As a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report, many settler organizations began a practice of starting their meetings with a Land Acknowledgment as an act of reconciliation.
We recognize that land acknowledgments began with good intentions as a response to the TRC report. However, for many organizations they function as a “reconciliation checklist,” with an unspoken attitude that we have now done our part to acknowledge the reality of Indigenous communities and their role as caretakers of the land. Although we appreciate the intent behind land acknowledgments and recognize that they have educated some members about the diversity of Indigenous communities that live on Turtle Island, we have some concerns about how they are being done.
Like many Indigenous organizations, the OPSEU Indigenous Circle receives numerous requests for “proper language” for a land acknowledgment and are even asked to “tell them what to say.” It is obvious to us that non-Indigenous groups often fail to do their own basic research about the Indigenous communities that have lived on the lands where the meeting is being held.
The initial purpose of a land acknowledgment is for settler organizations to educate themselves about the realities of Indigenous communities in their regions. The diversity and richness of Indigenous cultures and history cannot be captured in a pre-written statement read at the beginning of a meeting. Acknowledging the injustices inflicted on Indigenous communities without a real commitment to repair the harm done sounds like an empty apology that has become all too familiar to us. We recommend that the land acknowledgment be placed first on the Agenda, prior to the Statement of Respect and definitely before any rendition of O Canada, and not treated as a check off box on a list of to do items.
For many Indigenous people, land acknowledgments are empty gestures when Canada and Canadians fail to acknowledge the ongoing genocide of Indigenous girls, women, and two spirited; when many communities do not have access to clean water, housing, education and health care; when Canada refuses to take accountability for residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, and ongoing birth alerts and the disproportionately high numbers of indigenous children in care; when Canada continues to encroach on territories for resource extraction; and when Indigenous people continue to be discriminated in every aspect of our lives.
Land acknowledgment has meaning only when Canadians are prepared to acknowledge, be accountable and make reparations to Indigenous people. Such statements are most meaningful when they are not simply read as words on paper but are spoken from the heart with genuine intent for reconciliation.
Therefore, the OPSEU Indigenous Circle recommends that land acknowledgments include language about the current realities of ongoing colonization. For example, the following language expresses a genuine desire of organizations for true reconciliation: “We also acknowledge that the government of Canada and its citizens continue to lay pipelines and encroach on Indigenous territories without free and informed consent. This form of colonization fails to respect that Indigenous communities remain the traditional protectors of water and defenders of land on Turtle Island and we commit to doing what we can to end this practice.”
Land acknowledgment resources are available on the OFL website at http://ofl.ca/resources-for-incorporating-first-nations-metis-and-inuit-perspectives-into-planning-and-programming