An Opportunity to Enhance Traditional Cultural Values
“As we gather here today, we acknowledge we are on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis. We pay our respect to the First Nations and Métis ancestors of this place and reaffirm our relationship with one another.”
Four years ago, the University of Saskatchewan (USask) officially introduced a new Indigenous land acknowledgement to open public speaking engagements, events and meetings.
The greeting was formalized after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report was released, urging governments, institutions and organizations to engage in the process of redressing “the legacy of residential schools” by responding to the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action. At USask, the land acknowledgement quickly became one small but meaningful way to begin that process.
“Acknowledging the land, and all the life within it, in various ways is something that First Nations, Inuit and Métis people have done for generations,” said Dr. Jacqueline Ottmann (PhD), the vice-provost of Indigenous Engagement at USask. “Expressions of gratitude and respect for the land, was practiced long before European settlers arrived on Turtle Island. Indigenous people have had an intimate relationship and knowledge of these places and spaces.
“Land acknowledgement pays respect to those from our past and also those who will experience our territories in generations to come. Land acknowledgments should be respectful, be reverent to the Creator, recognize the need for the right relationship, be communicated with humility and gratitude.”
USask’s land acknowledgement statement was officially approved at University Council June 18, 2015, presented by project leaders including Candace Wasacase-Lafferty, senior director of Indigenous Engagement.
“It was important to everyone that we emphasize that the land acknowledgements be delivered in a respectful and insightful manner,” said Wasacase-Lafferty. “This statement was certainly a good way to begin.”
University officials engaged in extensive consultation with Elders, Indigenous and non-Indigenous faculty, students, staff, and community members, on the language and intention behind the statement. The intent was that the message be respectful and acknowledge the land itself, and the ancestral lands of the people who have resided in this territory for centuries.
Dr. Stryker Calvez, is the Manager of Indigenous Education Initiatives at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning (GMCTL) at the University of Saskatchewan. GMCTL contributes by offering consultations, workshops and programming to many topics just like this. Stryker states that, “It is more than just about the land that we belong to, it is also about our relationship to the land and sky, to the plants and animals, to this place that has made us who we are today. It is our spiritual connection to a place that has nurtured and shaped our languages, stories, beliefs and ways of knowing. Land acknowledgements don’t just recognize the past and the people who lived here before now, these statements recognize the spirit of the place and our relationship to it, like the relationships we have with our parents and families. It is also about the treaties we signed and scrip that we were offered. The oral stories describing the treaty and scrip processes provide our account of the agreement to share our and resources, but not to absolute surrender the land.” Stryker believes that land acknowledgements are meant to be said with your heart and mind to convey the truth about this sacred and special relationship to place.
Treaty agreements also bring clarity to the importance of acknowledgements. Indigenous leaders signed treaties with the Crown with the intention to share the resources. Even though the treaties were written in legalese English, and because of this, as the royal commissions and courts tell us, much of the spirit, intent and oral promises of the treaties were dismissed for the betterment of the new fledgling country. It was not entirely what was lost in translation that was to blame, there was deception and prejudicial reinterpretation during the maligned legislative and systemic processes that the federal government sought to replace the treaties with (e.g., the Indian Act 1976).
Today, with the affirmation of treaties as part of the supreme law of Canada, a new emphasis is being placed on the importance of treaty, land- and place-based education across Canada. This presents an opportunity for the sharing of knowledge and experience of treaties by Indigenous Elders, Traditional Knowledge Keepers, and experts. The knowledge gained and stories learned from these sources should be treasured and respected.
Dr. Ottmann emphasized as well that, “Land acknowledgement is a small step in the right direction, and the next step is educating non- Indigenous and Indigenous people of its significance and some of the work that has already happened in this area. The land is life and it determines and supports our existence – the quality of our health.”
While renewing the connection to the land, we are reminded of the constitutional foundation of Saskatchewan and how we are all reliant on one another. This renewed relationship could be part of healing, and strengthening the spirit of reconciliation. We have the opportunity to help realize the treaty promises made with Indigenous peoples, to honour the past and the future through traditional and cultural values such as identity, kinship, language and ceremony. The spirit of reconciliation along with meaningful community engagement can strengthen our university, province and country.
For those of us who study, work and contribute at the university, we can pay respect to the treaties and our constitutional heritage through proper protocols, land and place acknowledgement. The Land Acknowledgement statement from the University of Saskatchewan was created with the intention of providing a common respectful practice within our community, perhaps intended to be used for more formal occasions or speaking engagements. It is important for our USask community to affirm a respectful relationship with the land that we occupy and to ensure a sustainable future for us all.
In looking to our future, it is evident that land acknowledgment education is important for us all; it can promote a sense of responsibility for not only ourselves but for our youth.
Canada and Saskatchewan citizens continue to benefit from the treaty and land agreements between federal and provincial governments and Indigenous peoples. So, acknowledging traditional territories and homelands that we are on recognizes and honours this legacy.
Thank you - Sakej Henderso, IPC Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp (Native Law Centre of Canada); and Danielle Bitz, USask Libraries.
Thank you to those working delivering land acknowledgements…with heart and head.
- Shannon Cossette, Communications, OVPIE