Saint John will hear O Canada at meetings, but holds back on land acknowledgment

·3 min read
There is no timeline for when the O Canada program will be implemented, but Saint John city manager John Collin says there will be a land-acknowledgment proposal before council before May 10. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC - image credit)
There is no timeline for when the O Canada program will be implemented, but Saint John city manager John Collin says there will be a land-acknowledgment proposal before council before May 10. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC - image credit)

Saint John city council has approved a motion to have the national anthem sung before meetings but said no to beginning each meeting with an acknowledgement that the city is on unceded Wolastoqey land.

City manager John Collin said a land acknowledgement proposal is coming to council before the election on May 10, and it wasn't included in a proposal passed Monday to sing the anthem before each meeting.

Collin brought forward the proposal to develop an O Canada program for the start of council meetings. This is to replace a prayer, which stopped being said at council meetings after a 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling.

Under Collin's plan, the city would invite members of the community to sing the anthem to "showcase local talent of youth in the community."

At the meeting Monday, Coun. David Hickey said he was in favour of the O Canada program but asked to add a clause in the proposal that would have required a land acknowledgement, or an assertion that Saint John stands on unceded Wolastoqey territory.

Such a land acknowledgement is often read before community events and asserts that the Peace and Friendship treaties signed in the 1700s did not relinquish ownership of the land to Europeans.

Collin said the national anthem and a land acknowledgment are 'separate initiatives.'
Collin said the national anthem and a land acknowledgment are 'separate initiatives.'(Roger Cosman/CBC)

The clause requested by Hickey was denied.

"We will be coming back to you with a recommendation before the end of this term," Collin said of a land acknowledgement. "I personally would like to keep the two things separate because they are different initiatives and we are doing them for very different reasons."

The O Canada program could begin as early as the next meeting.

The significance of an acknowledgement

David Perley, former director of the Mi'kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre at the University of New Brunswick, said having no land acknowledgement is "erasing history."

"This land has a strong presence of Wolastoqiyik, even before contact with European settlers."

He said a land acknowledgement is to remind people of the history of how Canada was created.

"If you're silent on that, then you're silent in the recognition of the of the real history of New Brunswick," he said. "If you focus on the national anthem and forget about land acknowledgement, then you're erasing history."

Perley said he agrees that the land acknowledgement and the national anthem are separate issues.

Different messages

Perley says in a way, a national anthem and a land acknowledgement are at odds with each other.

"The national anthem, the singing of that, would seem to suggest that that there's no Wolastoqiyik interest in that land anymore because of colonization," he said.

"They're at odds, in terms of the message."

David Perley, former Mi'kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre director, says a land acknowledgment helps teach people about how Canada was created.
David Perley, former Mi'kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre director, says a land acknowledgment helps teach people about how Canada was created.(University of New Brunswick)

But he said it's still important to have a land acknowledgement at the beginning of the meeting anyway, because people still need to be reminded of the history even if they do sing the anthem.

Perley said land title is a current issue, as six Wolastoqey communities have recently filed notice of a court action asserting title to their traditional lands along the St. John River, which cover about half of the province and includes Saint John. He also said some public schools in the Saint John area read out a land acknowledgement for their students.