Beyond Land Acknowledgement
--Queen's Backing Action on Climate Crisis
Land Acknowledgement by QBACC
We (I)would like to acknowledge the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabek which we are learning, working and organizing today. We think it’s important to acknowledge the land because Indigenous Peoples were talked about in the past tense and all the struggles they faced were in the past tense as well.
It is easier to deny Indigenous Peoples their rights if we historicize their struggles and simply pretend they don’t exist. As an activist organization, we would like to take this opportunity to commit ourselfes to the struggle against the systems of oppression that have dispossessed Indigenous people of their lands and denied their rights to self-determination, work that is essential to human rights work across the world.
Indigenous History and The Land
Kingston Ontario Canada
Kingston is a small municipality (population of ~120,000) with a significant Indigenous population. Kingston stands on traditional Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee territory. There is
evidence of sustained First Nations presence on the land now called Kingston for over 5,000 years. During European arrival in the early1600’s and ensuing settlement, Katarokwi became a site of trade . As in other places in Canada, land surrenders were ‘negotiated’ as part of settlement and Kingston is part of the land surrendered in the 1783 Crawford Purchase. First Nations peoples in Kingston, and those who have since come to live here, were similarly affected by Canada’s history of colonial policy and legislation that sought to assimilate and eradicate Indigenous peoples and culture.
Today, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte-Teyendinaga are recognized within the Kingston region, as well as other “identified political affiliates... including High Land Waters Metis Community Council, Ardoch First Nations and Allies, and Shabot-Obaadjian- First Nation”. As a result of this history, the City has a clear duty to consult these communities when city activities might trigger consultation, but consultation must extend beyond these officially recognized communities.
First Nations peoples in Kingston, and those who have since come to live here, were similarly affected by Canada’s history of colonial policy and legislation that sought to assimilate and eradicate Indigenous peoples and culture. Today, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte- Teyendinaga are recognized within the Kingston region, as well as other “identified political affiliates... including High Land Waters Metis Community Council, Ardoch First Nations and Allies, and Shabot-Obaadjian- First Nation”.
As a result of this history, the City has a clear duty to consult these communities when city activities might trigger consultation, but consultation must extend beyond these officially recognized communities. The Indigenous population in Kingston is composed of a diversity of Indigenous peoples, including those whose home communities might be from anywhere in Canada. Half of the Indigenous people in Kingston identify as First Nations, 1/3rd are Metis and 1/10th are Inuit, with the reminder not self-identifying. Over 7,000 First Peoples live in Kingston. Unfortunately, Kingston has struggled in developing strong working relationships with the full diversity of its Indigenous population.
Jason Heroux, Kingston's Poet Laureate, has composed a poem to celebrate the start of the new year 2021. Civil Twilight, Heroux's poetry, is motivated by the question "where do we go from here?" and seeks to represent the current communal experience while also offering hope for the future.
Poetry and the written word may assist us in making sense of what is going on in our communities and throughout the world. As we enter the winter season and are in the midst of yet another lockdown, Jason's poetry tries to inspire and depict this specific moment in time.
Yesterday went for a walk in the dark.
It won’t ever return. I don’t know where
I’ve gone, it said. Its voice traveled far
as light from a star. It took years to hear.
The past is no longer what or how
it was. The fallen snow can’t say why it fell.
Our silent bell has forgotten its sound.
Lost river, we followed your flow
now show us where we go from here.
Feel free, tired day, to rest your head,
the sky will darken wondering
what’s next. In this blue hour
of sundown, civil twilight, remind us
to witness tonight the light that’s left.
Indigenous Peoples in Kingston Today?
Today, Kingston continues to have a vibrant Indigenous population, with over 10,000 residents (approximately 8% of the population). Our current day population has Indigenous peoples from many different Indigenous cultural backgrounds – Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Mi’kmaq, Métis, Lakota, Huron, Sioux, Inuit, Cree, Stó:lō, and many more. The diversity of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples makes Kingston a centre of rich Indigenous cultural identity, knowledge, language, and tradition.
Within the diversity of Indigenous cultures in Kingston, there is a diversity of life experiences. Some Indigenous peoples have grown up in their First Nation, Métis or Inuit communities, following a traditional lifestyle and way of being. Others have grown up in urban centres and may not be as connected to their roots. There are also Indigenous communities that have a strong connection to religion (e.g. Christian, Catholic, Baptist, etc.) and may not follow traditional cultural practices at all. Regardless of the connection, we are all family and we are all connected to this land.
Cities have often been cast as places where First Peoples’ identity and with the growing number of first nation across urban landscapes of the country, researchers have been drawn to issues of poverty, cultural conflict and loss, with a view that cities and First Peoples. lives and cultures are incompatible.
A study shown that all members interviewed spoke to some extent about the challenges of the community at this time, and the craving for a distinctly safe and welcoming cultural base or hub. This call and desire for a place to practice traditional teachings, enjoy in social events and share in the learning and growth of all ages across the community appears to be more about an ownership of identity, than it was about ownership of space. As one interviewee offered, “to learn [my ancestral] language and traditions would make me feel more native.”
However, even without a communal cultural space, traditional healing drums, and women’s drum groups occur weekly at Street Health and Queen’s Four Directions Aboriginal Centre. The recognition of full moon ceremonies and water ceremonies also occur routinely across our vast region. Smudging as a respected aspect of First Nations and Métis communities can occur across the Queen’s University campus, and at St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital, while the City of Kingston is in the process of enacting a protocol to establish smudging across all municipally owned sites.
Some experiential efforts are also looking to help inform and educate both First Peoples and Settlers about modern identities and ideologies. One such initiative includes the annual summer Flotilla for Friendship, which has joined officers from the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP, the Gananoque Police Service, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory Police, the Brockville Police, the Kingston Police Force and First Peoples youth from the Kingston’s Katarokwi Aboriginal School and Friendship Center over the last three years to journey together down the Rideau Waterway by canoe.
Another effective effort is seen in the Aboriginal Youth Leadership Program offered through Four Directions Aboriginal Centre at Queen’s which offers to diverse intermediate and secondary level youth across our community, traditional voices, drummers, singers, craftspeople and elders to expand and grow in their identity while being true to tradition throughout the school year. This program is a good partnership role- model in that various profit and non-profit agents have committed to supporting this program initiative, including Queen’s Varsity Lacrosse Association, the Canadian Tire Jumpstart program, Right to Play, the Bank of Montreal and Kingston’s Community Foundation.
Queen’s University is trying to support this aspect of identity with the offering of courses in Inuktitut and Mohawk. A weekly language nest or group gathering opportunity is also being offered as a community initiative sponsored through the Kingston Community Health Network. Moreover, the Aboriginal Family Literacy Circle Newslet s also a unique source of teachings, readings and language challenges provided electronically each month. As one Mohawk interviewee offered after relearning her ancestral language, and now being a teacher of the language to others, “the language put [the whole of my identity] all together for me”.