Land recognition an important first step

“We acknowledge that we are in Mi’kma’ki, which is the traditional ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq people”

By Katie Ingram

For Halifax Regional Municipality schools, this phrase is a step forward in the reconciliation process with the Mi’kmaq. The phrase, which acknowledges the buildings were built on land that once belonged to the First Nations community, was approved last June by the former Halifax Regional School Board. It was implemented in the fall.

Many members of the Indigenous community are praising the decision, including Naiomi Metallic, an assistant professor and the Chancellor’s Chair in Aboriginal Law and Policy at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law. A member of the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation in Quebec and graduate of Dalhousie’s law school, Metallic now calls Nova Scotia home.

Our Children spoke with Metallic about land acknowledgement, reconciliation, and what else schools can do.

There’s been recent attempts from the municipality to reconcile the impact colonialism had on the Indigenous community. How do you feel those attempts have gone?

Pretty well. I know the municipality has been, in different ways, trying to work with the Indigenous community. It’s an ongoing, continuous relationship; there’s always some bumps in the road, but that’s to be expected, I think, in the long hard work that is reconciliation. There’s a quote I like to use from a professor by the name of Pamela Palmater and she says, “if it feels good, it’s not reconciliation.” 

That might be a little bit of an overstatement because one can take some pride in doing something that feels right, but it’s true, on the other hand, that sometimes this stuff isn’t easy. People will make mistakes, but the most important thing is people don’t say “fine, I tried and it didn’t work, so I’m done.” We have seen some things happening. I think the removal of the Cornwallis statue was really significant, I think territorial recognition is important, and the HRM also hired an Indigenous advisor.  I applaud those efforts; they aren’t perfect, but nothing is ever perfect. 

Do you believe land acknowledgments will have a bigger impact around the province, as it becomes part of the larger school system?

I hope so. Again, going back to my earlier comment, it can’t be something we just say and not take to heart. It’s the words and actions behind it or the intent to do more. 

Indigenous children will be hearing the land is and was part of their communities. How do you believe this will impact them to hear that acknowledgment every day?

I don’t know what that’s going to be like if they hear that every day, but if there isn’t meaningful discussion about the situation their communities are in and the sort of broader claims for treaty relationships, self-determination, and land, then its not going to mean a lot. Perhaps it will be quite frustrating, because people can go around patting themselves on their back saying “oh we did this nice thing by saying a land acknowledgment.” It’s a great symbolic step, and symbolic steps are important, but it can’t be the end of it.

What would you say is the overall impact on the greater Mi’kmaq community?

I think it’s good and I think Nova Scotia schools have treaty education and other things that are positive. I’m glad that there’s media attention being given to this because I heard different things from different people. I’ve heard other people say, “well I don’t think anything is happening.” I think good communication would be great. Communities hearing this also need to bring those opportunities, [along] with the idea of nothing about us [being done] without us. So, those communities can have an impact, a say, or comment on what’s being done in the schools.

Is there anything else you feel should be taught in the future?

I know some of the people working on it, so some of the things we want to see are them teaching about treaties, not having Indigenous people or colonialism as something in the ancient past. Talk about how we are a living, vibrant people now that face many challenges. In many ways colonialism is still happening; there’s an underfunding of services and the lack of recognition of some rights. There are still issues and problems; it’s not ancient history. Teaching about that, teaching about cultural stuff as well, and that we have our own laws. Encouraging students to think critically about what the communities are facing today and looking toward the future and how to change that relationship. That’s what I want to see without giving you a laundry list.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Some people also do the land acknowledgement along with the treaty relationship acknowledgement. That is a really key part of the relationship as well, so maybe as things go along that might come into the discussion. 

Diving deeper

There are many different resources available for those who want to learn Indigenous history or the problems these communities currently face.

• The Canadian Association of Teachers’ Guide to Acknowledging First Nations Peoples and Traditional Territory

• The Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre

• Teaching Resources from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
(, for ages 4-16) 

• Beyond 94: Truth and Reconciliation in Canada
(, an interactive project from CBC)

• Historica Canada: Indigenous history
(, with video clips and other resources)