnership Winnipeg seeks to address this call to action. It is something we all should read. They "suggest several wise practices for the relationship-building process as recommended by participants. In so doing, the report seeks to inform a framework related to the development of an orientation toolkit for newcomers."
The document helps us to see that the work of ensuring newcomers are oriented and informed about Indigenous Peoples is ours as well. It should be included in our information and orientation work with newcomers. We can create our own information kits. And that's exactly what they recommend:
"An orientation toolkit was identified as an essential resource to support agencies serving newcomers. The toolkitFostering Safe Spaces for Dialogue and Relationship-building Between Newcomers and Indigenous Peoples from Immigration Partnership Winnipeg
can be used to educate newcomers on Indigenous Peoples and build a positive relationship with Indigenous
communities. Recommendations were specifically taken from participants of this study with the objective to
develop a framework which can inform orientation related work in the settlement sector."
According to this guide, a toolkit should include:
You may also wonder how to help newcomers understand how this is important for them. The guide is helpful here as well:
"I have had newcomers ask me: what is it that we have to do… what’s our role in this dialogue?Senator Murray Sinclair
You may not have responsibility for the past but you do have a responsibility for the future because you made a commitment to this country. And the responsibility for the future is reconciliation. So, that means that you still have to understand what this history is, you have to understand what it has done to this country, you have to understand what it is doing to this country and you have to understand what it will continue to do, unless we change it. And the leadership from those newcomer communities that are occupying more and more leadership positions in government also need to figure out where they fit into that dialogue around change for the future, because they do fit. They are going to be influential leaders of this conversation."
You can also cite newcomer voices themselves. For example:
From Reconciliation in Practice: A Cross-Cultural Perspective Edited by Ranjan Datta
"I see reconciliation as acknowledging the past, respecting the land on which we live, and building relationships based on respect, equity, and inclusivity. I am grateful to live and work on Treaty Six Territory and the Homeland of the Métis and Cree Nations. I stand with our Indigenous sisters and brothers against the injustices and inequalities they continue to face. To me, reconciliation will only work if we acknowledge the truth of the past, build meaningful relationships, and stand with one another against injustices and inequities. The process of reconciliation involves both Canadian society as a whole and all levels of government. Furthermore, it must be nation-to-nation, as our current government promised, and action-based. I acknowledge that there is encouraging work being done toward reconciliation and bettering the conditions in Indigenous communities, yet not much has been achieved thus far. It remains to be seen whether these promises will come to fruition."Excerpt from chapter author Ali Abukar
When we hear the words unceded territory in land acknowledgements, do we understand what that means? I didn't really, so I looked for answers.
The short answer is that "territories that were never signed away by the Indigenous people who inhabited them before Europeans settled in North America. In other words, this land was stolen..."
"What to do about it, however, is deeply complex - and legal questions about how to handle claims to unceded land have become a subject of public discussion..."
Of course, we should be listening to Indigenous peoples about this complexity, and what should be done.
Although the Europeans and First Nations signed the same documents, both sides had very different views on what the treaties actually meant.
The First Nations thought that the treaties were a way to establish and maintain good relationships with the new settlers in their land. They believed that the treaties simply gave the settlers some access to the land for farming.
The Europeans believed that the treaties were a way for them to take away the First Nations peoples’ land so they could begin building railroads and larger settlements.
Even if we're not able to resolve the complexities of how the idea of unceded territory is dealt with, we should be aware of the weight of those words when we use them.
There are a number of other useful and interesting resources created in our sector. Below is a short and incomplete list. Please share yours, or others you know about, in the comments below.
Welcome to our Homelands
"This engaging seven-minute video, accompanied by a study guide, targets newcomers and provides them with a jumping off point for learning more about the First Peoples of Canada. It highlights the richly-diverse cultures and pain-filled history of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and also features Indigenous representatives from across the country extending welcoming messages to newcomers."
INBUILT93 - Indigenious-Newcomer Engagement
"In response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call #93 primarily “calling upon the federal government to advance the knowledge of newcomers to Canada of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including information about the Treaties…,” the Saskatchewan Association of Immigrant Settlement and Integration Agencies [SAISIA], the Aboriginal Friendship Centres of Saskatchewan [AFCS] and SaskCulture entered into a partnership agreement to implement a Saskatchewan-wide community engagement project titled INBUILT93 (Indigenous-Newcomer Building Intercultural Learning on Treaties – 93) in 5 Saskatchewan communities : Saskatoon, Regina, Prince Albert, North Battleford, and La Ronge."
Building Indigenous-Newcomer Relations Group on SettleNet.org (free account required)
"The "Building Indigenous-Newcomer Solidarity Group" is open to members interested in sharing resources and information about how to engage with and learn from Indigenous communities as we seek to support newcomers. We are interested in building an online space where we can build solidarity as Indigenous peoples, settlers, and newcomers to Canada."
Bridging the gap between Indigenous people and newcomers on National Newcomer Navigation Network (free account required)
"A trusted list of resources and advice to help you learn more about bridging the gap between Indigenous People and Newcomers" including a webinar recording (Inter-Cultural Dialogue: Bridging the Gap Between Newcomers and Indigenous People), and additional resources.
Truth & Reconciliation Statement from the Bow Valley Immigration Partnership
"We know we have so much to learn, and a land acknowledgment is just the beginning. We bring together people and organizations across the Bow Valley to build a welcoming and inclusive community for all - including newcomers and immigrants. We know it will take more than just one single group or organization to achieve our vision, and we cannot do it without Indigenous communities. We are starting by listening to Indigenous elders and knowledge-keepers. We understand our responsibility to educate ourselves and our members. We have a lot of work to do and acknowledge that along the journey we may make mistakes. The below resources have been recommended to us as a way to learn and act on Truth and Reconciliation in the Bow Valley."
I'm not an ESL teacher, so always appreciate when others share their knowledge. In a LinkedIn thread about this post, a couple of folks shared some great insights, and resources. I'm sure there are more, on sites like Tutela.ca and Avenue.ca (homes for curriculum and sharing among ESL teachers), but wanted to paraphrase their comments and add their resource recommendations here: