Just days before the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Innisfil Town Council has adopted a Land Acknowledgement Statement that recognizes First Nations peoples, and the impacts of Canada’s colonial history.
The statement was developed by the Innisfil ideaLAB & Library Board and its Land Acknowledgement Statement Committee, working with Elder and former Chief of Beausoleil First Nation, Jeff Monague.
Library Board members, Chair Anne Smith, Deputy Chair Wendy Vanstraten and Monica Goodfellow addressed Innisfil Council on Wednesday night, describing the development and adoption of a Land Acknowledgement Statement by the Board earlier this year.
Smith called it a “critical first step... that recognizes the First Nations on whose traditional territories we work and live. It also demonstrates respect for Indigenous peoples both within the past and the present, and the contributions they have made to our communities and nation.”
The statement recognizes the "forced sacrifices that are the foundations of Canadian Society today," resulting from colonialism, and provides a "small, important step in the process of reconciliation," Smith said. “It is a reminder that we are accountable to these relationships.”
She called the statement a means of providing information on Canada’s colonial history, noting, “The library plays a key role in education.”
Vanstraten agreed. “It is a way of honouring Indigenous peoples who have resided in the land from time immemorial... and it is a way to understand our place in that history.” She explained that the statement is just a start; the library also plans to build “Indigenous cultural awareness” into its training and orientation for both staff and board members, supporting a recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
While non-Indigenous Canadians of today "are not responsible for the difficult history of Indigenous peoples... we are responsible for doing better, moving forward,” Vanstraten said.
A staff report to council recommended adoption of a Land Acknowledgement statement, stating, “It has become apparent through the town’s equity, diversity and inclusion journey that a more formal, meaningful and sincere Land Acknowledgement Statement be created in consultation with local First Nations.”
Staff recommended the use of the statement at the start of all council and public meetings, special events and gatherings, and suggested it should also be posted on the town website, along with background and educational materials as part of an effort to “rebuild relationships with Indigenous communities, to educate staff and residents on the history of the land where they live, work and play, and to confront and dismantle systemic racism.”
Council received the presentation from the library, and later in the meeting adopted the recommendations of staff.
Coun. Donna Orsatti thanked the Library Board for “working so hard on that. It was a lot of meetings, a lot of work, a lot of educational training... and there's a lot of passion and caring and a sort of satisfaction in reaching that mutually agreed Land Acknowledgement Statement.”
“It was a great report... I learned a lot reading the report that was in the agenda,” said Mayor Lynn Dollin.
The timing of the adoption of a statement of Land Acknowledgement was given added significance by a recent court challenge, filed on behalf of Williams Treaties First Nations, which include the Chippewas of Beausoleil, Georgina Island and Rama First Nation.
The court action, filed against Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark and Cortel Group Inc., challenges Minister Clark’s issuance of a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) for Innisfil’s Mobility Orbit mega-project, citing failure to "consult and accommodate the Williams Treaties First Nations as required under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982."
The MZO gives a green light to a transit-oriented community on the shores of Lake Simcoe, that could house up to 125,000 people on build-out. The challenge asks that the MZO be quashed, and an interim injunction be issued to halt all work on the Orbit, until First Nations are consulted and there has been full assessment of the environmental impacts of the project on Lake Simcoe.
The court filing notes that "no analysis was done by the Town (of Innisfil), the Cortel Group or the Minister on the potential impacts of the Project on Lake Simcoe's water quality, aquatic life and habitat," therefore there is no proof the project will not have a negative impact on the lake and Williams Treaties First Nations' treaty rights.
The document notes, "The importance of Lake Simcoe to the Williams Treaties First Nations cannot be overstated."
Innisfil had requested that the Minister require the Orbit project to have regard for the requirements of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act. Minister Clark's MZO did not include any reference to the protection of the lake.
Contacted, Tim Cane, the town’s Orbit Director, stated, "We can advise that the Town of Innisfil has not been named as a party in the matter, but that we will be monitoring as it proceeds through the judicial review process."
Cane added, "As Council reinforced through the adoption of a Land Acknowledgement Statement at their Sept. 22 meeting, the Town of Innisfil is committed to advancing Truth and Reconciliation in relationship with Indigenous peoples and communities. The town embraces the opportunity to work with the Indigenous community, and looks forward to working with members of the Williams Treaty First Nations throughout the Orbit planning process."
The federal government has proclaimed Sept. 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Among the events planned by the Innisfil ideaLAB & Library is an Intergenerational Traditional Storytime with Indigenous Community Facilitator Chris Merkel, 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. outdoors at Innisfil Beach Park’s West Pavilion. Pre-registration is required; in case of rain, a ZOOM link will be provided. For information, click here.