This post was written for the website native-land.ca, which is run by my friend Victor. Laura Phillips was immensely helpful in editing and providing suggestions on the initial draft.
Why acknowledge territory?
Territory acknowledgement is a way that people insert an awareness of Indigenous presence and land rights in everyday life. This is often done at the beginning of ceremonies, lectures, or any public event. It can be a subtle way to recognize the history of colonialism and a need for change in settler colonial societies.
However, these acknowledgements can easily be a token gesture rather than a meaningful practice. All settlers, including recent arrivals, have a responsibility to consider what it means to acknowledge the history and legacy of colonialism. What are some of the privileges settlers enjoy today because of colonialism? How can individuals develop relationships with peoples whose territory they are living on in the contemporary Canadian geopolitical landscape? What are you, or your organization, doing beyond acknowledging the territory where you live, work, or hold your events? What might you be doing that perpetuates settler colonial futurity rather than considering alternative ways forward for Canada? Do you have an understanding of the on-going violence and the trauma that is part of the structure of colonialism?
As Chelsea Vowel, a Métis woman from the Plains Cree speaking community of Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta, writes:
“If we think of territorial acknowledgments as sites of potential disruption, they can be transformative acts that to some extent undo Indigenous erasure. I believe this is true as long as these acknowledgments discomfit both those speaking and hearing the words. The fact of Indigenous presence should force non-Indigenous peoples to confront their own place on these lands.” – Chelsea Vowel, Métis, Beyond Territorial Acknowledgements
How to acknowledge territory?
Often, territory acknowledgements are concise, along the lines of: “I want to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of [nation names].” Some people may also mention the name of a local treaty. Some may learn the language and speak a few words in it.
If you are not sure how to pronounce a nation’s name, there are a number of ways to learn, including:
- Respectfully asking someone from that nation or from a local organization such as a Friendship Center or Indigenous Student Center;
- Check the nation’s website, they may have a phonetic pronunciation on their “About” page, an audio-recording of their name, or videos that include people saying the nation’s name; or
- Call the nation after hours and listen to their answering machine recording.
While a brief acknowledgement may work for some groups, others wish to add more intention and detail to acknowledgements. To thoughtfully prepare an in-depth acknowledgement requires time and care. You may find it helpful to reflect on and research questions such as:
- Why is this acknowledgement happening?
- How does this acknowledgement relate to the event or work you are doing?
- What is the history of this territory? What are the impacts of colonialism here?
- What is your relationship to this territory? How did you come to be here?
- What intentions do you have to disrupt and dismantle colonialism beyond this territory acknowledgement?
Territory acknowledgements are one small part of disrupting and dismantling colonial structures. You may also want to get in touch with local Indigenous nations or organizations to build relationships and support their work. Use our tools to find some contacts!
Territory Acknowledgement Panel Talk
Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, University of British Columbia
October 18, 2016
Making Coast Salish Territorial Acknowledgements Matter
Coast Salish Cultural Network
November 25, 2016
Beyond Territorial Acknowledgements
September 23, 2016
What is the significance of acknowledging the Indigenous land we stand on? (CBC)
July 15, 2017
Are you planning to do a Land Acknowledgement?*
Debbie Reese for American Indians in Children’s Literature
March 9, 2019
‘I regret it’: Hayden King on writing Ryerson University’s territorial acknowledgement*
January 20, 2019
* These resources were added on March 23, 2019.