By Jenn Watt
Here in the Haliburton Highlands, land acknowledgements are becoming more common, but haven’t yet been embraced as extensively as they could be.
June is Indigenous History Month, a time to put our minds to learning about and absorbing the lessons of the past – about the people who have been on this land for thousands of years, about the legacy of colonialism, and to set a course of reconciliation.
It can be difficult to find details about Indigenous history for the land that is now known as Haliburton County – far more has been written about the last 150 years than the last 1,500. But information is out there.
One of the best ways to start conversations and establish common knowledge of the Highlands’ history is through land acknowledgements. These are statements read at the beginning of gatherings to recognize the history of the land and its people. Frequently, events at Fleming College or put on by the school board will start with these statements.
In 2018, Trillium Lakelands District School Board decided it would adopt the following land acknowledgement: “Trillium Lakelands District School Board acknowledges that these lands and waters are the traditional homeland of the Ojibway Nation and the Huron/Wendat Nation, and now includes communities from the Mohawk Nation, the Pottawatomi Nation and the Métis Nation of Ontario. We acknowledge their stewardship throughout the ages.”
Through the land acknowledgement, those of us who are non-Indigenous can take a moment to recognize that the land we’re on was not unoccupied before settlers arrived. We can learn the names of the nations that have historically, and are still currently stewards of the land and we can take those names with us to learn more.
When it is once again safe to congregate in groups, after the coronavirus pandemic is just a bad memory, it would be positive to hear land acknowledgements at other events in the area, especially if each organization’s acknowledgement was crafted specially.
Not every acknowledgement needs to sound the same. Important pieces of the land’s history can be incorporated. For example, in research done by David Beaucage Johnson on this region, he found that the Ojibwe word for the Highlands is (o)gidaaki, which means upward earth or uphill. Because the area is rich in waterways, it was a natural meeting place for people – as it still is today. There’s no reason a land acknowledgement couldn’t include information like that: the details that paint a picture for the listener.
There is so much that each of us, no matter where we are at in our learning journey, can do to better understand the history of Indigenous Peoples and the land. A good place to start is simply with acknowledgement.