In the wake of the recent discovery of the burial of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school in B.C., Selwyn Township’s deputy mayor is pushing the township’s council to do its own small part to further reconciliation locally.
Deputy Mayor Sherry Senis is bringing forth a motion at Tuesday’s township council meeting to adopt a formal land acknowledgment — a statement that, if approved by township representatives, would be read before each council meeting to recognize and honour the traditional territory of the Michi Saagiig Anishinaabeg, the area now inhabited by Selwyn residents.
“As a mother and a grandmother, it was heart wrenching to learn of the painful and tragic discovery of the (unmarked) graves,” Senis said.
Late last month, ground-penetrating radar technology located the remains of 215 children buried in unmarked graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The revelation, which continues to send shock waves across the country as Canadians grapple with the painful legacy of the residential school system and the enduring impacts of colonialism, was a tipping point for the former two-term Smith Ward councillor.
Senis has worked closely with local First Nations in recent years — notably during her involvement with the Community Economic Development Initiative, an undertaking that opened up avenues of communication between Selwyn Township and Curve Lake and Hiawatha First Nations.
“When I heard about (the discovery of the graves) I felt the time was right to incorporate a land acknowledgement into our council meetings,” she said.
Senis then reached out to Lakefield Ward Coun. Anita Locke, who is now seconding the notice of motion ahead of Tuesday night’s vote.
The council meeting begins at 5 p.m. It will be held virtually and can be watched live at youtube.com/user/SelwynTownship
According to the notice of motion, the land acknowledgement will “advance reconciliation” by acting as a “regular reminder of the gratitude to First Nations for their care and stewardship of Mother Earth,” Senis said.
“We respectfully acknowledge that we are on the treaty and traditional territory of the Michi Saagiig Anishinaabeg. We offer our gratitude to the First Peoples for their care for, and teachings about, our earth and our relations. May we honour those teachings,” reads the full statement.
While a regular acknowledgement of ancestral Indigenous lands would be a first for Selwyn township council, the practice has already been implemented by the city.
Mayor Diane Therrien pointed out Peterborough’s place on traditional Mississauga Anishinaabeg territory during her swearing-in ceremony in 2018.
The same acknowledgement is now addressed and reflected upon at the start of each city council meeting.
To ensure that land acknowledgments go beyond just words and gestures, Senis said higher levels of government need to step up to foster reconciliation by doing a better job of addressing and implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action, which were released in 2015.
Echoing a growing chorus of calls across the country, Senis added that she wants to see additional searches of former residential school sites following last month’s devastating discovery.
“These children deserve to be found,” she said.
For Senis’ motion to pass, three out of five councillors — a majority — must vote in favour of ushering in a regular land acknowledgement.
Council will hold a special moment of silence to honour the lives of the 215 children before the vote takes place.
Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.
Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner