While I accept the gesture of someone saying my thoughts and prayers are with you when I experienced a loss in my family, these words don’t really comfort me. And yes, I understand they are meant to comfort.
Meanwhile, I began noticing people acknowledging they are on Indigenous territory, on TV news stations, and at conferences. I too say this out of respect when I end my podcast Empathetic Witness because I am recording from unceded Algonquin territory, and my career is working with First Nations to correct wrongs that were done to them when their lands was stolen by colonizers.
That said, when others say it, it sounds like hollow meaningless words. Words said to be politically correct. Most people who say this don’t know the history of how the lands were stolen from Indigenous peoples, and moreover I don’t believe they care about the history. I may sound like I am bitter but frustrated would be more accurate.
For context, let me explain why I feel this way. My late father Isidore Deranger was an Indigenous hunter and trapper he lived on the land and made a living to support his large family by hunting and trapping. His hunting and trapping territory was in northern Saskatchewan and Alberta on the shores of Lake Athabasca.
In the mid-seventies the Bennett Dam upstream in British Columbia began to be operational. That year the muskrats and beavers began to disappear as the water receded, so did my father’s livelihood.
At the same time as my father’s likelihood was disappearing the residential schools’ policy kill the Indian was in full force. The degradation of language and culture was swift. Within one generation Indigenous peoples lost their language and cultural practices, largely because it was illegal to speak our language and practice our ceremonies. The Bennett Dam, residential schools, and the oil sands industry created a perfect storm for cultural genocide to occur.
Isidore decided to go to our traditional trapline N22. (Luezen Tue) Within a couple of years on being on the land, El Dorado mining began mining for uranium. Once again, my father was displaced. Uranium City where my grandparents lived was closed by the federal government in the early 80s because of radiation from uranium tailings. Most of the population was compensated and moved to southern Saskatchewan. My grandparents were never compensated. Not only was fishing compromised, but the land was also uninhabitable. Isidore moved our family to Fort McMurray, Alberta. There too, he could not escape encroachment on the lands by industries like Suncor and Syncrude and others that followed. The degradation of our territorial lands continue to this day. My older sister, who was a teacher in our hometown of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta had to resign her position because of the effects of toxicity from industry when she was unable to continue to teach.
What is meaningful is the land back movement. My late friend, Marion Cummings, gave two properties back to First Nations, one in Victoria BC and the other in Nova Scotia, both valued at millions of dollars. Marion Cumming left her multi-million-dollar Oak Bay home and property to the Victoria Native Friendship Centre in the name of reconciliation prior to her death last year.
Tell me, do you think a land acknowledgment at a conference or by CBC, or Global before a news report is enough? When you give land acknowledgement, please think of Isidore Deranger’s story. We can all do better.
I interviewed Marion on my podcast Empathic Witness, and she talked about why it was important to her to give land back for reconciliation.
Here is the link:
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