First Nations craft Smiths Falls land acknowledgment

·3 min read

Smiths Falls is recognizing the town's Indigenous history through a new land acknowledgment statement.

The statement was written specifically for the Smiths Falls area, as it lies on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation.

Chuck Commanda, a master canoe builder from Kitigan Zibi, penned the statement with consultation from his Algonquin Elders, Larry McDermott and Dan Longboat, and together with Haudenosaunee elders they approved and created the first-ever land acknowledgement statement for the town of Smiths Falls.

"It doesn't just specify one nation event though we are on unceded Algonquin territory," said Commanda. "We have to realize that many different Indigenous groups lived in and around the area."

The statement written by Commanada reads: We recognize with gratitude the knowledge and contributions that the Algonquin Peoples bring to the Municipality of Smiths Falls. Today, Smiths Falls is also home to other Indigenous people from across Turtle Island."

"It plays into Truth and Reconciliation recommendations," said Commanda.

He added the new statement plays into Truth and Reconciliation as such because previously nothing was ever mentioned and many people of Smiths Falls were unaware that the town lies on unceded Algonquin territory.

"It's almost part of getting to know us (Indigenous people) and we're getting to know you over again, but in a more friendly-brotherhood style."

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008 to bear witness to the impacts of residential schools and to facilitate reconciliation among former students and their families, their communities, governments and all Canadians, stated the Government of Canada website.

"I'm very honoured and very happy that this will be the beginning of every council meeting," added Commanda.

"I truly felt a sense of pride" while reading the inaugural acknowledgment during the most recent meeting, he added.

The new land acknowledgement was read in its entirety for the first time during the Sept. 27 committee of the whole meeting. The statement will continue to be read, abbreviated, during future council and board meetings.

The new statement came from the Racism and Discrimination task force, which is a new task force created earlier this year to ensure that "Smiths Falls is as inclusive as possible for all our citizens," said Mayor Shawn Pankow.

After the discovery of the unmarked gravesites at residential schools, the task force felt it needed to do a better job of Truth and Reconciliation within the community, which sparked the idea of the new acknowledgment.

Commanda explained that the acknowledgment took a few months to write and the elders agreed that this was one of the friendliest and best land acknowledgments that they've ever come across.

While the statement was written with the town in mind, he says it could easily be used for any community, but it mentions the Algonquin People and their contribution in the making of the Rideau Canal which runs through Smiths Falls.

Commanda hopes that reconciliations continue not only in Smiths Falls but also across the country>

"It might help extinguishing systemic racism, not only for the Indigenous Peoples but for all visible minorities and we're hoping this continues, especially for the next seven generations because they're the most important, because that's our future."

Commanda explains that his grandfather, William Commanda, most recently carried the sacred Three Figure Wampum Belt, which commemorates the sharing of this land with all cultures and races of Turtle Island by putting differences away and coming together for Mother Earth, which is also mentioned in the new land acknowledgment statement.

Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times

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