Your Home on Native land. (Please listen to Red Bull Singers, this is amazing. Its a Round dance and so great)
Land recognition statements are the latest fad at conferences, convocations and political gatherings. Once held in reverence by Indigenous people acknowledging the people before, has become a part of a script and feels stolen from us. When I went to Indigenous gatherings years ago you would hear people talk about the land and their relationship to it. Also as a guest I would acknowledge that I was a visitor to the traditional territory of where ever I was. I would also state that I was happy to be there and give some sense of my relationship to the Nation(s) whose land I was standing upon. Land recognition has moved away from that to a part of a politically correct check box.
Nothing is more disheartening for me than hearing a land recognition followed by and the bathrooms are down the hall and don’t forget to evaluate this session. Land acknowledgements have become a part of a script without in depth reflection. Simply stating the original stewards of the land is a good first step but should not be the last. What treaty, if there is a treaty, covers the land? Why are those people no longer on this land? What else have you done to work with those stewards? Land is key for a decolonial process, not however in a simple recognition of stewardship but rather relational. Indigenization implies a pan Indian response to a relationship issue. Currently there are over 600 nations in Canada all with different needs and wants. There is no cookie cutter approach a process to be more inclusive. The original stewards of this land will guide that process and trust them. Not me.
When I first got to Seneca College I was told by many non-Indigenous colleagues that the College was named after the Indigenous people whose land the College is on. Seneca College is in Toronto. There is a very famous treaty called the Toronto Purchase of which the land was purchased from the Mississaugas of the New Credit, an Anishnaabe Nation. The Seneca and the Anishnaabe, historically found themselves often on opposite sides of war, although most of that is in the past. Culturally and linguistically very different. I worked at Brock University in the Heart of Six Nations territory and I will tell you that although I am Indigenous I was lost many times in ceremony, social interactions and relationally. So land recognition may reveal a lot about your Indigenization strategy as it relates the land and the people of the land.
So how does Seneca deal with it? In my tenure at Seneca I have spent a great amount of time educating about the difference of name vs. the land that we are on. In fact Seneca’s campuses span in the Williams Treaties areas, the last of the numbered treaties. We have a land recognition statement that recognizes all of those First Nations and their treaties. We are mindful of the land that sit upon. Indigenous Nations that our land sits upon are key members of our Aboriginal Education Council. They approve my work and the work of my team. Although I am Anishnaabe, I am not from this area nor do I intend to tell the people of this area what they need. As an aside I wouldn’t do that in my own territory.
In fact Seneca on its newest building will have a four story map of the treaty with the signature page superimposed on it. All students and all people driving by the college will see the map. I am so proud of this map, I really feel like we moved beyond the script and put something in place for generations to reflect upon how did we get here and who was here prior.
Land is important to Indigenous people. It takes care of us and it is our identity. Please when doing land recognition remember that land is sacred to us and when you say the traditional territory of _________, you are remembering our past and our honouring our future. Please treat it as such.