Know the Indigenous land where you stand

The UOIT Indigenous Education and Cultural Services symbol. Photo credit: Cecelia Feor

Written by Janis Williams, Cecelia Feor, and Jasper Myers

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was completed at the end of 2015, and 94 Calls to Action were published but there is a long way to go in efforts of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

It is up to Canadians to understand the land where they stand.

A good starting point is land acknowledgement, which is the act of acknowledging the First Nations, Métis, and/or Inuit territories of a place.

For example, the Durham College (DC) and University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) campus sits on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nations.

Land acknowledgements often happen at the beginning of a public meeting or ceremony.

Elder Carolyn King visited UOIT in early February to share her insight.

“It [land acknowledgment] is a first, good step, that they are starting to acknowledge,” King says, “but they may not know what it is – there could be more background material on it, like what does that treaty even mean?”

The more Canadians understand the past, the closer we as a nation will get to true Reconciliation.

King shared a story about three ten-year-old girls, she met at an Indigenous event at Fort York. She asked what they knew about First Nations and they proudly recited the land acknowledgement. King told them everyone at the gathering that day were Mississauga Indians. She says the girls couldn’t believe they were actually real.

King is the founder of the Moccasin Identifier Project, an education and awareness initiative she hopes to introduce to elementary schools within the province and eventually across the country.

Similar to the meaning behind the Moccasin Identifier Project, second-year journalism students are required to write an article for The Chronicle about the “Land Where We Stand” (LWWS).

Each article takes an in-depth look at a historical building or area in Durham Region, which holds either economic, social or environmental importance.

While many people might think of the history of a building being held within its aging walls, the story goes back even further – to the land where the dwelling resides.

The Oshawa Museum is already taking the next step. In preparation for the LWWS project, archivist Jennifer Weymark spoke about going beyond colonial history and honing in on the Indigenous past, a shift for the museum.

Jill Thompson is an Indigenous Cultural Advisor at UOIT’s Indigenous Education and Cultural Services Centre located in downtown Oshawa. She says learning about the Indigenous past is crucial.

“There are many non-Indigenous people who were not taught proper Canadian history. This is not just Indigenous history, this is Canadian history,” says Thompson.

There are 634 First Nations in Canada. They speak more than 50 unique languages, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia.

It is important for Canadian citizens, many of whom are non-Indigenous, to acknowledge and take the time to learn about the land where we stand.

Indigenous history and culture deserves respect. It must be preserved and understood. This is what the 94 calls to action attempt to address and achieve.

In 2018, the social studies and history curriculums for elementary and high school students changed to include lessons about Indigenous peoples, cultures and histories.

Between 1999 and 2001, a Native Languages program was introduced to elementary and high school curriculums in Ontario.

Recently, members of the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network, a non-profit which works to improve the lives of Aboriginal people in the Montreal area, created an Indigenous Ally Toolkit. The toolkit emphasizes critical thinking, correct terminology and how to act accordingly, once armed with knowledge.

All you need is five minutes to get started.

“The more people educate themselves on the history and current Indigenous issues, the more they will understand the need for reconciliation and how this country can be so much better if we all accept each other’s differences,” says Thompson.

Canadians need to take action.