There is a growing movement of acknowledging the territory of Indigenous people. It has become a familiar opening to meetings and events run by government.
It is an important evolution in Canadian society. But, we must continue to challenge the status quo and demand better. It is critical that we know why we do these things and the impact they have.
In post-secondary and government institutions we need to push the envelope and demand we go even further. That is what I did with this Members Statement.
I acknowledge that this legislative precinct is still in the territory of my relatives, the Lkwungen-speaking people. We hear territorial acknowledgements a lot these days. Some people even put it at the bottom of their emails. “This email was written in the territory of the such-and-such people.” “This statement was written in WSÁNEĆ.”
Acknowledging Indigenous people and territory is an important step forward in our society. But what does it mean? Is it a permission slip? Is it an obligatory tip of the hat, a minor detour just before we get back to the colonial business as usual? Has it changed anything? Well, it’s an admission that our province and our country stand on questionable foundation and that we are on a path to recovery. But what is the effect of mindlessly reciting a script? Does that undermine and erode the meaning of the words?
Speak from the heart
As a community leader with a foot in two worlds, people often ask my advice on territorial acknowledgements. I encourage them to speak from the heart, to reflect on the beautiful place and the powerful cultures that have endured the most challenging circumstances. I ask them to give themselves permission to stumble and make mistakes, to honour our past, and embrace positive, compassionate relationships with Indigenous people and communities.
Hayden King — an Anishinaabe writer, educator and academic — discussed this on the CBC show Unreserved. I echo his challenge to institutions just like this one. It’s time for people in positions of power to level up. It’s time to grow from passing references to illuminating our meaningful action. I am SȾHENEP, and I stand in this beautiful territory of my relatives and I attempt to speak our languages and tell our stories to animate our debates and decisions with the hope that they will be infused with the ancient wisdom of these lands and our surrounding waters. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.