Continuing on the theme of last month’s meeting at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, another comment offered that evening made a point about the land. A gentleman pointed out that anyone who wants to live in the Puget Sound region should show respect for the people who lived here first. “You guys are walking on our land . . . this is our land.”
I ran across a similar point this week in an unrelated academic newsletter. Tom Hastings of the Peace and Justice Studies Association reported on a recent conference held in Sydney, Australia:*
The most striking aspect of being in Australia for the International Peace Research Association conference was the acknowledgment of the original people, indigenous Australians of many nations and tribes. Virtually all Australian events and speakers began with some form of recognizing that “the land on which we are” was inhabited first by other people.
Now, I don’t know how consistently this sort of acknowledgment actually happens in Australia. Indigenous rights are a prominent issue there, but I did not hear any such statements during my two brief trips to Melbourne. Perhaps such recognition only happens during conferences focused on the theme of ‘peace.’ My Australian colleagues can let me know.
In the meantime, the obvious question lies closer to home. How often do public gatherings in the Puget Sound region begin with the acknowledgment of the first people to walk these shores? Answer: almost never.
If we did open a public meeting with a genuine recognition of the First Nations, what effect would this have on the content of the meeting itself? Would such recognition make it more difficult to ignore the presence of native peoples, or to adopt policies that erode their culture and livelihood? Would such recognition urge us to talk face-to-face with the descendants of the original inhabitants, to learn about their dreams for the land’s future? If consistent acknowledgment of the First Nations has potential to make our shared life a little more just, then I say let’s give it a try.
*Tom Hastings, PJSA Connections: Report from IPRA 2010, The Peace Chronicle, Fall 2010, page 5.