Last month, the heels and suits of Moncton City Hall tripped piously, with faux solemnity and measurable hypocrisy from their offices to witness the raising of the Mi’kma’ki Territory Flag where it will fly in front of city hall for… however long.
June is National Indigenous Peoples month with the 21st as National Indigenous Peoples Day. Were you aware that the City of Moncton gives no land acknowledgement at any point in its public deliberations at regular meetings of council? Does the City follow the dictum of Blaine Higgs who disavowed land acknowledgements being given by the government of New Brunswick?
In Dec. 2022 I attended a city council meeting in person to speak for five minutes about a matter of concern. As I sat looking at my notes while listening to the previous speakers, wondering if I needed to state my carefully and proudly worded acknowledgement, thinking I would be duplicating the City’s statement, I was dumbfounded to realize there had been no land acknowledgement to open the meeting. I had been anxious about expressing everything I wanted to say within the prescribed time and hadn’t paid close enough attention to realize no acknowledgement had been made.
The Premier infamously ordered New Brunswick government departments and employees not to issue them. If the City does follow the diabolical Higgs-ian decree, it’s most certainly an outlier. Both Saint John and Fredericton give land acknowledgements at the beginning of common council meetings, read either by the Clerk or the Mayor.
The wording for the City of Fredericton land acknowledgement is as follows:
I acknowledge that this meeting of Fredericton City Council is taking place on traditional Wolastoqey territory. The territory of the Wolastoqiyik people are recognized in the Peace and Friendship Treaties to establish an ongoing relationship of peace, friendship and mutual respect between equal nations. The river that runs through our City is known as the Wolastoq, along which lived the Wolastoqiyik, “the people of the beautiful and bountiful river.”
Saint John has also developed a position document with respect to Truth and Reconciliation. Land acknowledgments are also read across the Acadian Peninsula, in Miramichi, and in Edmundston, among other communities across NB.
In the ensuing weeks I began correspondence with the Mayor’s office about the lack of a land acknowledgement. The office of the Mayor dropped the correspondence as it became obvious that the city wasn’t interested in developing one either — radio silence. In fact, to signal their lack of intent I believe the onus for this was placed on me to initiate.
Of course, many of these land acknowledgement statements are pro forma and quickly shirked when expediency is the ‘ordre du jour’ but that is a discussion for another time. I suggest if the City of Moncton were to abandon its disingenuous position on this matter, it might do well to consider the advice of Treaty Six member Shana Dion, whose work in this area has reinforced for me the importance of many considerations when drafting a land acknowledgement.
Firstly, the acknowledgement must be properly researched and spoken from the heart if it is to carry meaning. A simple, pared down statement is most impactful; it must resonate with people from the heart. It starts the conversation and is placed at the beginning of a meeting or event as it helps to set the tone of the place and provides those in attendance time to think, to recognize and honour the people and the land.
People, citizens of all ages, want to know more, they want to learn and ask questions and open their hearts. People want to have a collective conversation among numerous diverse staff and community members. Place and space for people is created the moment the acknowledgement is given.
Sources to be utilized in preparing the acknowledgement may come from books, articles, teachings of traditional lands and territories from elders who will have an opportunity to teach treaty education. The acknowledgement is not reconciliation but a respectful statement signalling a change in the ways of operating, and dealing with ongoing Indigenous issues. It provides an important moment for learning and emphasizing why it is so important to do this. A well prepared and heartfelt land acknowledgement provokes our sense of responsibility as settlers with the right intention. It is consciously ensuring the correct history.
Scripts can be seen as disingenuous, token gestures and as a symbolic way for settlers to appease the Indigenous community without taking meaningful action. The acknowledgement must be factual and correct, be written with consultation of Mi’kma’ki Elders and Indigenous educators, show respect for the people, land and resources, and then these become the steps toward reconciliation. This is the beginning of true relationship-building.
We need Indigenous representation on municipal councils, on school boards and in the Legislature. While there is Indigenous representation in Parliament, it’s not enough. Only two of 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee have been completed in the eight years of the Trudeau government. This is a blight and a national condemnation.
Perhaps to avoid the conundrum of a pro forma land acknowledgement, the new council will establish a permanent council chair to represent First Nations.
Leslie Chandler is a retired teacher and a writer and activist living in Moncton.