A long-awaited land acknowledgement intended to open daily proceedings at the Manitoba legislature is near completion after the government consulted with Indigenous leaders and groups.
House leader Kelvin Goertzen said the government has prepared a draft land acknowledgement and provided it to his counterparts, NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine and Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard, for discussion on Wednesday.
Fontaine, who represents St. Johns and is Indigenous, said she hopes it is adopted quickly.
"It’s certainly a long time coming and it’s an important move that the Manitoba legislature can make," she said. "We are prepared to do whatever it takes to have it tomorrow, if we could. Certainly the sooner, the better."
Currently, question period begins with a prayer, but there is no treaty or territorial land acknowledgement. The legislative assembly is one of the few public institutions in the province that doesn’t open with a land acknowledgement.
Fontaine said her party has pushed for a formal land recognition to become part of regular proceedings since 2017. Earlier this year, NDP MLA Ian Bushie introduced a private member’s resolution to include a land acknowledgement but it did not proceed.
In September, while serving as premier, Goertzen struck a working group to consult with Indigenous groups and provide recommendations for a land acknowledgement.
The working group was led by MLA Eileen Clarke, who resigned as Indigenous and northern relations minister last summer in the wake of comments by former Premier Brian Pallister on colonization and reconciliation. Clarke was not available for an interview on Wednesday.
Fontaine said she was not consulted in the development of the land acknowledgement but the draft was "a little bit better than I anticipated."
"I think we just need to tighten up some of the language and I think we need to tighten up the spelling, but other than that it’s a good start."
"The language that we all agree on will be something that will be said into this Manitoba legislature for years and years," Fontaine said.
Goertzen was not available for an interview, but said in a statement that all parties have indicated their commitment to implementing a land acknowledgement.
Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs supports the draft land acknowledgement and described the consultation process as extensive.
Dumas said the assembly’s elders council, which includes Dennis White Bird, Florence Paynter and Harry Bone, was involved in the consultations.
"There were some contentious issues from our perspective," Dumas said. "We wanted to make certain statements on our thoughts about where we are and the historical significance of what was being done when Manitoba was being created."
"The position of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is that we are on unceded territory and that we respect our sovereignty," he said. "On those lines, we weren’t able to come to an agreement so those things were omitted."
Dumas said in this case the parties agreed to disagree and move on.
A spokesperson for the Manitoba Métis Federation said it was consulted by the province and was comfortable with the last draft they had seen.
News a proposed land acknowledgement has been completed came one day after Premier Heather Stefanson’s first throne speech, which also included the phrase "we are gathered here on ancestral lands on Treaty One Territory and on the homeland of the Métis Nation."
As part of the ceremony on Tuesday, for the first time, an Indigenous honour song was performed, by Opaskwayak Cree Nation member Mike Bignell, to accompany Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon into the chamber.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.