September 9, 2017

The rise of the “I would like to acknowledge that…” announcement in Canada

Filed under: Cancon, History — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The New Yorker, Stephen Marche discusses “Canada’s Impossible Acknowledgement”:

Every morning, at the start of the school day in Toronto, my children hear the following inelegant little paragraph read aloud, just before the singing of “O Canada”:

    I would like to acknowledge that this school is situated upon traditional territories. The territories include the Wendat, Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations, and the Métis Nation. The treaty that was signed for this particular parcel of land is collectively referred to as the Toronto Purchase and applies to lands east of Brown’s Line to Woodbine Avenue and north towards Newmarket. I also recognize the enduring presence of Aboriginal peoples on this land.

I hear the same little speech, or a version of it, at gala events — literary prizes, political fund-raisers, that sort of thing — when whichever government representative happens to be there reads some kind of acknowledgment before his or her introductory remarks. But you know a phenomenon has really arrived in Canada when it involves hockey. Both the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers began acknowledging traditional lands in their announcements before all home games last season. Acknowledgment is beginning to emerge as a kind of accidental pledge of allegiance for Canada — a statement made before any undertaking with a national purpose.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its final report, with ninety-four calls to action, and Justin Trudeau was elected to great gusts of hope that we might finally confront the horror of our history. In the time since, the process of reconciliation between Canada and its First Nations has stalled, repeating the cycles of overpromising and underdelivering that have marred their relationship from the beginning. The much-vaunted commitment to “Nation to Nation” negotiation has been summarily abandoned. The National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls — another Trudeau election promise — has been plagued by resignations, inertia, and accusations of general ineffectiveness. Nonetheless, the acknowledgment is spreading. No level of government has mandated the practice; it is spreading of its own accord.

It’s not nothing … but from the point of view of many First Nations activists, it might as well be nothing. It also involves awkward moments when the speaker doesn’t quite get the acknowledgement acceptably “correct”:

In other places, particularly in the bigger cities, the acknowledgment can become exponentially more difficult. The British Crown acquired Toronto, or, rather, the 250,880 acres that include present-day Toronto, from the Mississaugas, in 1787, for two thousand gun flints, two dozen brass kettles, ten dozen mirrors, two dozen laced hats, a bale of flannel, and ninety-six gallons of rum. The British government officially purchased the land for an additional ten shillings, in 1805. But even before the Toronto Purchase, as it was called, the land was a contested site between indigenous peoples. That history is also reflected in the question of who should be named in the acknowledgment. “For the sake of current land claims and also for the sake of basic respect, you have to name them, and you have to be correct about it,” Jesse Thistle, a historian at York University in Toronto, says. “Haudenosaunee people, some of them, don’t want to recognize that the Anishnabe took control and were here historically. Some Anishnabe people will not recognize that the Haudenosaunee people were here. And both those people sometimes want to erase the Wendat.” Historical truth is always subject to the structures of power. Always. The erasure of the Wendat “is, in a way, a kind of indigenous way of doing what the British were doing, in terms of writing other people out of the narrative,” Thistle says.

But writing marginalized peoples into the narrative is not always the correct instinct, either. Thistle, who is himself Métis-Cree, believes that the Métis should not be included in the list of traditional land acknowledgments in Toronto; he has brought his concerns to the authorities at the Toronto District School Board as well. There were Métis in Toronto — they constituted a “historical presence” — but it was not a homeland, and to claim otherwise, for Thistle, “disempowers the Haudenosaunee or the Anishnabe, who do have a rightful claim.”


  1. Typical political bullsh*t to assuage their own white guilt for nothing they had control over. Virtue signalling of the worst kind, because it reinforces the claims of the aboriginals who think they are somehow entitled to get back what they sold, or agreed to sell, in return for an agreed price.

    The ‘natives’ who inhabited North America walked here. They may, or may not, have displaced people who lived here already. No one wants to discuss that possibility because it blows their original title claims all to hell. Regardless, they moved in, walked around, followed herds, gathered food, and lived a stone age subsistence existence. They killed each other, they expanded, they contracted, they lived and died. And then Europeans came here, in ships, with modern arms and armies, and Europe expanded, and killed them, and negotiated, and used them. And I don’t feel guilty about that at all.

    It happened hundreds of years ago. The deals offered were considered fair at the time. What are we supposed to do today? I sold a house 20 years ago, am I entitled to more money today because it is worth more now? Can I go claim the home because it was mine once before, and now I want it back because when I sold it I didn’t know it would be worth more. Bullsh*t.

    Comment by Dwayne — September 11, 2017 @ 01:59

  2. There’s no solution that will please everyone, but it sometimes seems as if there are no solution that will please anyone at all. Some (many?) First Nations reserves are poverty-stricken hellholes that nobody should be forced to live on, and pouring additional funds in when a particular situation hits the media rarely improves the situation in the long term.

    I’m sure there are well-run, healthy, and happy reserves run by local band councils. I don’t happen to know of any, but that’s not surprising: the media only really care about the First Nations when there’s a story to be told. Those stories are almost always tragic, and the demanded solution is almost always “the government must spend more money”.

    There’s nobody left from the era when these treaties and agreements were made, and large numbers of modern Canadians have no personal connection or perception of responsibility for actions taken generations before they came to the country. Trying to impose guilt for past transgressions — and there were definitely transgressions — is not going to make finding a solution any easier. Vastly unrealistic expectations on what form the demanded restitution might take also don’t help either side.

    Should we ask the Swedes or Norwegians to apologize for the aggressions their distant ancestors committed against many different towns, cities, villages, and monasteries more than a thousand years ago? They’re pretty easy-going folks these days, they might just be willing to make the appropriate mouth noises, have a few token politicians bow their heads for a bit, and then carry on with their lives. Ask for reparations? I think even your friendly Scandinavians would kindly explain that that’s not going to happen. And modern-day Swedes and Norwegians are pretty much direct descendents of the Vikings.

    Comment by Nicholas — September 11, 2017 @ 13:45

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