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

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

  • Jan. 28, 2019 6:50 a.m.

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

Community of Vavenby weekly news update

Vavenby fire chief asks Doris Scarff to paint two murals on the inside walls of fire hall

Blue River Powder Packers blocked from accessing popular riding areas

Snowmobile tourism group loses revenue over lack of notice from logging activity

Back in Time

Historical Perspective

Tourism Wells Gray to benefit from new provincial funding

Funds provided to help further develop tourism opportunities and bring new visitors to the area

First presumptive case of coronavirus identified in the Interior Health region

The woman, in her 30s, travelled from Shanghai and lives in the interior

VIDEO: 7 things you need to know about the 2020 B.C. budget

Surplus of $227 million with big spending on infrastructure and capital projects

VIDEO: Knife-wielding man arrested after barricading himself in Lower Mainland Walmart

A man had barricaded himself in the freezer section of the fish area at a Walmart in Richmond

Budget 2020: Weaver ‘delighted,’ minority B.C. NDP stable

Project spending soars along with B.C.’s capital debt

Chilliwack widow ‘crushed’ over stolen T-shirts meant for memorial blanket

Lori Roberts lost her fiancé one month ago Tuesday now she’s lost almost all she had left of him

Higher costs should kill Trans Mountain pipeline, federal opposition says

Most recent total was $12.6 billion, much higher than a previous $7.4-billion estimate

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say they’ll meet with ministers if RCMP get out

Federal minister in charge of Indigenous relations has proposed a meeting to diffuse blockades

Trees Cannabis director fined $1.5M for selling marijuana

Fine follows provincial crackdown on popular dispensary

World Cup skier from Okanagan dies suddenly at 19

Kuroda, who made his World Cup debut earlier this year, passed away suddenly Monday night.

Coastal GasLink pipeline investor committed to closing deal despite protests

Developer TC Energy Corp. — formerly TransCanada Corp. — is to remain the operator of the $6.6-billion pipeline

Most Read