When theatregoers took their seats at Crow’s Theatre in September 2022, they were expecting to see a “radical retelling” of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Playwright Cliff Cardinal took the stage, telling the audience that Crow’s had asked him to do the land acknowledgement. “I hate land acknowledgements—I find them so goddamn patronizing,” he said. “I’m afraid that people of money and privilege hear a land acknowledgement, nod solemnly in approval and then wait patiently for their show to begin.”
But the show never did start—at least, not As You Like It. Instead, Cardinal proceeded to excoriate, over 90 minutes, the sheer emptiness of land acknowledgements, which became pervasive as a means of educating settlers about the theft of Indigenous land. It’s a history most Canadians never learned about—a mass erasure of our uncomfortable and not-so-distant colonial past. The legacy lives on in so many ways: a $9,000 income gap between First Nations and Métis people compared to non-Indigenous people; 26 communities under long-term boil-water advisories; a critical lack of infrastructure on reserves that means 21% of First Nations people live in overcrowded homes; and, most horrifyingly, the children buried on the grounds of church-run residential schools.
We know all this; after all, the six-volume Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was released eight years ago. Now it’s time to move beyond land acknowledgements to enable Indigenous communities to control their own fates.
As Chief Sharleen Gale, chair of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, put it at a recent Canadian Club event on economic reconciliation: “Any project that’s built is [built] on Indigenous land.” Yet, for a century and a half, “the Indian Act has prevented us from generating our own wealth and building our own economies.” Yes, obtaining “free, prior and informed consent” from Indigenous communities—as per the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—is crucial. But to benefit from these developments in a lasting way, they need the means to participate fully as co-investors. The single-largest barrier? Access to capital. As Gale and her fellow panelists stressed, we desperately need a national loan guarantee program that will allow Indigenous communities to take equity stakes in the hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects being planned over the next decade, many of them part of the crucial transition to renewable energy.
You can read more about the case for economic reconciliation—and why our future growth depends on it—in “This is what economic reconciliation looks like,” on page 24. The essay and profiles of Indigenous-led projects were written by Susan Nerberg, who grew up in Sweden divorced from her own Sámi heritage in Norway, where an Indigenous-assimilation program saw her father’s mother sent to a state-run residential school eerily similar to the ones here in Canada.
You might ask why we didn’t run this package in our October issue, which landed on the third National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, honouring the children who died in those schools and the ones who survived. To which I say, this is an ongoing history we need to confront every day, not just once a year. And as painful as this conversation might be, it’s one we plan to keep on having.