Ac­knowl­edg­ment, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and reck­on­ing JON WELLS

Are we ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an ‘In­dige­nous mo­ment,’ where aware­ness, un­der­stand­ing and reck­on­ing is gain­ing mo­men­tum like never be­fore? Or are things like ter­ri­to­rial ac­knowl­edg­ments, teach­ing cir­cles and ur­ban In­dige­nous strate­gies mere blips on a very long cont

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE -

IT WAS THE SPRING OF 2016 when per­haps the first lo­cal public dec­la­ra­tion was made.

It was this: What most Hamil­to­ni­ans think of as their home, is in one sense, not.

It was McMaster Univer­sity con­vo­ca­tion, at Hamil­ton Place, named af­ter found­ing fa­ther Ge­orge Hamil­ton — he of Scot­tish blood and Queen­ston Heights birth­place — and the cer­e­mony be­gan with a man car­ry­ing a sil­ver mace on stage, the sym­bol of the author­ity of the Queen.

The in­con­gruity of the colo­nial themed set­ting was not lost on cere­bral McMaster president Pa­trick Deane, who an­nounced:

“I will end where at fu­ture con­vo­ca­tions I in­tend us to start, by rec­og­niz­ing and ac­knowl­edg­ing that we meet on the tra­di­tional ter­ri­to­ries of the Mis­sis­sauga and Hau­denosaunee na­tions, and within the lands pro­tected by the Dish With One Spoon wampum agree­ment.”

Sim­i­larly worded ter­ri­to­rial ac­knowl­edg­ments now open city coun­cil meet­ings and com­mu­nity events rang­ing from a YMCA peace medal break­fast to a cel­e­bra­tion of the Baha’i faith.

Since Septem­ber, it has been the pre­lude to the school day for many Hamil­ton stu­dents dur­ing morn­ing an­nounce­ments — a “best prac­tice” urged by the public school board, al­though not yet the Catholic board, which has con­fined the ac­knowl­edg­ment to board meet­ings.

(It per­haps brings into ques­tion the fate of an­other morn­ing rit­ual for stu­dents, singing “O Canada,” and the lyrics “Our home and na­tive land.”)

Does the ubiq­uity of these ac­knowl­edg­ments, along with de­vel­op­ments in ed­u­ca­tion, art and cul­ture, sug­gest we are in the midst of a pow­er­ful In­dige­nous mo­ment of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and reck­on­ing; his­tory clear­ing its throat when con­sid­er­ing the long and of­ten painful re­la­tion­ship be­tween two peo­ples?

Or is it all much less than meets the eye?

“How far back do you go? You can’t cap­ture who lived here in a sen­tence or two.” RICK MON­TURE PRO­FES­SOR, IN­DIGE­NOUS STUD­IES, MCMASTER UNIVER­SITY

“It’s just, ‘this is the land of peo­ple who lived here,’ and they stop … But I un­der­stand the value of the ges­ture to­ward real change.” RICK MON­TURE PRO­FES­SOR, IN­DIGE­NOUS STUD­IES, MCMASTER UNIVER­SITY

THE JADED SEC­OND VIEW was how Rick Mon­ture re­acted in 2014 when the Six Na­tions res­i­dent and In­dige­nous stud­ies pro­fes­sor at McMaster Univer­sity was asked to help craft a ter­ri­to­rial ac­knowl­edg­ment for the school.

“I qui­etly sort of didn’t an­swer back,” he says. “I didn’t want it to be a hol­low thing that gives peo­ple the sense that all is for­given, and I told them as much.”

He knew they weren’t look­ing for him to of­fer word­ing that sug­gested land be given back, more­over, the his­tory is com­plex.

“How far back do you go? You can’t cap­ture who lived here in a sen­tence or two.”

His po­si­tion was borne out re­cently when his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences in the City of Hamil­ton’s state­ment were de­bated in The Spec­ta­tor, with Chief Stacey LaForme of the Mis­sis­saugas of the New Credit and Chief Ava Hill of Six Na­tions of­fer­ing com­pet­ing views over who should be ac­knowl­edged as “the treaty peo­ples of these lands.”

But the sen­ti­ment in the ac­knowl­edg­ments is clear: that this land, all of it, was, and is, the home­land of na­tives dat­ing back per­haps 12,000 years be­fore Euro­pean set­tlers ar­rived.

Of­fer­ing public ter­ri­to­rial ac­knowl­edg­ments was not, as is com­monly as­sumed, one of the 94 “Calls to Ac­tion” is­sued in 2015 af­ter eight years of work from the $72-mil­lion Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion.

LAND AC­KNOWL­EDG­MENT gained at­ten­tion at the 2010 Van­cou­ver Olympics, when it was made a cen­tre­piece of the open­ing cer­e­monies — a con­ces­sion to B.C. na­tives who vig­or­ously op­posed host­ing the games on “un­ceded” land where treaties were never signed (“No Olympics on Stolen Na­tive Land.”)

The Van­cou­ver Olympics was the first time the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee rec­og­nized In­dige­nous peo­ple as of­fi­cial host part­ners.

That same year the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Univer­sity Teach­ers cre­ated an In­dige­nous peo­ples work­ing group and de­vel­oped a guide for land ac­knowl­edg­ment state­ments tai­lored to ev­ery univer­sity in the coun­try: from ac­knowl­edg­ing the Beothuk and Mi’kmaq peo­ples in New­found­land, to the “un­ceded tra­di­tional ter­ri­tory” of the Snuney­muxw First Na­tion on Van­cou­ver Is­land.

The Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers and Win­nipeg Jets of the Na­tional Hockey League got in on the cam­paign: At the start of the 2016 sea­son, they be­gan of­fer­ing ac­knowl­edg­ments in their are­nas be­fore the na­tional an­them.

(Don’t ex­pect to see such de­vel­op­ments in the U.S., where ter­ri­to­rial ac­knowl­edg­ments of­fered from non­indige­nous peo­ple do not hap­pen, says Shan­non Keller O’Lough­lin, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the As­so­ci­a­tion on Amer­i­can In­dian Af­fairs. She adds that “public ed­u­ca­tion about Amer­i­can In­dian peo­ple is quite min­i­mal in schools.”

From an In­dige­nous per­spec­tive, the con­cept of ter­ri­to­rial ac­knowl­edg­ment is one that has al­ways been prac­tised among First Na­tions peo­ples.

It hap­pened at cer­e­monies, or when one tribal mem­ber would light a small fire on the out­skirts of ter­ri­tory he was vis­it­ing, wait for some­one to meet him, smoke a peace pipe, ac­knowl­edge whose land it was, dis­cuss in­ten­tions.

“It’s an In­dige­nous pro­to­col, we’ve al­ways done that,” says Shylo El­mayan, who di­rects the City of Hamil­ton’s ur­ban In­dige­nous strat­egy. “But now ev­ery­one is notic­ing it be­cause non­indige­nous or­ga­ni­za­tions are say­ing it.”

Mon­ture even­tu­ally came around and helped draft McMaster’s state­ment. Still, Mon­ture, who in in­ter­views al­ter­nately con­veys hope and de­spair, is not all-in.

“I wouldn’t call them an empty ges­ture, but there is no teeth. Politi­cians and univer­sity pres­i­dents can give the state­ment, and it raises aware­ness in the lis­tener a bit, but doesn’t men­tion how the land was taken way. It’s just, ‘this is the land of peo­ple who lived here,’ and they stop … But I un­der­stand the value of the ges­ture to­ward real change.”

For her part, Six Na­tions band coun­cil Chief Ava Hill be­lieves ac­knowl­edg­ments are one sign of a pow­er­ful mo­ment of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion we are now ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, and that credit be­longs to sur­vivors of res­i­den­tial schools who came for­ward to tell their sto­ries to the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion.

“It’s be­cause of them these is­sues are at the fore­front, not only in Hamil­ton, but else­where. Hope­fully, it will con­tinue, and I think it will … I’ve been telling peo­ple in my speeches: What can you do, what part can you play in this rec­on­cil­i­a­tion?”


THE RE­CENT Our Fu­ture Hamil­ton sum­mit at LiUNA Sta­tion, Mayor Fred Eisen­berger opened with the state­ment, but more note­wor­thy was In­dige­nous con­tent that fol­lowed.

First, there was na­tive music and dance, fol­lowed by Shylo El­mayan from the city (wear­ing moc­casins for “rock your moc­casins week”) and Chelsea Ga­bel, a pro­fes­sor of In­dige­nous stud­ies at Mac and Canada Re­search Chair in In­dige­nous Well-Be­ing, Com­mu­nity En­gage­ment and In­no­va­tion, who spoke on elec­toral re­form to bet­ter in­volve na­tive peo­ples through on­line vot­ing.

A few days af­ter the sum­mit, El­mayan sat for an in­ter­view at Mul­berry café on James North near her of­fice in the Lis­ter Block.

Out the win­dow, a poster on a util­ity pole pro­moted Cree mu­si­cian Iskwé, who re­cently moved to Hamil­ton and tweeted “I’m re­ally loving this city! Hamil­ton is home.” A cou­ple of blocks south hung a huge mu­ral of In­dige­nous artist Shel­ley Niro, whose work is fea­tured at the Art Gallery of Hamil­ton.

And El­mayan pointed out that near the Mul­berry is the bou­tique of renowned In­dige­nous fash­ion de­signer An­gela DeMon­tigny.

El­mayan has experience act­ing as a bridge be­tween two peo­ples: she has worked as a ten­ants’ rights ad­vo­cate for In­dige­nous peo­ple and for Hy­dro One as a li­ai­son be­tween the com­pany and na­tives.

But she holds no il­lu­sions about the size of her task with the city, help­ing raise aware­ness of In­dige­nous his­tory and cul­ture and ad­vance the cause of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

The In­dige­nous way, she says, is to for­ever be aware of the seven gen­er­a­tions who came be­fore, and the seven gen­er­a­tions to come. At the same time, to pre­vent feel­ing over­whelmed by the job, she ap­proaches it Western-style: one day at a time.

She hopes to de­velop a pol­icy on In­dige­nous medicines, which was the fo­cus re­cently at the first na­tional In­dige­nous Health Prac­tice and Re­search Con­fer­ence in Hamil­ton.

For ex­am­ple, she’d like to see such things as a smudg­ing cer­e­mony ac­com­mo­dated in city fa­cil­i­ties (burn­ing medic­i­nal plants to make a smudge or cleans­ing smoke).

She was pleased that, at the end of the sum­mit, sev­eral par­tic­i­pants ap­proached her and asked if she would help in­ject In­dige­nous themes into projects their or­ga­ni­za­tions were launch­ing.

El­mayan, an Anishi­naabe na­tive, is a re­minder that when it comes to her­itage, there are few straight lines.

She grew up in Hamil­ton and at­tended West­dale high school. Her mother is In­dige­nous from the Long Lake first na­tion up north; her fa­ther, whose sur­name is Sum­mers, is non­indige­nous from Hamil­ton’s North End.

El­mayan’s mar­ried name is Ar­me­nian, and her first name may sound ex­otic, but her par­ents named her af­ter a song by pop singer Neil Di­a­mond, who they lis­tened to while dat­ing.

But her In­dige­nous her­itage, she says, is fun­da­men­tal. And be­ing Cana­dian? “‘Cana­dian’ is com­pli­cated. Many In­dige­nous peo­ple do not iden­tify as Cana­dian. On my fa­ther’s side, I’m Cana­dian. It’s im­por­tant to hon­our him, too.”


THE MOST fer­tile ground for in­flu­enc­ing hearts and minds to­ward rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is ed­u­ca­tion — a point em­pha­sized by the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion.

Pa­trick Deane is proud to point to steps taken at McMaster: the school has un­veiled new build­ings and fa­cil­i­ties for In­dige­nous learn­ing in­clud­ing an out­door class­room over­look­ing Cootes Par­adise, and cre­ated the McMaster In­dige­nous Re­search In­sti­tute.

Last spring, the univer­sity ap­pointed a cu­ra­tor of In­dige­nous art for the McMaster Mu­seum of Art. In the sum­mer, it was a hub site for the North Amer­i­can In­dige­nous Games and flew the flag of the Six Na­tions Con­fed­er­acy on Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal Day.

Rick Mon­ture praises Deane’s fo­cus on In­dige­nous is­sues, call­ing him a hu­man­ist. (Deane’s in­tel­lec­tual DNA was wired spend­ing the first 22 years of his life in apartheid-era South Africa.)

And yet some call on uni­ver­si­ties to go much fur­ther than that to “in­di­g­e­nize the academy,” which means in­fus­ing all as­pects of post-se­condary ed­u­ca­tion with In­dige­nous con­tent, in­clud­ing manda­tory cour­ses in In­dige­nous study for un­der­grad­u­ates.

Some uni­ver­si­ties have taken this step al­ready, such as the Univer­sity of Win­nipeg and Lake­head Univer­sity in Thun­der Bay.

Deane said the con­cept has been dis­cussed at McMaster, but the con­sen­sus among ed­u­ca­tors and stu­dents is that com­pul­sory learn­ing is not the way to go.

“It would not make peo­ple take (In­dige­nous learn­ing) more se­ri­ously or en­gage in a more thought­ful way.”

He has sup­port on that po­si­tion from Re­becca Jamieson, president of Six Na­tions Polytech­nic (SNP), an in­sti­tu­tion with a cam­pus on the re­serve and in Brant­ford that of­fers a univer­sity de­gree in In­dige­nous lan-


Re­becca Jamieson, president of the Six Na­tions Polytech­nic, holds a two row wampum — a belt that sym­bol­izes two sep­a­rate peo­ples co­ex­ist­ing through mu­tual re­spect and un­der­stand­ing.


“Unity,” by Shel­ley Niro. Inkjet print. From the col­lec­tion of the artist. Her work is fea­tured at the Art Gallery of Hamil­ton.


Right: An art in­stal­la­tion called “Ab­nor­mally Abo­rig­i­nal” by Six Na­tions photographer Shel­ley Niro was part of last Septem­ber’s Su­per­crawl. Niro is known for pho­to­graphs that chal­lenge stereo­types of In­dige­nous women.

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