Not Just a Land Acknowledgement

You may have noticed that Treaty 6 Land Acknowledgement introductions read at our recent “Haven at Home” reading series are changing. The Stroll of Poets Board of Directors has taken a leadership role in inviting Mic Hosts to connect to Treaty 6 Land Acknowledgements in a more personal and meaningful way. Long-time board member Naomi McIlwraith has written the following eloquent statement about the complexities of expressing our respect and gratitude to the Indigenous peoples whose voices have been heard here on Treaty Six territory for millennia.

Naomi has also written a supplementary fact sheet to explain what a treaty is: 10 FACTS OF ABOUT TREATY 6

Not Just a Land Acknowledgement

By Naomi McIlwraith

Recently, my First Nations boss told me that he doesn’t do land acknowledgements, and I’ve since learned that Indigenous peoples “know whose land they are on” and that land acknowledgements “are for those who are not Indigenous to declare” (Dahl). What do I do when I am both Indigenous and non-Indigenous?

First, I recognize my white privilege because, even though I own nothing but a canoe, a couple of bikes, a trusty, slightly-rusty Ford Ranger, and too many books to count, I have what has been denied many Indigenous peoples – education, a home with a roof over my head, two parents who loved me, my Mom who still loves me, four grandparents who loved me, a job, and so much more.

Map of Canadian Treaty Territories

Next, I want to thank my Indigenous hosts and neighbours, none of whom are in attendance at our Stroll Board meeting tonight, but whose generosity allowed my non-Indigenous ancestors to settle here on Treaty 6 Territory and further back on the territories of Treaties 1, 2, and 4. It’s important for me to state the many injustices imposed on Indigenous peoples throughout what we now call Canada, such as the Consolidated Indian Act, unfair treaties with broken promises by our first and all subsequent colonial governments, the horrors and traumas of Indian Residential Schools, structural racism such as an educational system that tried to “beat the Indian out of the child,” punished children for speaking their mother tongues and for simply wanting to be Indigenous, and permitted the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that Indigenous children suffered at the residential schools. I ask my Indigenous hosts please to recognize that though my paternal grandparents taught at the Edmonton Indian Residential School here in Edmonton and that it cuts me to the core to see the words “Possible Trigger” with a picture of my Grandfather Charles McIlwraith on an Edmonton Indian Residential School Facebook group, my Grandfather tried to defend his Indigenous students by reporting what they reported to him only to be removed from his position as a teacher and relocated to Alert Bay, a wee island off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.

Map of Treaty Six Territory

My life’s work to figure out who I am as white-skinned Métis woman includes listening to my Mom’s stories of her experiences with racism that began in kindergarten and continued through her life during her 37 years as a Neonatal Registered Nurse. But my life’s work also has me in the good company of those who, though not human, are just as sentient as we humans. So I feel compelled to acknowledge the many peoples who were here before we settlers came and who are still here: nêhiyawak, Anishinaabe, Niitsitapi, Siksikaitsitapi, Dene, Métis, and the Nakota Isga Sioux, but I must also acknowledge the many birds, bugs, trees, rivers, lands, pathways, stones, stars, mountains, lakes, grasslands, highlands, lowlands, and in-between lands, and so much and so many more who have imbued my life with meaning and enriched me beyond measure. In no way do I diminish my human hosts here by invoking those who are not human, but something else I’ve learned is that meaning on Earth is not the sole experience or property of humans. Just as importantly, I’ve learned that my relatives are both human and deeper-than-human. In offering this heartfelt and humble land acknowledgement that isn’t just a land acknowledgement, I commit to listening to Indigenous people’s stories because they have been suppressed for far too long in our nation’s colonial narrative. And I recommit to learning nêhiyawêwin, one of the languages of my maternal ancestors and the language that my wonderful father spoke even though he was not Indigenous. In closing, I will say as many Indigenous peoples say in English, “All my relations,” but I will say it in nêhiyawêwinkahkiyaw niwâhkômâkanak.

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