Recognizing an incomplete land acknowledgement

Reconciliation requires intentional labour for it to be successful. It requires meaningful apologies coupled with action. 

With deep regret, I recognize that I did not place enough intentional labour into my actions when preparing for the NSCSW’s general meetings earlier this month. While preparing speaking notes, I prepared a land acknowledgement that the College has previously utilized. Inadvertently and carelessly, I omitted the most crucial part of the land acknowledgement from those speaking notes, namely: the recognition of the Mi’kmaq, who have been the inhabitants and stewards of this land for thousands of years, and the recognition of the land itself.

Much time and effort has gone into creating a land acknowledgment that is reflective of our organizational and professional commitment to working toward reconciliation. However, this was not reflected in my process of preparing for the special general meeting and annual general meeting. What should have been included was the following, which we have used at our conference and other recent events:

The NSCSW is in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq, whose inherent rights were recognized in the Peace and Friendship Treaties that were signed from 1725 to 1779. This series of treaties did not surrender Indigenous land, resources or sovereignty to the British Empire, but instead established rules for an ongoing relationship between nations. The treaties were later reaffirmed by Canada in Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and remain active to this day. The NSCSW joins our members and our communities in the necessary labour of reconciliation, and we are grateful to live and work together as treaty people in Mi’kma’ki.

This error on my part did not happen in a vacuum. It reflects unfinished work of unlearning and decolonization. This Is work I must share responsibility for in many aspects: as an individual living and working on this land, as a member of our profession, and as a representative of this College.

The two learning sessions for the conference that followed the AGM that Saturday were specifically focused upon land acknowledgments. It is evident that these two sessions were greatly needed, and indeed, that far more work in this area must be done. The practice of doing land acknowledgments is relatively recent, and the discussions that were had during our conference reflect how much more work must be done — not only on how to do them effectively, but even more importantly, how to translate these words into meaningful action that can advance the larger task of reconciliation.

And even as I reflect upon the deeper work that must be done, I want to take this opportunity to fully acknowledge what was missed during those meetings: this is Mi’kmaw land, and the land is crucial to Indigenous identity. The land holds histories, stories, songs, ceremonies, food, and medicine. Including recognition that the land is unceded and that its original nation is unconquered also acknowledges the genocidal history and broken relationships between Indigenous peoples and Canada. To have missed this in our land acknowledgement was not just careless, it was harmful and something that I truly regret. 

I also realize that this is not the first time that a public land acknowledgement by the NSCSW has not been given the due attention that it deserves, which brings me even deeper regret. My sincerest apologies for causing such harm and not being more intentional in following through on commitments to reconciliation made by me and by the NSCSW Council. I am committed to learning and growing and doing better in the future. I am also committed to doing all that I can to lead the College from its past to a future that reflects the values that I believe we all want it to espouse, including clear commitments to justice, reconciliation and decolonization.

Just as this error did not happen in a vacuum, it was also not received in a vacuum. Such omissions are all the more painful for Indigenous people because of the larger colonial context where Indigenous rights to the land are still not honoured nor reflected in policy, because of the unique and troubling history of our profession’s role in colonization, and because of the power and influence the College bears as an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting our profession. Our work toward decolonization is all the more urgent, and all the more complex, as a result.

Indeed, the NSCSW recognizes that the profession of social work has been complicit in many harms and contributed to the genocide of indigenous peoples in Canada. As part of our College’s commitment to work toward justice, the NSCSW Council joined and affirmed the 2019 statement of apology and commitment to reconciliation of the Canadian Association of Social Workers. As stated in that apology: acknowledging the truth is hard, but the work of reconciliation is harder. 

Our College has committed to dismantling structures that impede the full, equal, and just participation of Indigenous peoples in all aspects of economic, social, cultural, and political life. Specifically, our Council recently committed to applying a decolonization framework to the polices, programs and services in the authority of the NSCSW, to strive towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Furthermore, the College is deeply grateful to those Indigenous social workers who have agreed to serve on a work group that can provide recommendations and guidance in this process. 

At its last meeting, the NSCSW Council recognized the urgency of this necessary labour, and voted to commit resources to ensure the following:

  1. Education of all staff and committee members on the goals of decolonization and impacts of colonization and genocide through the profession of social work. 
  2. NSCSW’s governing documents (Social Work Act, Regulations, By-Laws, Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and policies) are updated through the framework of decolonization. 
  3. All social workers embrace reconciliation and commit themselves to decolonizing their own practices. 
  4. Development of regulatory tools and processes to ensure social workers are accountable to the goals of decolonization. 

While these commitments are genuine, the task of unlearning is great, and apologies are not adequate unless we are able and willing to act on them. I am therefore publicly apologizing and sharing my regret. My hope is that my words will offer a moment of awakening for others in our profession, and a shared reminder that our efforts to build and restore trust must also be accompanied with deeper learning and humility. Hopefully our College can use this to help us all move further along in our quest toward reconciliation. 

In reflection,

Alec Stratford
NSCSW Executive Director/Registrar

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