Early in the first UK lockdown I reached out to the Community Development sector to see if anyone was interested in sharing their reflections for The Community Development Podcast about how practitioners were responding to the demands of the pandemic and the impact of lockdown.

One of those who replied was Michael Barkman from the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (Twitter: @CCEDNet) in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

As we got started, Michael recited a land acknowledgment to the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene indigenous nations; the Métis nation who are those peoples of mixed indigenous and European heritage (Métis is a French term for “person of mixed parentage”); and acknowledging that he works on a Treaty 1 Territory.

To be honest it caught me a bit off guard; Michael had not told me he was intending to do this. He explained that land acknowledgments are a common occurrence in Canada at the start of events and meetings as a way of acknowledging past and continuing colonial injustices experienced by First Nations people on whose territories people’s work and lives occur.

As Trent University states on its website:

Land acknowledgements…can be made even more meaningful when they are personalized. Most Indigenous community experts recommend personalizing land acknowledgments, as otherwise they can easily be a token gesture rather than a thoughtful practice.

The personalizing of land acknowledgements – e.g., to the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree etc. – is not just courteous but serves to recognise that not all Indigenous experiences are the same.

Another example is the Canada Council for the Arts whose offices are in Ottawa on land that the CCA acknowledges:

are on the unceded, unsurrendered Territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation whose presence here reaches back to time immemorial.

The Council recognizes the Algonquins as the customary keepers and defenders of the Ottawa River Watershed and its tributaries. We honour their long history of welcoming many Nations to this beautiful territory and uphold and uplift the voice and values of our Host Nation.

The full land acknowledgement is here, and it notably also includes a thanks to the Algonquin community for their generosity and collaboration in developing the land acknowledgement.

Cultural co-production in practice?

Michael explained that the shift to online meetings had not inhibited the practice, but that given the potential for online meetings to draw people from a number of areas across his vast province and country, the personalising of everyone’s land acknowledgement was sometimes impractical so more generic ones were being recited, with chat panels used by attendees to reference the specific Indigenous communities and Treaty territories pertinent to their areas.

Michael’s reference to the continuing impact of colonialism on Indigenous peoples in Canada served to hold a mirror up to my white Britishness, Welshness and Europeanness. Either way, it introduced a new term, if not to my personal lexicon, certainly to my community development lexicon: colonialism.

The reference in the Welsh independence movement to this C-word is problematic. For some, it is too often defined and deployed in a manner that suggests, at best a naïve blindness, at worst a crass ignorance, to complicity by Welsh interests in past and current injustices in the Global South and to indigenous peoples and their cultures.

For others though, the C-word has contemporary currency to define Wales’s relationship with England and/or the British state; notably of late in reference to the impact of the increase of second/holiday homes in rural and Welsh-speaking communities.

But in respect of my community development career the term had never reared its head. But it finally came crashing into view when speaking with Michael and stimulated some personal reflections on the term (I will try to get these down in a blog at some point).

They surfaced again when I recently produced an episode of the International Association for Community Development podcast with two CD practitioners based in Victoria, Australia. Ahead of a discussion about the importance of diversity in leadership with Jaya Manchikanti (Twitter: @JayaManchikanti) and Michelle Dunscombe (Twitter: @MDunscombe), the latter acknowledged the Taungurung and Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation and, as a member of an Indigenous nation herself, her own Gunditjmara mob.

Once again it has prompted me to consider my relationship with the word ‘colonialism’ and recognise that I probably lack the critical skills, perspectives, perhaps even the vocabulary, to further explore colonialism. There is talk in Wales of the need to de-colonise, for instance, the school curriculum. This is something for which I am in wholehearted support. But in a community development context Michelle suggests that decolonising CD is insufficient and that it needs re-indigenizing.

Another term to add to the lexicon. And another example of how much learning there is always a need for us to do.

Closer to home, one of the things it has got me thinking about is whether a variation on land acknowledgements is needed in Wales and elsewhere in the UK; and the extent to which community development can be at the vanguard of making them more mainstream.

Such acknowledgements would not be in response to the corrosive effect of colonialism. But much CD activity occurs in places where the land on which we work and live was shaped and moulded by a people who came before us. They experienced forms of oppression, injustice and discrimination based simply on their need for work, their language, their gender and so on. That some of us profit, not just financially but in other ways, from these might not be a comfortable thing to hear.

The experiences of First Nations in Canada, Australia and elsewhere is that colonialism still resonates today. Maybe by drawing on how land acknowledgements, and the wider agenda of Treaties (which Canada has but which, Michelle tells me, Australia lacks), seek to surface and confront past injustices, CD practitioners like myself can not only begin to learn about and repair the damage of the past and present to First Nations; but we can begin to forge a deeper understanding of the legacy of past injustices in the communities with which we work today.