Last week I had occasion to be in Toronto on business with a colleague to attend a meeting with our colleagues at the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund of the Anglican Church of Canada.
As we gathered to start our meeting, our host began by acknowledging the original inhabitants of the land upon which we were meeting. He spoke a little about the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations or Iroquois Confederacy) and the Huron-Wendat. For me, it was a startling and embarrassing moment.
As we went around the table and each of us introduced ourselves I had a few moments before my turn. I quickly searched the Internet on my smart phone for information about the original inhabitants of Manhattan, where I now make my home.
As a student I had been taught about how the Indians had sold Manhattan to the Dutch for the equivalent of about $24. It was framed as New York City’s first killer real estate deal. End of story.
Our Canadian hosts explained that it was now a growing practice across Canada at both public and private gatherings to acknowledge the original inhabitants of the land upon which one is gathered and to say a little about the people and their culture and to express thanks to them.
This practice has grown out of the hard work of truth and reconciliation upon which Canadians have embarked with respect to addressing the injustices of colonization and the impact it has had on the people who have inhabited the Americas for millennia.
The work of truth and reconciliation in Canada grew out of the residential schools tragedy. In the words from the website of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation:
For over 150 years, residential schools operated in Canada. Over 150,000 children attended these schools. Many never returned. Often underfunded and overcrowded, these schools were used as a tool of assimilation by the Canadian state and churches. Thousands of students suffered physical and sexual abuse. All suffered from loneliness and a longing to be home with their families. The damages inflicted by these schools continue to this day. In 2009, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada began a multi-year process to listen to Survivors, communities and others affected by the Residential School system.
In June of 2015 The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued a report that included 94 “calls to action.”
Acknowledging the original inhabitants of the land is a small part of the work of addressing the calls to action outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. It will likely take generations for the work to be completed, if can every truly be completed.
However, to have any hope of completing the work, you have to start. We need to do the same.