PERSONAL PLACE

One of the members of the Green Exodus community has been reflecting on the opportunity to create a personal land acknowledgement. In the following comments she expresses poignantly where many of us start from as settlers or immigrants when we think about how we want to honour the place we inhabit now, the place which holds our lives and our living, and to which we belong.

How do you create a personal land acknowledgement when you feel like a displaced person?

Many early settlers in Canada were peasants; people oppressed by the ruling classes and royalty, or even the church. Some were driven out of their own lands by violent political systems. Later, people impoverished and orphaned by the World Wars sought a new life in Canada. 

Some of our ancestors had nothing of material value they could bring here, except their knowledge of how to cut down trees and plow the ground. Many came without families. The overwhelming greed of the colonizing nations dominated the activities of the settlers. They had a drive to thrive here. Their lives depended on it. But they came, likely, with nothing, having exhausted the options of making a living in their own countries. Many were completely unprepared for the climate. 

The lucky ones came having been educated in a useful trade, but many came from lands stripped of resources and unable to support human inhabitants adequately. The people were hungry. North America was a feast waiting to be devoured. No one was capable of restraint, especially not the ones in charge. These people were natural resource extractors.

If anything, that might have been their land-based value system. Here was a new continent full of everything the old one happened to be missing. Somehow they did not see the likelihood of committing the same land management errors all over again, on this soil. 

This error, I think, is likely a direct result of the settlers’ recently acquired cultural lack of reverence for and understanding of the complexity and mystery of the natural world and its systems, cycles, rhythms and needs, as well as the deliberate refusal to acknowledge their own membership in this natural world.

Deeper than this, such behaviour is also a result of trauma, and a mindset of scarcity. It reflects a need to be safe and independent and autonomous as individual. It shows our cultural blindness to the inherent nature of abundance which all creation is based on.

My own very recent ancestral story begins in Africa, where ongoing wars and the resulting stress caused such danger that it was preferable to leave almost everything behind and start a new life in Canada. My father himself had been a child refugee as a result of the Second World War. The cognitive feeling of scarcity is a predominant fact of life for children of war. The physical destruction of war results in the loss of any sense of intact land or place. Coming to Canada was not the first time he’d left his home as a result of wars and violence. My mother’s family were distant religious refugees of Europe, persecuted for their Protestant faith.

In over 40 years, I have not stopped having a deep sense of gratitude for this land and the protection it has supplied. Yet despite a fierce love for and connection to this land, I still do not feel entirely legitimate as a citizen, because I was not born on this soil.

I find this fascinating; it is in such contrast to the Indigenous perspective brought by Tony Snow. Tony introduces us to the history and the value of the resident and remaining Indigenous culture, specifically one which is not based on extraction and concentration of wealth, but on ancient imagery, practices and teachings rooted in a sense of reverence and interconnectedness, its people living within the whole of our lands, waters and skies. 

This is the teaching of belonging and fraternity with all creation. This is the teaching of healing and of inclusion. This is the teaching that brings full circle the deep love the Creator has for creation and all peoples. It is a teaching we might try to integrate into our new culture as citizens, protectors and lovers of all Earth and God.