Land Acknowledgements, Pretendians & Reconciliation
A reflection on National Indigenous Peoples Day
The practice of incorporating land acknowledgments into various contexts such as email signatures, meetings, classes, and presentations has become increasingly common. Advocates argue that this is a crucial step towards raising awareness and reshaping our understanding of our relationship with the land. However, two pressing questions arise when considering the widespread use of land acknowledgments.
Firstly, when we ask individuals on a large scale to repeat a few prescribed sentences, how quickly does it devolve into mere lip service? I have observed instances where professors hastily read from a crumpled piece of paper, reciting the words, "I'd like to acknowledge we are on the unceded, ancestral territory of..." without any genuine knowledge or understanding of the communities being acknowledged. The repetition of these words, devoid of true comprehension, raises concerns about the effectiveness and authenticity of such actions.
The second question that arises is whether surface-level actions ultimately impede progress. As an Indigenous person, I am no stranger to hearing dismissive comments like "That was a long time ago," "Get over it," "We are taking steps," or "Progress takes time." Despite land acknowledgments becoming a societal norm, we have witnessed minimal change in how governments engage with Indigenous communities. Furthermore, the Trudeau government, despite expressing a desire for reconciliation, has taken actions such as removing a respected Indigenous leader from her position and appealing a human rights tribunal decision to compensate Indigenous children who experienced discrimination in the child welfare system.
Considering these issues, Bruce McIvor and I delve into a discussion exploring whether land acknowledgments are truly fostering unity and understanding within our country or if they merely perpetuate lip service without leading to substantial progress.
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Pretendians - Individuals Falsely Claiming Indigenous Identity
Bruce McIvor and I delve into a thought-provoking discussion surrounding the concept of pretendians—individuals who falsely or inaccurately assert Indigenous identity, often motivated by personal gains in academia or their careers. While this issue may initially appear straightforward, it is far more intricate than meets the eye. News organizations often attempt to ascertain Indigenous heritage through bloodlines, ancestral documentation, or family ancestry—a reasonable pursuit in search of factual information.
Nevertheless, several challenges arise when attempting to define indigeneity. Firstly, who possesses the authority to define it? First Nation communities in North America have fought for the right to self-determine their indigeneity. In Canada, the Indian Act legally determines Indigenous status based on specific criteria. However, these laws have proven to be flawed. For example, until 1985, Indigenous women who married non-Indigenous men lost their status. Did this make them any less Indigenous? No. Indigenous communities understand the imperfections of these laws and believe that defining their identity lies best within their own hands.
Another challenge revolves around the question: What does it truly mean to be Indigenous? It could be based on familial connections or cultural affiliations. Indigenous cultural practices often intertwine with spirituality, meaning that individuals without a direct bloodline connection can still be deeply immersed in Indigenous traditions. How do we categorize such individuals? Moreover, with various Indigenous communities across North America granting "honorary membership" to individuals, should this influence our understanding of indigeneity?
The final and most concerning challenge involves perverse incentives. Affirmative action policies aim to promote equal opportunities for marginalized groups, ensuring their access to resources and opportunities on par with the majority. While this is a commendable objective, it inadvertently incentivizes some individuals to falsely claim minority status. This is not a minor issue. In recent years, individuals such as Carrie Bourassa (scholar), Joseph Boyden (author), Michelle Latimer (filmmaker), former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, and the Gill sisters have been embroiled in controversies surrounding their alleged misrepresentation of Indigenous identity.
Bruce and I engage in a discussion exploring possible approaches to address this complex issue and the impact of affirmative action policies on Indigenous communities.
These challenges present remarkable opportunities. It is evident that many Canadians genuinely aspire to engage in reconciliation efforts and advocate for improved conditions for Indigenous people. Canada has always been built upon the foundation of a robust social fabric that fosters the flourishing of all its citizens.
We witness the emergence of exceptional Indigenous leaders and entrepreneurs who work tirelessly to strengthen our social bonds and instill a sense of pride in the land and its rich culture. Carrielynn Victor, Eddie Gardner, Willie Sellars, Sonny McHalsie, Sharon Bond-Hogg, John Borrows, Shayla Raine, and Caroline Phelps are among the individuals dedicated to enhancing our communities through the profound depths and beauty of Indigenous traditions and values. They actively promote stories, artwork, cuisine, and cultural practices that contribute to the vibrant tapestry of our nation.
As Canadians, we have the power to support these influential voices by purchasing their products, experiencing their cuisine, and immersing ourselves in the profound richness of their traditions. By doing so, we actively participate in fostering cultural understanding, embracing diversity, and contributing to the preservation and celebration of Indigenous heritage.