By: Hopi Lovell Martin M. A. Child Study & Education, OCT
York Region Nature Collaborative
Recently, as non-Indigenous people and organizations have become aware of Truth and Reconciliation, there has been a move to begin public gatherings with a “Land Acknowledgement.” For many, this is seen as a crucial first step towards establishing respectful relationships with Indigenous peoples who have always been connected to the land. While there is no nation called “Indigenous” and it continues to mean different things to different people in different parts of the world, names like Anishinaabeg, Hodenosaunee, and Wendat, Métis, and Inuit are often collectivized to refer to peoples with specific connections to specific lands since time immemorial. While learning these names can be complex, especially since there are different names connected with different lands at different points in history, the process of learning these nuances provides valuable context and often reveals a different story than we were taught in school.
In the same way that learning a person’s name is a necessary first step in developing a relationship with someone, Land Acknowledgements can be a vital first step in learning who lived and continues to live in the land that you are living and/or working in. Having been a kindergarten and classroom educator for many years, I always worked especially hard at the beginning of the year to learn the names of all of my students and their parents and/or caregivers. Teaching in diverse Toronto neighbourhoods meant that this often required learning multiple names in multiple languages and learning the cultural nuances of family dynamics so that I could understand the differences between the names written on paper, the names children called themselves, and the names they used in their family context. Most importantly learning about their names helped me learn about their individual contexts. There was always a reciprocal effect between the energy I put into developing child and family relationships and the quality of our learning together throughout the rest of the year.
While many educators (especially in the Early Years) have intuitively understood the importance of these reciprocal relationships, brain science and Ontario Early Years policies have only more recently caught up with the foundational importance of quality relationships.
Similarly, while Traditional Indigenous Knowledges have always centered around maintaining positive relationships between both the human and non-human world, non-Indigenous Canadians are just beginning to awaken to the fact that “reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples” (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, p. 6).
In many cases, the original treaties which acknowledge these relationships have been forgotten and/or broken by non-Indigenous Canadians. Treaties have a long, pre-colonial history of maintaining peace and harmony amongst human and non-human nations by describing mutually beneficial principles of relationship on an ongoing basis.
Gdoo-naaganinaa Teaching Belt, made by Ken Maracle
Dish With One Spoon treaty (above) is one of these pre-colonial treaties that continues to be maintained by the Anishinaabeg and Hodenosaunee Confederacies and some consider as one of the oldest peace treaties in Turtle Island (North America). Rick Hill retells his understanding of this wampum treaty in such beautifully simple words that I have found to be accessible to our youngest learners:
“Nature says, ‘Here’s the great dish and inside the dish are all the plants, the animals, the birds, the fish, the bushes, the trees, everything you need to be healthy and therefore, happy’.”
“The three basic rules are: only take what you need, second, you always leave something in the dish for everybody else, including the dish, and third, you keep the dish clean…that was the treaty between us and nature, and then the treaty between us and everybody else.”
While it is important to learn the names of the Nations associated with this treaty like many Toronto students now do, it is even more important to learn about these sacred relationships and responsibilities that we have to each other as human beings and to the beautiful land that gives us everything we need to live a good life.
Last Spring, at the book launch of Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition: A Resource For Educators, my friend Michael White shared a Land Acknowledgement where he emphasized the importance of describing our personal relationship to the land we are in. While it is respectful to acknowledge the Indigenous caretakers of this land and its treaties, it is equally important to share how we relate to those collectives from our individual unique experience.
Later in the video of the book launch, Niigaan Sinclair suggests a simple activity of saying ‘hello’ to all the living things when we take children outside. From my own teachings, I would add saying ‘thank you’ to those relations. Those simple words and kind way of acknowledging the land can also be done in learning a language connected to the land like Anishinaabemowin: ‘nanabozhoo’ (hello); ‘miigwech’ (thank you). Rather than seeing the land as something separate, teaching our children to speak in this way plants the seed of seeing the land as part of our family. If our children grow up with respecting and talking to Mother Earth, they will be more likely to live in harmony with our human and non-human treaty obligations.
My friend Diane Kashin recently wrote about the importance of engaging “the heart and the mind in our pedagogical approach to early learning.” Learning the names of the nations that have and continue to uphold their responsibilities to the land is an important first step, but it also requires that we bring our heart and our lived experience to our Land Acknowledgement.
Likewise, it is not enough to simply be aware of our minds and hearts, it is essential that we take actions that benefit a deepening sense of community. My intent for sharing these thoughts on Land Acknowledgement is to help Early Years educators develop a deeper practice of acknowledging our relationships to the land and a more complete sense of community so that we can collectively raise children that remember these responsibilities. At this year’s York Region Nature Collaborative Spring Conference: Land as Our First Teacher, I have invited Anishinaabe community to come renew this acknowledgement in the land connected to Kabechenong (Humber River) with families and educators. I hope you can join us!
My Land Acknowledgement
Nanabozhoo! In English I am called Hopi Lovell Martin. My people are Lenni-Lenape, English, and Eastern European. I was born on the western edge of Massachusetts along the Housatonic River. I came to Toronto with my parents when I turned five. We are the first generation of our family to live in this territory. G’chi miigwech to the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabeg Three Fires Confederacy, the Wendat, and the Hodenosaunee Confederacy for taking care of this land and maintaining the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Treaty. G’chi miigwech to the Ojibwe Nation for adopting me into the Marten Clan, teaching me my name, and the deeper truth of my relations. G’chi miigwech to the land for protecting and sustaining my life and the lives of my family. G’chi miigwech to all my relations!
For more information and tickets for York Region Nature Collaborative Spring Conference click here!