Each person is a unique gift. Many Indigenous Nations prior to contact were oral people, walking libraries who carried songs, stories, teachings and medicines, passing them on to the next generation to ensure the survival of our world-views, ceremonies, and languages. One of the first steps of colonialism is to erase the legacy of the original people and maintain power over them. Within Canada this was done by erasing our traditional names for the land and waters, renaming them to reflect European culture, values, and beliefs. The power dynamics of colonialism allowed colonizers to maintain this control for centuries, resulting in several Indigenous languages being lost or at-risk of extinction.
Today, naming is one of the most powerful things we can do as Indigenous peoples and allies. When we acknowledge the traditional territories of the Indigenous peoples, we reclaim space for those who were denied this right for generations. We recognize their sovereignty and their connection to a land that has been stolen from them through historical and continued violence.
With this reclamation of space must also come the reclamation of our traditions of engaging and fostering relationships with one another. The power dynamics that allowed settlers to erase our traditional names also allowed them to control how and what engagement with our communities looked like. Today this is reflected in language that will often describe engaging with Indigenous peoples as “meaningful”, even when it is not rooted in mutual respect or understanding. Instead, it reflects colonial beliefs of engagement and often excludes Indigenous women, youth, Two Spirit and gender diverse people.
In the era of reconciliation meaningful engagement is a fundamental part of respecting the voices and values of Indigenous peoples. It also means Indigenous peoples should define the word meaningful for themselves and guide how and when we choose to be engaged. To effect positive change within our communities we need to restore our languages and names to the spaces around us and reclaim control of our ways for engaging and sharing experiences. This is true reconciliation, transformative and rooted in our teachings.