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Over the holidays, Nancy and I watched a virtual Christmas celebration. In it’s its introduction the host said “Canadian Heritage would like to acknowledge the territories and homeland of the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, who were on this land long before Canada came to be.” If you’re Canadian, an opening like this isn’t a surprise. You will hear a territorial acknowledgement very frequently at the welcome of government meetings, concert and sports arenas, private events, award shows, and many other ceremonies. I’ve heard them many times before and they always make my eyes water. Once I even had the privilege to hear it in person at TedX Kanata by Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, as he delivered it in Cree. Because most of our readers aren’t Canadian, we wanted to talk about what a territorial acknowledgement is and why it’s important.
You might guess that these public statements are mandated by the Canadian government (they aren’t). Or maybe that they’re exclusively used by politically correct liberals. In Canada, use of these opening statements isn’t a political thing, and people from all of Canada’s political parties include them. They are a small bit of respect and a noticeable nod towards reconciliation. The point of the territorial acknowledgement is to make all of us non-Indigenous listeners spare a few moments to think about whose land we’re now occupying.
The territorial acknowledgement is a small olive branch that shows respect and a willingness to listen.
Hard to repair
We can admit that Canada did some truly awful things to the people that were here before us, like purposeful disease spreading, forced migrations, bad-faith land agreements, and residential schools. It will take billions of dollars and decades of effort to make a dent in the problems created by colonialization. We may never fix some of the problems caused by colonialism no matter how much money or time we put into them.
A short statement like saying we’re on Indigenous land cures nothing. What it does do is raise awareness. Speaking as a new Canadian – an immigrant from the USA who didn’t live Canadian history – they did for me. They made me curious, they made me investigate, and they made me empathize.
Not my problem
It’s true for most of us that those bad things happened before we were born. And in my case, they happened in another country altogether. Why should we try to make amends for things we didn’t do? That seems to be a very common response, and it’s a natural defense. Who wants to change when something is not your fault?
I can clearly say that I’ve benefited from the sacrifices made by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people. Without the colonization of North America, I wouldn’t be living here. That’s also the case for nearly everyone living in the New World . We can be grateful for what we have, we can recognize there have been wrongs perpetrated, and we can acknowledge that we want to fix them together as a society.
Third Law’s territorial acknowledgement
After we saw the Christmas video, Nancy turned to me with voice full of emotion and said, “we really should make an acknowledgement that we are on Algonquin land.” And I agreed. That’s why we changed our contact page to give credit to the Anishnaabeg people (the true name of the Algonquin) who lived on the lands where Third Law is located. We have no illusions that this gesture will change much. Although we hope that at least it will start a conversation or make people curious – like it did with me.
The territorial acknowledgement is a small olive branch that shows respect and a willingness to listen. The last year has been a terrible one with regard to division and mistrust of all stripes. A little bit of listening and recognition might go a long way.