Nineteen months after councillors decided to move ahead with creating one, a land acknowledgement is still not part of regular County of Wellington council meetings, and it’s unclear if or when it will be.
At Thursday’s meeting, two councillors tried to expedite the process, while the majority worried the action might be viewed as symbolic rather than substantive.
In February of 2020, council directed staff to conduct research for the purpose of creating a land acknowledgement to be used at council meetings and events.
The statements, which recognize the Indigenous peoples on whose land a gathering takes place and acknowledge treaty relationships, have become increasingly common at events and meetings across Canada, particularly since the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action in 2015.
Council’s initial February motion led to the creation of a volunteer Indigenous Advisory Committee later in 2020. The committee, made up of five Indigenous county staff, has organized various activities and initiatives including a ceremony and land acknowledgement at the warden’s inauguration in Dec. 2020.
At Thursday’s meeting, Coun. Diane Ballantyne applauded the committee’s work but said the original motion — that a land acknowledgement be part of every meeting — had not been fulfilled. She called on council to take a leadership role in making that happen.
“We spend money on what we value,” Ballantyne said, suggesting the county could hire an Indigenous consultant to create a land acknowledgement as opposed to relying on the volunteer committee.
“The idea that during this time of acknowledging intergenerational trauma that we are asking Indigenous women to volunteer their time on top of their full time jobs to do the research that historians would have a difficult time with is very troubling to me,” she continued.
Previously during the discussion, CAO Scott Wilson said he believed the committee was in the process of trying to creating a land acknowledgement, but it "is not a top priority for them right now" given their existing full time jobs and the complexity of the work.
Meanwhile Warden Kelly Linton said in his view, the original motion had already been fulfilled through the land acknowledgement ceremony held at the warden's inauguration in 2020.
Linton also highlighted the county’s actions for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which were led by the Indigenous Advisory Committee. These included the design and sale of an orange shirt, with proceeds going to the Anishnabeg Outreach Lodge and Wellness Programme, the unveiling of a new plaque commemorating the 2020 ceremony, a virtual lunch and learn for county employees focusing on the stories of residential school survivors and the giveaway of 10 copies of Gord Downie’s Secret Path album to county employees in a draw.
“I feel like what we’ve done today is authentic, it’s meaningful and it’s real,” Linton said. “And I think it’s better than a land acknowledgement that sits somewhere in between a roll call and a disclosure of pecuniary interest.”
Other councillors voiced similar sentiments.
Coun. Don McKay said he worried by incorporating a land acknowledgement at every meeting “we would fall into a situation where it becomes rote.”
Erin Mayor Allan Alls said for that reason he reads the land acknowledgement created for his township only twice a year.
“If we do it every meeting, every committee meeting... it becomes rote. It doesn’t mean anything,” Alls said. "Let's wait and see what the committee has to say when we come back whether they really want it."
Coun. Mary Lloyd took a different view.
Lloyd said the intent is that it become "rote," or a standard practice, drawing a parallel to O Canada, which county politicians sing at the beginning of every council meeting. “That it’s part of us, part of every fibre of our being.”
"Who are we as a county to say we to don't expect to have that," she asked.
Council ultimately decided to ask staff to come back with an update on the county's land acknowledgement work after speaking with the Indigenous Advisory Committee.
Speaking after the meeting Coun. Diane Ballantyne said the overall result of the discussion was "positive" in that once staff report back, council can move ahead with the matter.
Alison Sandstrom, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com