On Land Acknowledgements

On Land Acknowledgements

Sunday, April 21 was Joon Park’s final Sunday with Holyrood Mennonite Church. He invited all the friends he made in his various communities over the past 18 months, which included residents of the Mustard Mustard Seed housing project. Three residents answered the call and joined our worship service! I sat with them during the potluck and got to know a bit more about each of them. All identified as Indigenous. Cheryl (not her real name) then asked me – in a very gentle manner -- why there was no land acknowledgement in our worship service that Sunday. We had some back and forth about this, and I realized that, in the context of Holyrood’s work at being an Intercultural church, perhaps the foundation of this identity must be what we currently call a” Land Acknowledgment” – that perhaps the reminder from this indigenous sister is, in fact, even, a theological imperative! Let us explore.

I am aware that our current experience of “Land Acknowledgement” is often stilted and boxed and pre-packaged. I understand that, when the 94 Calls to Action were presented at the conclusion of the 7-year Truth and Reconciliation work of the commission, we (those being called to action) perhaps needed a pre-written statement as a starting point.

In the intervening years, I have been challenged by Indigenous people, some of whom have said:

  • “Acknowledge the land from the heart!” 
  • “Doing something is always better than doing nothing, even if you anglicize the names”
  • “Including an aspirational commitment to reconciliation was refreshing” 

Today – in an exchange with a Holyrooder who is Indigenous to the Kisi land of Africa, I learned that he understands completely why the Indigenous of Canada would be longing for an acknowledgement that demonstrates the “foreigners” are aware that they are on another’s land. And in that awareness, that they would have a posture of humility as they join the people of the land, the knowledge in the land, and the ancestors of that land.

Are we able to consider that this is fundamentally God’s call, and not a pesky add-on?!  I am suggesting that, as sojourners in this world, as people on the move, we are being called back to acknowledge the layers of our existence on land and in histories all of which brings us back to the source – Our One Creator God, unified as one humanity with one Blessing, through the resurrected Christ.

And so, what would happen if all of our sacred Mennonite community gatherings – worship and committee work -- began with this invitation to stop and remember this call. We already open with a prayer. What if our prayers always took a step back and started with praise to Creator God for the Land – and in that praise, a commitment to do right by the Land and the Peoples we are joining in our sojourn. There are as many ways to convey this praise as there are stars in the sky! Are we ready to invite the Holy Spirit to give us words for this? This would be a change of habit, which I understand requires conscious intentionality for three weeks! Between human intentionality and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, are we up for the gentle challenge of our indigenous sister Cheryl?