North Huron Council passes land acknowledgement despite criticism
BY DENNY SCOTT
Despite some staunch resistance from council members, North Huron Township Council voted 5-2 to move forward with an Indigenous land acknowledgement statement policy on Monday.
During council’s regular meeting, Deputy-Clerk Carson Lamb presented the policy, which has been three years in the making. As part of his report, Lamb explained that, due to the municipal election, a nearly-all new council taking office and other barricades, the issue has dragged on for a number of years.
Former Councillor Brock Vodden of the previous session of council first raised the issue, and he was subsequently directed to work on the development of the policy by his fellow council members.
As part of his report, Lamb explained there had been difficulty reaching out to the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, though the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, which was also contacted, was very active in helping to develop the policy. The Kettle and Stony Point First Nation didn’t respond to North Huron staff’s request to work on the issue, Lamb said.
The Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s traditional lands stretch from south of Goderich to Tobermory, including North Huron.
After researching the issue, North Huron staff drafted four potential statements, Lamb said, all of which were approved by the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, however the group preferred the two following statements:
• “We [I] would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Anishinabewaki, Odawa and Mississauga Peoples.”
• “The Township of North Huron would like to begin by acknowledging that we are situated on Treaty 29 and Treaty 45 ½ territory and the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Anishinabewaki, Odawa and Mississauga Peoples. For this, we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land.”
As part of the policy, either statement would be declared during regular and special council meetings, committee and board meetings, at special events, including the opening of new buildings/facilities or at other special events as decided by council and staff. The statements would also be used in any corporate documents, such as strategic plans, official plans or amendments.
Councillor Kevin Falconer was in favour of the policy, saying that “none of us would be here” without the treaties and the stewardship of the land that predated settlement of the area. He said a similar statement has been used by the Blyth Festival for several years.
Councillor Chris Palmer, however, took a longer view of world history, saying that, regardless of the treaties, the same people would likely have been here.
“Looking at history around the world, we would still be here,” he said. “The British were good and sensible here forming treaties, but in the United States, they didn’t.”
Palmer said he refused to support the issue based on three major issues, the first of which is the fact that council doesn’t give thanks to other major forces that are part of North Huron’s existence, including the singing of O Canada to recognize the nation, the recognition of the Queen through God Save the Queen and giving thanks to the soldiers who gave their lives for the country’s freedom.
Palmer’s second issue was tied to religion. He said the Indigenous people give thanks to their creator in their practices, but North Huron doesn’t give thanks to any God, which he said doesn’t work for him. He also said the statements border on prayer in his mind and “prayer exists only to recognize God.”
Finally, he said this practice separates the community in a time when the nation needs unity more than ever.
“This is not a healthy practice in a society that’s struggling to find unity,” he said. “I believe everyone is equal. This changes the ball game and I would say no to this motion.”
Councillor Paul Heffer took exception to the fact that the report indicated the statement would provide “an opportunity for North Huron Council and staff to reflect, be present and pause to consider the impact and change in their work.”
“I feel offended by that,” he said, indicating council works hard to serve their community.
Heffer then asked, if the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation couldn’t respond to Vodden and staff, why would another nation, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, be needed to weigh in on the issue? “I can’t give support to this at all,” he said.
While other councillors spoke in favour of the policy, citing reconciliation concerns, Councillor Anita van Hittersum said she wasn’t against the policy but found the second land acknowledgement wordy and confusing.
Lamb explained that either could be used as the policy was written.
Council approved the report on the policy, directing staff to bring the policy back to its June 7 meeting to be approved by bylaw.