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Acknowledging the Land

 A bright blue lake with coniferous trees all around it

This page provides you with some guidance and a starting point to prepare your own land acknowledgement. The content was prepared by members of the Indigenous Education Council.

What is a land acknowledgement?

A land acknowledgment is an act of reconciliation that involves making a statement recognizing the traditional lands of Indigenous nations to honour treaties, land titles and rights. Land acknowledgements exist within the context of historical and ongoing processes of colonialism and the impact on Indigenous Peoples. 

There is no universal approach when it comes to writing a land acknowledgement. Land acknowledgements should be created authentically and organically as an expression of respect for Indigenous peoples, traditions and territories, and they should be as diverse as the people sharing them, whether it is an event organizer or a meeting chair. The responsibility of preparing and delivering these acknowledgements lies with non-Indigenous people.

Purpose of land acknowledgements

Land acknowledgements are declarations that can educate and affirm that Indigenous Peoples were forcibly removed or displaced from their ancestral lands to afford the privileges that settlers enjoy today. As such, they should stress the importance of systemic changes within settler society to establish equitable nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous communities.

Land acknowledgements can be:

  • Shared orally and written and posted in physical and online spaces
  • A tool to assist settlers in uncovering shared histories and ensuring that settlers’ responsibilities as treaty people are fulfilled
  • An act of allyship which fosters a deeper understanding of Indigenous protocols, history and worldviews
  • A means of raising a broader awareness of First Nations, Inuit and Métis culture and history, which can be used to challenge and dismantle narratives that promote colonialism
A community member in an orange shirt holds their hand to the chest while talking

Creating a land acknowledgement

Research is the foundation of a land acknowledgement. Exhaustive research supports a strong foundation and shows respect not only for the Indigenous Peoples and traditional territories within your acknowledgement but also for your audience, who, through your efforts, will learn about the land they are on. 

Begin by locating the treaty territory and historical and contemporary Indigenous Nations of the land you intend to acknowledge and that are relevant to your area. Double-check your spelling of these names.

Remember to use  (google doc) credible resources (external link) . A good place to start is by situating yourself using Native Land Digital (external link)  and Whose Land (external link) –these are interactive maps with information you can include in your acknowledgement, such as the traditional territories and treaties within your region.

Pronunciation of a Nation’s name

It is essential to correctly pronounce the name of an Indigenous community. If you are uncertain about the correct pronunciation of a First Nation, there are several methods you can employ:

  • Look at the nation's website, which might feature a phonetic pronunciation
  • Check language apps, which often feature audio or video that includes the pronunciation of the nation's name
  • Inquire respectfully with someone from that community, or an organization such as Gdoo-maawnjidimi Mompii Indigenous Student Services or a local Friendship Centre (external link) 
  • After hours, you can also call the band office and listen to the recording on their voicemail

While Indigenous People are happy to share knowledge of their communities, managing multiple requests for information that can be found just as easily by other means can be burdensome.

Once you have the information you want to include in your land acknowledgement, utilizing these guiding questions as you approach your writing will help to strengthen your understanding of land acknowledgements as an essential step in reconciliation that helps us build respectful relationships with Indigenous Peoples. As an initial point of reference, these questions may prompt additional questions for your research.

  • Why is a land acknowledgment important?
  • What will impact the people who will hear the land acknowledgement the most?
  • What do you know about the nations and/or treaties you are recognizing? What don’t you know? What do you want to find out?
  • What is the region’s history? What are the impacts of colonialism in this area?
  • What have Indigenous Peoples on this land shared about their goals for the future? How can we support them?
  • What is the connection between this land acknowledgement and the event or work you are participating in?
  • How might the land acknowledgement grow as you continue to deliver it?

To provide a thoughtful and meaningful land acknowledgement, you should be purposeful and dedicate time to crafting your statement. Reflect on your goal before beginning your land acknowledgement. A genuine commitment to reconciliation requires understanding and respect, which is reflective of learning that acknowledges the continuing impacts of colonialism. It also looks forward to how reconciliation practices can move toward more equitable practices. 

Land acknowledgements should be delivered with clear and thoughtful intentions. When they are overly scripted or impersonal, land acknowledgements can feel, at best, like a formality and, at worst, performative. Therefore, it would help if you spoke authentically about your relationship to the land and Indigenous communities, your position with the land acknowledgement process, and what you have learned during your research. When writing, consider how you are fulfilling your responsibilities as a treaty person and your own relationship to the land.

What does it mean to go beyond a land acknowledgement? Create an action plan with timelines and tangible next steps. Outline how you plan to continue supporting Indigenous communities — this should encourage your audience to consider their own steps, too. You may include one of these steps in your land acknowledgement as a public commitment.

Establishing sustainable relationships with the communities you intend to acknowledge is critical and, if done well, a life-long commitment. In the past, settlers incorrectly regarded themselves as the saviours of Indigenous People. This is a colonialist viewpoint; Indigenous Peoples did not require salvation. Acting in solidarity with Indigenous People should not be confused with acting as a saviour. Focus on directing your efforts towards learning and inquiring about the most effective ways to be in solidarity with the Indigenous nations on the land that you occupy.  

Part of our collective responsibility as treaty peoples is taking the time to acknowledge the land and consider what actions we can take to ensure better future relations with Indigenous Peoples. This is done out of respect and to develop an understanding of the collective work required to ensure that the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s  (PDF file) 94 Calls to Action (external link)  are realized in our lifetime (external link) .

Commitment to action demonstrates that your acknowledgment is not performative but a genuine attempt to dismantle colonial practices and foster equitable and reciprocal partnerships with Indigenous communities. Reflecting on these questions can assist in action strategies, which promote allyship to stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples.

  • How will you foster relationships with Indigenous nations?
  • What other measures will the institution or organization take to support Indigenous communities? 
  • How do you intend to dismantle and disrupt colonialism beyond this land acknowledgement?
  • How will you be respectful and reciprocal with your actions?
  • Will your actions be welcome?

TMU’s original land acknowledgement serves as a beginning framework for all community members. 

TMU’s original land acknowledgement

Toronto is in the “Dish With One Spoon” territory. The Dish With One Spoon is a treaty between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas and Haudenosaunee that bound them to share the territory and protect the land. Subsequent Indigenous Nations and Peoples, Europeans and all newcomers have been invited into this treaty in the spirit of peace, friendship and respect." 

This was a treaty made between the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee after the French and Indian War. Newcomers were then incorporated into it over the years, notably in 1764 with The Royal Proclamation/The Treaty of Niagara.

Dish With One Spoon Belt
Dish With One Spoon Belt

We encourage you to expand, improvise and build on TMU’s original land acknowledgement using the four pillars of land acknowledgements offered by Amy Desjarlais Waabishka Kakaki Zhaawshko Shkeezhgokwe (White Raven Woman with Turquoise Eyes), lead facilitator, Rebirthed Teachings, Indigenous Initiatives in the Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion.

  1. Know the treaties and agreements.
  2. Know the stories of the land. How did the practice of land acknowledgements start? (Kanesatake Resistance, 1990)
  3. Know the people that are there. Be able to pronounce the names.
  4. Know how you connect to the land. What are your responsibilities? How do you benefit?

We hope this information will serve as a helpful guide in preparing a land acknowledgement and provide you with the opportunity to learn and the space to make mistakes in order to grow and reflect on the process.

FAQs

Land acknowledgements should not be confused with a traditional welcome statement by an Indigenous Elder, Knowledge Keeper, Chief or member of that First Nation. 

A traditional welcome differs from a land acknowledgement in that it is done as a welcome (which may be shared in their traditional language, or the sharing of a traditional song) to a traditional territory and to provide the reason for the gathering. Land acknowledgements should be created and delivered by non-Indigenous people, whereas an Indigenous person should be invited to do a traditional welcome.

Land acknowledgements are an act of reconciliation. To understand why, it is helpful to consider how (and why)even modern governments have denied Indigenous rights to land. An illustrative story begins in the 1700s, but has a contemporary element that today’s readers may remember: the Oka crisis.

In 1717, the King of France granted the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) a tract of land to the northwest of Montreal under the condition that they leave Montreal. The Sulpicians, a Roman Catholic order founded in Paris in 1641, established a mission at Mount Royal and continued to move to the north shore. They built one village for the Mohawk people and another for the Algonquin and Nipissing, their goal being to convert Indigenous Peoples to Christianity. The understanding was that the Sulpicians would hold the land in trust for First Nations inhabitants. They failed to honour this commitment. The Sulpicians claimed sole ownership rights and began to sell the land to White settlers.

Shortly after Britain attained New France, the Mohawk people of Kanesatake wrote to British officials and relayed the harsh conditions that endangered their livelihood. They challenged their land rights and sought freedom from the Sulpicians, but British officials ignored these demands. The Mohawk asked Lord Elgin, then Governor General of Canada, to recognize their land rights in 1851. Instead, Canada granted the Sulpicians land title in 1859.

The Kanesatake claim was that the King of France did not possess the land; therefore, the Crown could not transfer it to the Sulpician Order. The federal government then declared Kanesatake an “interim land base” rather than a reserve. In 1975, the Kanyen'kehà:ka of Kahnawake, Kanesatake and Akwesasne (located in Quebec and Ontario) filed a land claim, which was denied by the Canadian government in 1986. In 1989, the mayor of Oka, Quebec, announced a plan to build a townhouse complex and expand the golf course over the Kanesatake ancestral burial land. Because the Kanesatake band’s land claim had been rejected, they were not consulted. 

To halt the project’s development, a group of people from Kanesatake constructed a barricade on a local road, blocking access to the area. Two nearby reserves, Kahnawake and Akwesasne, along with a group of activists called the Mohawk Warrior Society, joined the protest. The “Oka Crisis (external link) ” came to an end after 78 days of blockades; however, the conflict remained ongoing and served as a key catalyst for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP). 

Through the United Nations Human Rights Committee delegation, the crisis provoked international attention and helped raise awareness of Indigenous Peoples’ concerns, which impacted the conversation around Indigenous land management. The Land Management Act and the RCAP completed their reports between 1991 and 1999 in response to the Kanestake Resistance (external link) .

The RCAP’s Final Report was released in November 1996. The comprehensive report, which consisted of five volumes and 4,000 pages, addressed a wide array of issues, and its 440 recommendations advocated for significant reforms in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and Canadian governments. The report generated expectations for governments to take action in response to the recommendations, including recognition. 

The release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Reports (external link)  in 2015 further inspired the practice of land acknowledgements as one way to initiate a discussion centred on respecting the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples and spiritual connections to the land and water. 

TMU’s original land acknowledgment was developed by the Indigenous Education Council in 2014. It was initially introduced at an OVPECI Soup and Substance event, “Why do we Acknowledge the Land?

A land acknowledgement should reflect one’s perspective, experience, learning, and position. It is important to keep in mind that learning through careful research and writing a thoughtful statement requires both time and effort. 

When constructing land acknowledgments, non-Indigenous individuals and institutions will often request assistance from Indigenous Peoples and communities, which can include input, editing, or creating a statement. However, most Indigenous Peoples would prefer not to devote their free time to serving as unpaid land acknowledgement consultants, as this work requires significant emotional labour. 

Inquiries regarding land acknowledgments have frequently focused on the terminology and structure rather than the action component and subsequent steps. Without these components, land acknowledgments are just empty words — a symbolic gesture that enables people to feel good about themselves without actually contributing anything to nation-to-nation relations. As a creator of an acknowledgement, you want to make sure you are creating an authentic statement and not simply ticking a box — sincere efforts to foster reconciliation are what matter.

The repetitive nature of acknowledgements can reduce their disruptive potential and can become a rote process for all involved. Therefore, statements should continuously evolve to reflect the current climate and encourage the pursuit of independent research. After all, land acknowledgements are about more than educating the public about Indigenous Peoples’ existence and Canada’s colonial past; they should focus on taking meaningful steps toward building reciprocal relationships between Indigenous Peoples and settler Canadians. Acknowledgements should encourage a desire for knowledge about the nations included in the statement and how their territory was acquired — a responsibility that rests with settlers, guests, and newcomers alike. 

Additional resources to further your learning

References

  • Âpihtawikosisân, (2016). Beyond territorial acknowledgments (external link)  
  • Borrows, John. (1997). “Wampum at Niagara: The Royal Proclamation, Canadian Legal History and Self-Government'' in Asche, Michael, Aboriginal and Treaty Rights in Canada: Essays on Law, Equity, and Respect for Difference. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
  • Hall, Anthony. (2003).The American Empire and the Fourth World: The Bowl With One Spoon, Part One. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s.
  • Ladner, Kiera L (2001). "Visions of Neo-Colonialism? Renewing the Relationship with Aboriginal Peoples." The Canadian Journal of Native Studies 11: 105-35.
  • Johnston, Darlene. (2005). Connecting People to Place: Great Lakes Aboriginal History in Cultural Context. Prepared for the Ipperwash Inquiry.
  • Simpson, Leanne. (2008). “Looking after Gdoo-naaganinaa: Precolonial Nishnaabeg Diplomatic and Treaty Relationships.” Wicazo Sa Review 23 (2): 29-42.