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St. John’s changes pre-meeting land acknowledgement

St. John’s deputy mayor Sheilagh O’Leary speaks to a change in the city’s pre-meeting land acknowledgement, following a regular city council meeting Monday night at city hall.
St. John’s deputy mayor Sheilagh O’Leary speaks to a change in the city’s pre-meeting land acknowledgement, following a regular city council meeting Monday night at city hall. - Ashley Fitzpatrick

Interest in inclusivity and limitations in historical knowledge prompt change

St. John’s city council began earlier this year to take a moment before all public meetings to acknowledge the Indigenous communities and people here before settlement by Europeans.

The official land acknowledgement has been recited since at least February, but received an edit on Monday night.

“It was just a minor adjustment, but I think it certainly is something everybody is much more comfortable with,” Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary said following the regular council meeting.

The new statement backs away from labelling the specific land area of what is now St. John’s as the ancestral home of the Beothuk. It moves to a broader reference to the Beothuk homeland being within the province.

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The original read: “We respectfully acknowledge the lands on which the city of St. John’s is situated as the ancestral homelands of the Beothuk. Today, these lands are home to a diverse population of Indigenous and other peoples. We would also like to acknowledge with respect the diverse histories and cultures of the Mi’kmaq, Innu, Inuit and South Inuit of this province.”

The new statement reads: “We respectfully acknowledge the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, of which the city of St. John’s is the capital city, as the ancestral homelands of the Beothuk. Today, these lands are home to a diverse population of Indigenous and other peoples. We would also like to acknowledge with respect the diverse histories and cultures of the Mi’kmaq, Innu, Inuit and Southern Inuit of this province.”

O’Leary said the new wording was approved after consultation by the city with the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre.

After the original land acknowledgement was introduced, Coun. Wally Collins spoke up against it at a council meeting, saying it remained unclear to him if the Beothuk would consider St. John’s as part of their ancestral land.

O’Leary said other members of the public — Indigenous and not — have raised issues since with the wording.

“We do know we have a strong, existing Indigenous community here in the province right now and it is our effort to certainly acknowledge their existence, but also past cultures as well,” she said, adding that she is hopeful the new statement will be recognized as an offering of respect.

“We know there are hard facts and dates in history, but there’s also a lot more to learn about who we are, where we come from and certainly (on the subject of) our Indigenous peoples, we’re going to learn a lot more,” she said.

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