Recognizing Aboriginal people as traditional stewards of the land is a critical part of demonstrating respect for the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia. An acknowledgement should be made at the beginning of events, conferences, and workshops held in B.C., particularly those pertaining to community and diversity and inclusion-related events.
There are a variety of ways to acknowledge Aboriginal traditional stewards:
- A formal Welcome to the (shared) traditional territory by an elder. If possible, invite an Aboriginal elder to share a welcome, song and/or prayer. An honourarium and/or a gift is customarily offered in this case.
- An acknowledgment of (shared) traditional territory by the host
In the context of Aboriginal cultures, “traditional territory” refers to a specific place within British Columbia and not B.C. itself. Over 30 Aboriginal language groups are represented across B.C.. Traditional territory refers to “this” place, the traditional language group of the area where the event is held. The welcome follows a traditional protocol for Aboriginal nations where people entering another’s traditional territory (language area) would seek permission from the traditional stewards and they would be welcomed to the area through an opening ceremony. Today, non-Aboriginal populations who are not originally from B.C. are also welcomed to the traditional territory for the purpose of the events, and as a part of a continuing protocol, which is maintained and observed through Aboriginal communities.
“Before going further, I wish to acknowledge the ancestral, traditional and unceded Aboriginal territories of the _____ (ie. Coast Salish) Peoples, and in particular, the _______________________________ (name of First Nations, ex. the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations in Metro Vancouver)on whose territory we work, live and play / on whose territory we stand.”
For a list of Traditional Territories across B.C., please see the BCTF Aboriginal Education Program resource:
The presence of people in Metro Vancouver dates from 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. A complex society of Aboriginal peoples utilized many locations around Metro Vancouver as seasonal food gathering and camp sites, leaving behind today’s archaeological resources. The year 1825 was the founding of Fort Langley by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The establishment of the fur trade economy and the immigration of Europeans changed the lives of Aboriginal people forever. Europeans brought with them the introduction of diseases, and later, racist policies and Residential Schools that negatively impacted the health and population of First Nations peoples here.
Euro-Canadian contact with Aboriginal peoples continues to have devastating effects. The encroachment on traditional territory has affected lands and resources forever. The intergenerational effects of colonialism and Residential Schools continues to influence every aspect of the lives of Aboriginal peoples living in Metro Vancouver.
For more on this subject, please find the report from a series of “First Nations, Urban Aboriginal and Immigrant Communities” Vancouver Dialogues held in 2011 by the City of Vancouver: http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/dialogues-project-book.pdf
An important movement has begun by Aboriginal peoples in B.C. to heal from these past wrongs and move forward. This is often referred to as “Reconciliation.” A Vancouver-based non-profit organization called Reconciliation Canada is offering a safe learning opportunity for people from a diversity of faith, cultures and organizations to gain an understanding of one another’s shared history beginning with the stories of Aboriginal people and the harmful effects of the Residential School system. Two-thirds of Canadians believe that Canadians with no experience in Indian residential schools have a role to play in reconciliation between Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians. The City of Vancouver has recognized June, 2013 – June, 2014 as “The Year of Reconciliation.”
As Chief Dr. Robert Joseph says: “Let us find a way to belong to this time and place together. Our future, and the well-being of all our children rests with the kind of relationships we build today.”
For more details on Reconciliation Canada, please see: http://reconciliationcanada.ca/
Watch the “Be the Change: Young People Healing the Past and Building the Future” Dialogue hosted by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission and Inspirit Foundation in 2013 to focus on the intergenerational impacts of human rights violations such as the residential schools and how young people of different backgrounds can work together to turn reconciliation into action: http://www.inspiritfoundation.org/en/blog/webcast-be-change-dialogue/
Delhia and Marissa Nahanee, Nisga’a and Squamish First Nations, Vancouver
This outline was prepared by AMSSA’s Safe Harbour: Respect for All program