Bob Ramsay is a Toronto communications consultant and founder of the speaker series RamsayTalks.
Last May my wife and I flew from Broome, on the west coast of Australia, to Sydney. Just before landing, the flight attendant made this announcement: “Qantas acknowledges the First Nations peoples of Australia as the continuing custodians and traditional owners of the land on which we live and work.”
As we landed, I thought how Aussie and easy that was, a simple reminder that every flight in Australia takes off, flies over and arrives on land once owned by someone else – and not willingly given up. In fact, we’d spent two weeks in the Outback learning how appallingly Australia’s aboriginal people had been treated – even worse than how Canada has treated its own Indigenous people.
I learned later that some Qantas flights end with a more specific acknowledgement. For example, when they land in Darwin, they recognize the Larrakia and Kunwinjku tribes; when they land in Perth, they acknowledge the Noongar tribe, and so on.
Then recently I was at a speaker event at the Smith School of Business in Toronto. The host began by saying words familiar to anyone who’s attended a business or cultural function here recently: “I’d like to acknowledge that this land is the territory of the Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca and, most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River.”
This got me to thinking: Why can’t Air Canada and WestJet – the two airlines that fly across Canada – do what Qantas does?
How hard would it be to add a standard message of reconciliation while you’re asking passengers to put their seats back straight and put away their laptops? In fact, what better place and time to remind millions of Canadians of our enormous debt of gratitude to our Indigenous people than when we’re in a plane flying over what was once the millions of square kilometres that was “theirs” and has now been claimed as “ours”?
Talk about the right medium for a timely message. That single acknowledgement would go far to remind us not just of our real history but our commitment to truth and reconciliation.
A general acknowledgement could work wonders. A specific one, even more. So why don’t we ask our airlines to do what companies are doing everywhere today: personalizing and individualizing everything? And I have just the source for that.
Recently I was skimming a remarkable new book, The Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, which I learned later is the only atlas of Indigenous people anywhere in the world. Published by Canadian Geographic, its four volumes map the territories of scores of Inuit, Indigenous and Métis nations across Canada.
From these volumes alone, we learn that by flying to Powell River, B.C., we’re landing in what was the Tla’amin Nation; in Ottawa, the Mohawk and Algonquin nations; in Halifax, the Mi’kmaq.
True, it would be harder for an airline to individualize the Indigenous landing message for each destination in the country. Slightly.
But think of the upside of knowing that the very diversity we celebrate in our population today has been around for hundreds of years? Most of us just didn’t know it because we rarely hear it.
And now there’s a very easy way we can.