A recent Government of New Brunswick (GNB) memo from October 14, 2021, has been making the social media rounds. In it, Attorney General Ted Flemming instructs all GNB employees that they “may not make or issue territorial or title acknowledgements… [including] the use of territorial acknowledgements at meetings and events, in documents, and in email signatures.” If an employee must make an acknowledgement, Flemming outlines the set “protocol”, in which employees must use a GNB-approved acknowledgment which abstains from using the words “unceded” or “unsurrendered.”
This ban on land acknowledgments comes in light of the legal action currently being taken by Wolastoqey communities to claim their ownership and title of over half of the Province. This title claim points toward the Peace and Friendship Treaties established between 1725 and 1779, where “Aboriginal peoples did not surrender rights to land or resources.”
There is debate over whether the order is legally necessary, and whether Flemming even has the authority to issue such a ban. I am not a lawyer; I cannot speak to the legal ramifications of issuing such an order. Instead, I am a settler who has worked for GNB. I write now to other settlers to point out how disrespectful, problematic, how utterly unreconciliatory GNB has been and continues to be. It behooves us, as settlers sharing the land, to acknowledge the fact that New Brunswick is situated on the unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Wǝlastǝkewiyik/Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), Mi’kmaq/Mi’kmaw and Peskotomuhkati (Passamaquoddy).
During my time at GNB, I witnessed firsthand the ways in which GNB refuses to acknowledge the rights of the Wolastoqiyik. I remember how it struck me as hypocritical and absurd that GNB professed “awareness of Indigenous history and culture” while stringing up red tape around Indigenous practices such as smudging. Here, I’d like to share a poem inspired by GNB policy, wherein First Nations must ask permission to smudge on their own unsurrendered territory. Here, I’d like to remind GNB it is not government property; in fact, it is unceded and unsurrendered Indigenous territory.
SMUDGING ON CITY PROPERTY
It would be better not to do it at all.
If you must, apply for permission
in writing to the appropriate authorities. They are there
to inform the public and to provide guidance.
Ask at least one week in advance so there is enough
time to warn the masses the Natives are coming.
Inscribe your intentions in bruises
of blue or black ink, English or French,
anything else will be thrown out. Place
a checkmark beside cedar, tobacco, sweetgrass, or sage.
Keep your thoughts to yourself. Understand
the City will impose conditions in allowing
the smudging ceremony to proceed. They are watching
out for somebody’s best interests. They just want
to show the good of who we are
in a practice of inclusiveness. Let the word “unceded”
fall away from your tongue—it leaves a bad taste
and we all know Kanata belongs to you
in land acknowledgements only.
The authorities just want to cleanse the space
of your Wet’suwet’en and Wolastoqey grandmothers
holding back armed officers, keeping us
from pipelines and Sisson mines. Be careful
not to commit an offence. They will make arrangements
for someone trained and capable
of using a fire extinguisher. Don’t
forget the legal authorities are here
to manage the burning.
Note: Words in italics have been taken directly from Policy 1086 and its accompanying forms, New Brunswick Public Library Service, Government of New Brunswick.
Christine Wu is a settler poet whose work has been published in Contemporary Verse 2, The Malahat Review, The Temz Review, Ricepaper, among others. She currently lives in Kjpuktuk/Halifax.