In commemoration of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation this September 30th, Ontario Nature reflects on our role in advancing conservation through reconciliation. As we continue our learning journey, we are grateful to those who have guided us and walked alongside us in this work.
We are not “experts” and instead hope to share Indigenous voices and resources that we have found helpful in hopes that these advance discussion and actions for others.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a good relationship between Indigenous and settler peoples. It can only be done through “awareness of the past, acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behavior.” Furthermore, reconciliation is a critical and complex process and the responsibility of every Canadian. It involves learning and understanding, honouring treaties and taking personal actions.
Reconciliation must also benefit Indigenous communities; awareness without change is not enough.
Territorial or land acknowledgements are a statement by organizations or individuals recognizing the original caretakers of the land on which they are located. These statements have become more commonplace with governments, schools and organizations such as ours. Ontario Nature has committed to opening events (including virtual gatherings and webinars) with a location-specific land acknowledgement. We do not use a blanket land acknowledgement for our work across the province as we cannot capture the nuances of various communities, territories and treaties in one and they need to be from the heart of whomever is giving it.
Land acknowledgements should be personal. Start with self-reflection of your own goals and roots: What are your origins and where are you coming from? Make a promise and accept responsibility. What will you do to advance reconciliation and support Indigenous communities?
Use the right terminology and pronunciations. Do the research on the history of where you are and the names of Indigenous peoples near you.
Respectfully acknowledge Indigenous presence past and present. Territories are not only “traditional”, communities are thriving today. The impacts of colonialism are ongoing, it’s not just a historic wrong.
Recognize treaties and the context for them, including the different intentions of Indigenous peoples and the British or Canadian government. Consider how treaty promises have not been upheld. Recognize Indigenous jurisdiction and law.
Be thought provoking and unsettling. “Don’t sugar-coat the past.” Connect the history and your land acknowledgement to the topic of your work. Avoid token gestures; be meaningful and personal by avoiding standardized acknowledgements.
Be empowering. How are you including Indigenous peoples in your work? Celebrate who Indigenous peoples are today.
Remember we all have a relationship with each other and the land. We all have a shared responsibility to care for it.
Within conservation practices specifically, Indigenous peoples have suffered from land dispossession and loss of rights in the name of preserving natural areas. We recognize that Indigenous worldviews and conservation practices have often been excluded, despite the role that Indigenous peoples have played in caring for the environment for thousands of years. Conservation cannot happen without the inclusion and support of Indigenous communities. Ontario Nature remains committed to conservation in the spirit and practice of reconciliation.
Please let us know in the comments if you have further thoughts or questions.
Resources for learning more about land acknowledgements and treaties: