Indigenous acknowledgement statements have become more and more commonplace across campus over the past few years — at formal meetings like the Board and Senate, at public events, convocations, guest lectures and more.
These statements not only recognize the legacy of the land on which Dalhousie and its 200-year history have been built. They honour the continued importance of the treaties that connect Canadians and Indigenous peoples — in particular, those involving the region’s Mi’kmaq peoples — through to today and beyond.
“In a context where we’re trying to create truly meaningful and authentic relationships with the Indigenous communities in our territory, and beyond, it’s really important that we acknowledge the land on which Dalhousie resides,” says Brad Wuetherick, co-chair of Dalhousie's Indigenous Council and executive director of teaching and learning at the university.
"It's about respect and acknowledgement," adds Patti Doyle-Bedwell, a Mi'kmaw faculty member in the College of Continuing Education who is co-chair of the Indigenous Council together with Wuetherick. "It respects the Mi’kmaw people, that we’ve been here for 8000 years, maybe longer."
Recognition of relationships
On Tuesday, Dalhousie’s Board of Governors — which has been opening its meetings with an Indigenous acknowledgement since last year — approved official language of a statement for its meetings and official events.
Because the language used is consistent with statements currently used by Senate and at Dal Convocation ceremonies, the expectation is that it will be adopted by other bodies and individuals for use at ceremonies and events across the university, thus becoming a common, standard statement for Dalhousie University.
Dalhousie University is located in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. We are all Treaty people.
Dalhousie’s Indigenous Advisory Council, with advice and support from the Dalhousie Elders in Residence, has long been encouraging the use of acknowledgement statements at the university, and worked with the University Secretariat and others on the wording of the approved statement.
There are three key components to the statement. The first is particular acknowledgement that the land Dalhousie sits on is part of Mi’kma’ki, the territory of the Mi’kmaq. The second is the acknowledgement of the territory as both ancestral and unceded — recognizing that the Peace and Friendship treaties signed between the British Crown and the Mi’kmaq (unlike many other historic treaties in Canada) did not involve surrender of land. Finally, “We are all Treaty people” reflects that the Peace and Friendship treaties apply to all parties involved, Indigenous and settler alike.
"'We are all Treaty people' — that's really important because all of us, even non-Indigenous peoples, have rights and responsibilities under those treaties," explains Prof. Doyle-Bedwell. "We’re all connected by those treaties.”
Wuetherick says that for Dalhousie to be approving a formal acknowledgement sends a message to the community that it's serious about these relationships and how the Dal community moves forward as an institution.
“It seems like a simple statement to make, but carries with it a much deeper meaning," he says.
“As a Mi’kmaw woman, I feel more of a sense of ownership and belonging in this university,” Prof. Bedwell adds. “It anchors us as Mi’kmaw people in this institution.”
Growing momentum in work on Indigenous topics
The acknowledgement statement reflects growing momentum in work across the university related to Indigenous peoples — in academics, research, partnerships and recognition. The efforts built on legacy relationships at Dalhousie (like the Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq initiative in Law, or the Transition Year Program) but also reflect the urgency of the Calls to Action of Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, released in 2015.
In the past few years, Dalhousie has adopted the Universities Canada Principles on Indigenous Education (endorsed by both Board and Senate); launched its Indigenous Studies minor and its associated Elders in Residence program; enhanced supports at its Indigenous Student Centre, including the hiring of a new full-time advisor; permanently raised the Mi’kmaq flag on its campuses; and significantly increased the hiring of Indigenous staff and faculty (such that Dal is now near full labour market representation of Indigenous employees).
Learn more: Indigenous Connection website
The next step in these efforts is the development of a formal Indigenous Strategy for the university. A committee co-chaired by Prof. Doyle-Bedwell and former Dean of Science Keith Taylor is continuing its work on the strategy, with the expectation that it will be completed by year’s end.
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