Land acknowledgments are a staple at public events in Canada, but some, including those behind CBC’s Baroness Von Sketch show, see it as just a form of virtue signalling. The all-female sketch comedy show, which is in its fourth season of making people laugh while they cringe, called out the gesture in a skit that has been widely shared since being posted on Facebook last month.
The sketch opens with a director (Aurora Browne) coming on stage before a theatre performance to acknowledge that the theatre sits on the territory of four different First Nations. Browne’s character lists them off, soberly, referring to broken covenants and the need for right relations.
She moves to start the show when someone in the audience (Carolyn Taylor) awkwardly stands and asks, in the most Canadian way, “If we’re on someone else’s land… shouldn’t we leave?” You can watch the full clip below.
The skit’s message resonated with many online, including the staff at Broadview.
We had the opportunity to interview Browne earlier this month via email about the response and her thoughts on reconciliation.
Glynis Ratcliffe: What has been the reaction to the skit? Have you heard from any Indigenous reporters, viewers, leaders?
Aurora Browne: Carolyn Taylor wrote this sketch and I think it’s such a well-thought out dissection of hypocrisy and lip service. I was very happy to be able to be part of it.
From what I’ve seen, the reaction has almost been completely positive. I’ve seen a few Indigenous people retweet the sketch, for example. Mostly the reaction has been from white people saying that they felt the same sense of disappointment in empty lip service that the sketch was critiquing. I think this is the more important reaction, to be honest. Indigenous leaders already know that our words have historically been pretty empty; change only comes when white people acknowledge it.
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GR: What role do you think performers can or should play in reconciliation and has your opinion on land acknowledgments changed over time?
AB: Performers, especially comedians of all stripes, have a mandate to speak truth to power. It’s our job to point out our failings and foibles and hypocrisies, and this is certainly one of them. Words like the land acknowledgement currently being used are a good thing at first — I probably could have gone my whole life as a white person never hearing all the names of the tribes in one sentence. But if the words have no action to back them up, they start to taste sour. Hopefully this helps to crystallize something for people who had been silently feeling the same uncomfortable disappointment.
GR: What kinds of concrete actions do you think Canadians can take instead?
AB: I think that white people/colonialists/Europeans hold so much power to change for the good if we decided to. We could widely acknowledge the genocide that we inflicted. We could admit to ourselves that every advantage and resource that we enjoy today here in Canada came at the expense of the lives of the people who were here before us, and who are still here no matter how much we ignore them.
Stephen Harper once said in an interview that missing Indigenous women were just not on our radar. Well, we can fix our radar. We can vigorously investigate and prosecute the people who kill Indigenous teens in my hometown, for example. Since everyone is finally realizing that climate change is a huge problem, we could adjust our thinking about natural resources to a more sustainable, respectful mode that First Nations were practicing for centuries before we arrived. There’s much more we could do but that’s top of mind for me.
Baroness von Sketch airs on both CBC and Netflix.
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