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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Charges laid three months after Brookswood drug search

Langley RCMP say they found cocaine and cash during a search in April

UPDATE: Fatal fire in wooded area on Langley-Surrey border not suspicious, RCMP says

No cause of death announced; investigation continues, say RCMP

Canucks want baby bear cub at Aldergrove zoo named Huggy Bear

Greater Vancouver Zoo recently rescued three grizzly bear cub who need names

Langley Township, City see most residents pay property taxes

A feared COVID-related crash in tax payments has not materialized

‘The public has spoken’: Alder Inn to be demolished at $250,000 cost

Township council votes to use $250,000 to demolish the 71-year-old building in downtown Aldergrove

Study suggests 8 times more people in B.C. infected with virus than confirmed

The study looked at anonymous blood samples collected for reasons unrelated to COVID-19

Semi-truck driver charged after six-vehicle leaves several injured near Sicamous

Investigators believe a semi-truck crossed a double solid line along Trans-Canada Highway

Brave 7-year-old boy rescues older child from drowning in Shuswap Lake

RCMP to look into Red Cross award for Ranchero resident Cody Krabbendam

Commons finance committee to begin probing WE Charity’s volunteering contract

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has admitted he should have recused himself from the decision

Woman receives ‘extremely disturbing sexual threats’ while on Lower Mainland bus

The woman was riding the bus when she received threats of sexual violence from someone nearby

Police watchdog probes Vancouver arrest after man on bicycle left with ‘serious’ injuries

Police were searching for a man who was allegedly involved in a prior incident when they saw him on a bicycle

‘We’re not busting ghosts’: Northern B.C. paranormal investigators check out bistro

Paranormal North Coast British Columbia recently checked out PF Bistro at City Centre Mall.

Russian hackers seeking to steal COVID-19 vaccine data: intel agencies

It is believed APT29, also known as ‘the Dukes’ or ‘Cozy Bear’ was responsible

Twitter racing to unravel mystery cyberattack

Some of the world’s most prominent names had their Twitter accounts post invitations for an apparent Bitcoin scam

Most Read