It has come to my attention that the now common brief land acknowledgements on peoples’ emails, at the start of events etc., are feeling like lip service to some First Nations people, as these brief words cannot possibly sum up a full recognition of all that has been done to the traditional and still-unceeded owners of the land we “live, work and play” on. Nor can a single sentence fully acknowledge how the loss of access to and power over their land has impacted the lives of generations of people we settlers have displaced and abused. As one person put it, “it’s like someone stole your bike, and gave you an apology, but never gave your bike back.” I cannot alter this whole system of disenfranchisement and cultural genocide, but in the hope of more fully acknowledging my privileges as a settler, I offer this statement.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live, work and play on the unceded territory of the K’omoks Nation, comprised of the Sathloot, Sasitla, Ieeksen, Xa’xe and Pentlatch tribes. I have a home and garden and community here. I have raised 3 of my children here. I enjoy the berries of summer and the windy beaches in winter; the sound of streams running through the woods brings me much peace. Thank you for allowing me to be here on this land, which has been healing and nourishing to me and my family.
All my ancestors came to Canada as settlers. They came from Ukraine, as many people are coming now, fleeing from a war-torn land where they were subject to genocide from neighboring countries. My mother’s people came from Bukovina/Hutsulschyna in the 1890s, and my father’s people came from Rava Rouska near L’viv in 1928, when my father was 3 years old. I am so grateful and lucky that they were able to come here, albeit without the permission of the Cree-speaking First Nations where they originally settled – the Kehewin, Saddle Lake and Frog Lake First Nations of Treaty 6 in Alberta.
Because I grew up on these peoples’ land, and because I now live on the K’omoks Nation land, I have had many privileges:
- I had life, while many who shared my heritage were killed by Stalin, in the Holodomor, and in WWII. I am safe from Russia’s bombs and soldiers right now.
- I was not exposed to the radiation from Chernobyl, or other atrocities of the USSR. I grew up in a land of comparative peace, democracy, and justice – at least for white settlers.
- Although my parents were discriminated against as children, because of their white skin they were able to assimilate enough to fit in, get university educations and provide a rich life for myself and my sister. The local First Nations children were violently discriminated against but were also suffering from intergenerational and current effects of the Indian Act and residential schools. They often grew up in poverty and impacted by violence and trauma.
- I was raised in a large, intact extended family, able to learn about and celebrate my ethnic heritage. The language of my ancestors was taught in public high school. I studied Ukrainian folklore and folkdance at the University of Alberta. I learned to embroider and make pysanky eggs. I sang in a Ukrainian choir. When my fashion sense referenced historical Ukrainian folk costume with red boots and ribboned skirts, I was not mocked. For decades, many local First Nations children were removed from their families and placed with white families, usually extinguishing ties to their own families and culture and instilling them with shame about being indigenous. Children who wore ribbon skirts and other clothing that referenced their heritage, were (and continue to be) mocked and insulted.
- As part of my cultural upbringing, every summer I attended huge weddings with up to 900 “close family and friends” of the bride and groom. These events were a major celebration of our culture, bringing together family from across the continent and continuing folkloric customs, music, dance and food traditions. Here on the coast, the culturally central Potlatch ceremonies were outlawed from 1884 to 1951. Indigenous people who took part in their traditional culture in this way were fined and jailed. The banning of this central ritual was a huge, very destructive affront and caused many negative ripple-out effects in the local cultures.
- My grandmother (Baba) was a devout Catholic and derived great support and meaning from her church life. That church was led in her own language and supported her heritage culture, as opposed to how the same Church (as well as other churches) made many efforts to denigrate, insult and erase the spirituality and culture of the First Nations it encountered on their own land. I remember sensory-rich Easter ceremonies (paska blessings) in church that were very clearly pre-Christian in nature and yet took place in the church with the priest’s full participation. Yet I know the same Catholic church despised, feared, and tried to erase the “pagan, heathen” spirituality of the indigenous cultures they encountered. In addition, the Catholic and other Christian churches were behind the Indian Residential Schools which were intentionally devastating to First Nations culture and individuals.
- During the summers, I played many weeks of the summer on my aunt and uncle’s farm, in peace and plenty, enjoying an enduring connection with the land there. In contrast, the local First Nations lost access to that same land that had been their ancestors since time immemorial.
- As a white girl and woman, I was subject to some sexual discrimination and assault, but of such a limited nature compared to what so many of my indigenous sisters have endured. My heart breaks for them.
What can I do about my privilege?
- I have attended the Village workshop, the San’yas Anti-Racism indigenous Cultural Safety Training and other trainings to get more understanding of indigenous perspectives.
- As a professional counsellor, I work with many clients through the FNHA which pays for counselling for survivors of Indian Residential Schools and their descendants. I do not apply a surcharge to the FNHA fee although it is significantly lower than my regular rate.
- I have volunteered and donated money to support the Kus-Kus-Sum project which is rehabilitating local land prized by the K’omoks Nation, and returning it to overt First Nations control.