Important workshop to be held
Breathing life into land acknowledgments
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Whether worshipping online or in person, each Sunday the people of a southwest Winnipeg congregation hear a statement indicating their building is situated at not only a street address, but also on traditional territories of Indigenous peoples.
“We wish to acknowledge that Charleswood United Church is on Treaty One land, the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, and Dene people and the homeland of the Metis Nation. Our community is committed to a future of right relations and reconciliation,” reads the statement written by Rev. Michael Wilson.
Known as a land acknowledgement, this type of statement arrives is often spoken at the start of professional sports games, concerts, worship services and other public events.
Yet these public statements need to move beyond a one-breath recitation of Indigenous people who called the land their home before the arrival of European settlers to include an understanding of context and history, says an organizer of a free online worship on developing and renewing land acknowledgements.
“The interest in hosting this workshop is to move land acknowledgements from performative to actually consider what is our work and effort in moving toward reconciliation and how land plays a part in it,” says Mary Smillie of the two-part workshop for faith and spiritual communities offered by KAIROS Prairies North decolonization group, 7 p.m. Tuesday May 3 and Thursday, May 5.
“We know in terms of moving forward in a good way we have to be mindful of our worldviews and recognize they are not the same.”
Participants are asked to commit about two hours of preparation, including drafting a land acknowledgement, by viewing a series of video blogs by workshop leaders Rose Roberts and Stryker Calvez, both formerly of the University of Saskatchewan. Both have led numerous workshops in university settings, but this is thought to be the first for faith communities, says Smillie, who is also involved in the Treaty Land Sharing Network in Saskatchewan.
That advance work helps participants understand their own context before writing a land acknowledgement and all the baggage and assumptions that come with it.
“What’s fascinating for me moving forward in land acknowledgements it is has to be both personal and collective work,” says the Bladworth, SK farmer, who attends a United Church of Canada congregation.
“Who we are as a congregation and what’s our work going forward in reconciliation?”
Whoever you are, land acknowledgements must be more than quickly-recited script or an ending place, but one step on the journey toward reconciliation, says Cree elder Stan McKay.
The first Indigenous moderator of the United Church of Canada says people in faith communities have a vague understanding of the significance of land to Indigenous peoples, but not the struggle behind it.
“It’s a huge understanding to truthfully acknowledge territory,” explains McKay, now living in his home community of Fisher River Cree Nation.
“It’s a starting place, but if that’s all we do is begin with a protocol of saying we know we are on Indigenous territory, I think that’s empty.”
The work of reconciliation needs first of all to be about relationships, says McKay, as well as recognition of how Indigenous people view the land, and what the treaties are about.
Winnipeg and much of Southern Manitoba is located on Treaty 1 land, the first of 11 numbered treaties between the Crown and Indigenous peoples.
“I think if faith communities understood the implications of land acknowledgements, there would be more action around reparation of land and sharing of the land,” he says.
“A simple sense of ownership is problematic.”
Indigenous communities never intended to give up ownership of the land according to Western views of property, says Smillie, but they were committed to sharing the space with settlers.
“They weren’t ceding land to famers, they were inviting farmers to share land,” she says.
For his part, Wilson keeps the land acknowledgement short and the same every week, developing it after attending workshops and reconciliation circles before the pandemic. He recognizes his congregation’s weekly statement is not the final word, but the start of the journey of reconciliation.
“I know this is an intermediate step within our community and we’re raising consciousness and we have a lot of work left to do,” says Wilson.
Sign up for the land acknowledgement workshop organized by organized by KAIROS Prairies North decolonization group for faith and spiritual communities at https://bit.ly/3jfkpQD.
The two-part virtual workshop runs 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 3 and Thursday, May 5. Admission is free.
Updated on Saturday, April 30, 2022 10:45 AM CDT: Fixes typo