Editorial

By now, most Manitobans are accustomed to Indigenous land acknowledgements. They hear them before Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers games, prior to city council meetings and at corporate and not-for-profit events. Many classrooms begin their days with a land acknowledgement. Politicians and other public figures routinely remind crowds they are gathered on treaty territory and the traditional homeland of the Métis when delivering speeches.

By now, most Manitobans are accustomed to Indigenous land acknowledgements. They hear them before Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers games, prior to city council meetings and at corporate and not-for-profit events. Many classrooms begin their days with a land acknowledgement. Politicians and other public figures routinely remind crowds they are gathered on treaty territory and the traditional homeland of the Métis when delivering speeches.

Oddly enough, while other public institutions were embracing them, the Manitoba legislative assembly — an institution where honouring treaties and other commitments made to Indigenous people would seem the most appropriate — was reluctant to incorporate a land acknowledgement into its daily proceedings. The reasons were unclear.

'An important step': first Indigenous land acknowledgement voiced in legislature

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Regional Chief, Assembly of First Nations, Cindy Woodhouse (from left); Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Arlen Dumas; Treaty Commissioner, Loretta Ross; Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief, Garrison Settee; and Executive Director-Manitoba Inuit Association, Rachel Dutton were special guests for the first-ever land acknowledgement as part of the formal proceedings of the legislative assembly of Manitoba. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
Regional Chief, Assembly of First Nations, Cindy Woodhouse (from left); Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Arlen Dumas; Treaty Commissioner, Loretta Ross; Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief, Garrison Settee; and Executive Director-Manitoba Inuit Association, Rachel Dutton were special guests for the first-ever land acknowledgement as part of the formal proceedings of the legislative assembly of Manitoba. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Posted: 7:00 PM Nov. 29, 2021

The reading of four short paragraphs within the Manitoba legislative chamber ushered in a new era for the province.

An Indigenous land acknowledgement became part of regular proceedings for the first time in the government’s history.

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The Progressive Conservative government under former premier Brian Pallister did not oppose the idea outright. However, when requests were made by Indigenous leaders and others to develop a land acknowledgement, government always had an excuse not to act.

All that changed after Mr. Pallister resigned as premier in August. Almost immediately after his interim successor Kelvin Goertzen was sworn in as premier Sept. 1, consultations began with Indigenous leaders to draft a land acknowledgement for the legislative assembly. A public commitment was made within weeks to have one in place by the fall session. It became clear Mr. Pallister was the obstacle all along.

On Monday, the first land acknowledgement was made in the legislative assembly by Speaker Myrna Driedger. It recognizes that the legislative building sits on Treaty 1 land and the traditional homeland of the Red River Métis, and that Manitoba is located on treaty territories represented by many Indigenous communities.

The land acknowledgement embraces the treaties and commits the legislative assembly to "working in partnership with the Indigenous peoples in the spirit of truth, reconciliation and collaboration in accordance with their constitutional rights and human rights."

These are not just words, said Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (one of several Indigenous leaders invited to the legislature to witness the historic event) on Monday outside the chamber.

It is a solemn pledge to work with Indigenous people to improve their lives and to foster mutual respect among all Manitobans. That is, after all, the original intent of the treaties: for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Manitobans to live together in peace and harmony, to share the land and its resources equally and to allow Indigenous people to determine their own destinies.

<p>MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Speaker Myrna Driedger recites the land acknowledgement on Nov. 29.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Speaker Myrna Driedger recites the land acknowledgement on Nov. 29.

When the Crown signed treaties with Indigenous people in Manitoba in the 1870s, they were not only promised exclusive access to land; they were told they could live freely under their own terms, even as newcomers flooded their territories. When the Métis sent representatives to Ottawa in 1870 to negotiate Manitoba’s entry into Canada, the Crown promised through the Manitoba Act they could maintain their culture, language and freedoms, unmolested by Euro-Canadian settlers.

Sadly, successive governments reneged on many of those promises, often through racist and inhumane assimilation policies, such as residential schools and the banning of cultural practices.

The legislative assembly’s land acknowledgement is a commitment to begin to reverse the damage caused by those policies and to rekindle the original spirit and intent of the treaties and the Manitoba Act.

It will serve as a daily reminder of the ongoing responsibilities Manitobans have to each other: to foster mutual respect and to pursue the visions set out in the agreements Indigenous and non-Indigenous Manitobans committed to 150 years ago.