When we went to the cottage, my father used to sit by the lake and just be present. He’d take in the wind and the water, letting them speak to him. I think, as well, he would recall his childhood on the trapline, and the small lake through the trees where he used to swim and play. When I went to the trapline with him for the first time in 2018, I understood how the land gives us life as soon as we hit the water. My father, scanning the surroundings, remembering how his family used to live, looked ten years younger. And when we stepped onto the trapline, it felt like I’d come home, a feeling I’ve come to understand as blood memory. The land lives within me.
This notion of the land shows up in my book, The Barren Grounds, with messages about our relationship to it and how we should be treating it better. One of my favourite things about being an author is seeing how kids respond to those ideas. During school presentations these days, land acknowledgements are a pretty standard way to start, but lately, a few classrooms I’ve visited have written their own after reflecting on what the land means to them, coming up with something like: “We are grateful for the trees and rocks that we can build forts with; we are grateful for the fields that we have to play soccer, baseball, and tag on.” Simple but meaningful.
Land acknowledgements lead me to think of treaties because they are both linked to the land. Wherever you are, you’re likely on treaty land. The saying “We are all treaty people” means that we each have rights and responsibilities under these agreements, meant to benefit everybody—for example, treaties granted land to the crown for development. In exchange, they made promises to Indigenous people. Treaties are a contract between two parties, and in many cases, these obligations, such as hunting rights, have not been met. Treaties are meant to guide the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people as well as the use of the land.
What does your feeling about treaties say about how we view the land, as well as each other? The starting point is self-reflection. When you’re out in nature, and your feet are on Mother Earth, what does that mean to you? The next time you’re standing by the lake, feeling the cool breeze against your skin and the water tickling your toes, clothed in calm, maybe just listen. How would you write your acknowledgement of the land and all that it provides? And what can you provide to it? Maybe it’s respect and love, and to make sure that it stays healthy and can continue to gift us with the stuff of life. Maybe all we can do is thank it and live better with one another.
Maybe that’s enough.
This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue of Cottage Life.