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Aspen View adopts land acknowledgement

School division wants to honour calls for action in Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report
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In an effort to promote reconciliation and work with Indigenous communities Aspen View Public Schools adopted a land acknowledgment Feb. 18 to be read out at the start of every school board meeting beginning with the next meeting March 11. File

ATHABASCA — As another step in working toward the 94 calls for action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, Aspen View Public Schools (AVPS) has officially adopted its own land acknowledgement. 

At the regular board meeting held Feb. 18, deputy supt. Dr. Karen Penney submitted three options to trustees and explained as long as the acknowledgement was heartfelt and remained a living document subject to change as more is learned about truth and reconciliation, any of the choices would be correct. 

“First of all, I appreciate the opportunity to do the research that I was asked to do with regard to land acknowledgement,” said Penney. “It's provided me with a wider scope of understanding of why we do it and when we do it and who does it.” 

Penney explained she worked with elders and knowledge keepers, particularly within Treaty 6 and as contacted Goodfish Lake and Saddleback Nations for input. She also referred to the Council of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS) land acknowledgement and on the University Teachers of Canada website to make sure the wording was correct. 

"We've learned that land acknowledgement can be very fluid, it can change from year to year, from month to month actually, as we learn more,” she said. “But it's not static, we're not going to start a land acknowledgement and then stick with it forever, it will evolve and change as we better understand. And then I was able to participate in an Alberta Health Services presentation that both trustee (Donna) Cherniwchan and trustee (Nancy) Sand took part in as well and that provided some additional information.” 

Acknowledging the land recognizes the history of the First Nation, Métis and Inuit including the number of treaties, residential schools, the Indian Act, the 60s Scoop, the inferior health care system they were subjected to, and the racist educational systems put in place to assimilate Indigenous people rather than educate them, Penney explained. 

The first option, which was the acknowledgement trustees eventually chose as a way of honouring and respecting the Indigenous generations who came before in a heartfelt manner, was crafted from several acknowledgements including from the Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA) and other school divisions, Penney told trustees. It was also her recommendation to the board.

“Option 1 (is) ‘Aspen View Public Schools acknowledges Treaty 6 territory — the ancestral and traditional territory of the Cree, Dene, Blackfoot, Saulteaux (So-toe), Nakota Sioux, as well as the Métis. We acknowledge the many First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples whose footsteps have marked these lands for generations. We recognize the land as an act of reconciliation and gratitude to those whose territory we reside on or are visiting,’” she said. 

"It's just one piece of what we're doing to acknowledge that the truth has to be understood and then the action toward reconciliation has to happen if we're going to move forward with the calls to truth and reconciliation,” said Penney. "I know as long as it's a heartfelt, without fail what I was told over and over again, as long as it's heartfelt it doesn't have to be anything more than what Option 1 says there ... It's a simple act and I provide that recommendation based on that simple act.” 

Trustee Dennis MacNeil saw no reason why all three options could not be adopted and used on a rotating basis. 

“I like all three of them to be honest with you and I don't think we should be locked into using Option 1 all the time, or Option 2 all the time, or Option 3 all the time, I think maybe alternating from board meeting to board meeting, as long as it's heartfelt and the intent is there,” he said. " I think the words, all three of them meet our needs. I don't think we should lock ourselves into just picking one. That's my opinion.” 

Chair Candy Nikipelo preferred Option 1 as it seemed more inclusive of the entire division. 

“One thing I was going to say about Option 1; I really liked the fact that you're opening with ‘Aspen View Public Schools’ rather than an ‘I’ or a ‘we,’” said Nikipelo. “When we meet at a boardroom, we are trustees sitting around the table as well as administration and we are essentially representing Aspen View Public Schools, so I like that take where it's coming from the entire school division.”