Jennifer Dockstader explains to a group of listeners why assimilating the reserves is not the best way to repair the damage of colonization. Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Words are well and good, but for one Indigenous community leader, people are missing the point of land acknowledgments.

Jennifer Dockstader, the Fort Erie Native Centre’s executive director, says land acknowledgments can sometimes be all talk and little personal accountability.

A land acknowledgment is a formal statement recognizing the land of Canada as the traditional territory of Indigenous peoples, many of whom continue to live on it to this day.

As the topics of Indigenous sovereignty and treaty rights have gained more mainstream recognition in recent years, organizations have begun including land acknowledgments as part of their practices. For example, a speaker will often recite one during meetings and public events.

However Dockstader says some of these land acknowledgements are performative, as if some speakers are just going through the motions.

“Do I think they are being done correctly now? No,” she said to a crowd of about 40 people who came to hear her speak at the Niagara-on-the-Lake library June 5.

“At its worst, the impulse to use land acknowledgment is akin to thinking that admitting that you stole a TV set means it’s OK to keep it,” Dockstader said, reading from a book she recommended attendees check out, “Becoming Kin by Anishinaabe author Patty Krawec.

“We’ve constructed a society of convenience versus a society that actually gives thought and contemplation and I would argue, that’s where we’re missing the good mind,” she added.

Land acknowledgements, Dockstader said, are about more than systemic failures, they are about personal accountability.

“I would say, with all due respect, it’s really about you,” Dockstader said. 

Her talk, “Unpacking Indigenous Baggage,” was fifth in the library’s Learn & Live lecture series which concludes June 19 with a presentation from Tim Carroll, artistic director for the Shaw Festival.

The lecture’s organizers booked Dockstader last minute after the original speaker, Willow Shawanoo, became unavailable.

Dockstader is Oneida, one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee people.

She is also part of one of three Bear clans, which make up the Oneida nation along with three Wolf and three Turtle clans.

Her talk led her through the worlds of Haudenosaunee philosophy and ways of life and how mainstream Canadian society discusses Indigenous peoples. 

Dockstader said she thinks white people may have to learn more and more from their Indigenous peers in order to “move them into the future.”

“It’s a darn good thing that we weren’t conquered, that we weren’t annihilated.”

Along with “Becoming Kin,” she recommended her listeners pick up a book called “A Basic Call to Consciousness,” which she said was written by over 50 chiefs and is a “precursor” to the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

She said the Haudenosaunee believe in a prophecy where, when people don’t pay attention to the principles of natural law, which states all things in creation are related and interdependent, they will suffer from the “massive” loss of life.

“The Peacemaker came to the people with a message that human beings should cease abusing one another,” Dockstader said, reading from “A Basic Call to Consciousness.”

Dockstader says her name in Haudenosaunee is Kanato’ha’wi which means “she carries a village.” 

“In my particular family, I’m the oldest and only female of my generation,” she said.

This is significant because, among the Haudenosaunee, women bear the responsibility of leadership, she added.

She pointed out that women used to receive more respect and responsibility in European traditions as well, but that these roles were stamped out “in favour of the patriarchy called Christianity.”

Dockstader said the patriarchal system suppressed women in Europe first and then spread it to the Indigenous peoples of North America.

But in her own community, she says she has never felt inferior, and in fact, has often felt elevated.

After Dockstader’s talk, Learn & Live organizers Terry Mactaggart and Cindy Grant agreed they would want a more in-depth discussion on Indigenous issues at a future talk. 

“I feel so inadequate. I mean, I just need to know more,” Mactaggart told The Lake Report.

Grant agreed, saying, “It would be good to have a second session on Indigenous issues as part of the fall programs.”

“It’s just a topic that people need to know.”

By Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 15, 2023 at 10:59

This item reprinted with permission from   The Lake Report   Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
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