The focus of diversity and inclusion is often defined by physical appearance: a gender, a race, a physical special need. However, the unseen also needs to be considered.
At the Manitoba Hydro Keeyask Generation project in Manitoba, Canada, Helen Baker, commercial manager at Bechtel, discovered the significance of acknowledging land heritage to pay tribute to Indigenous communities and help colleagues feel included.
As a new migrant to Canada, Helen became aware of land acknowledgments as a fundamental aspect of local culture when she moved from the jobsite to the project office in Winnipeg.
A land acknowledgement is a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous Peoples as traditional stewards of the land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories.
The Keeyask Generation project site is situated on Treaty 5 Territory, the ancestral homeland of Tataskweyak Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation, York Factory First Nation, and Fox Lake Cree Nation. The project is a partnership between Manitoba Hydro and these four partner First Nations. The project office in Winnipeg sits on land that was included in Treaty 1 and is the traditional territory of the Cree, Dene, Anishinaabe, Oji-Cree, and Dakota, and the homeland of the Métis people.
“Canada is a land of immigrants,” said Helen. “Acknowledging those who were here before us and have a deep ongoing connection to the land is both powerful and a gateway to better understanding.
“The practice also gives current residents with a new connection to the land a greater appreciation of the need to protect it for the generations to come.”
Acknowledgements consider the impact that colonization had on entire nations and aim to increase knowledge of what occurred on Canadian soil in the past. The action of acknowledging the heritage of the land is a way of both bringing awareness to history and respecting the Indigenous Peoples whose homeland it is. Land acknowledgements can be vocalised or written and are shared before events including sports games and community activities.
At Keeyask, Manitoba Hydro and the Bechtel-led BBE Hydro Constructors Limited Partnership delivering the project -- made up of Bechtel Canada, Barnard Construction Company, and EllisDon -- ensure that acknowledgement of the land’s heritage is widely promoted and formally included at significant events and in public announcements such as milestone achievements. Indigenous ceremonies have been incorporated into the life of the project from the very start.
Helen Baker at The Forks, a meeting place for over 6,000 years, situated at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in Winnipeg
“Hearing and making these acknowledgements made me curious to learn more about the rights and obligations contained within the treaties signed between Indigenous Peoples and the British Crown/Canadian government, and the situation regarding unceded lands," said Helen.
Recognition of a land’s past is not unique to Canadian culture and governments are, or may in the future, seek to acknowledge all peoples relevant to their country’s history.
“I have travelled the world with Bechtel and I believe that learning about the history of where I work and embracing the local culture has not only made me a better citizen of the world but also better at my job. I’m now more intuitive about cultural inclusion, sustainability, and stakeholder engagement.
“I also believe that cultural inclusion will help Bechtel to become a better local contractor.”