How to do a Land Acknowledgment
“We respectfully acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Mississauga Anishinaabeg. We offer our gratitude to the First Nations for their care for, and teachings about, our earth and our relations. May we honour those teachings.”
There’s a good chance that, if you work at Trent, you’ve likely heard these words. Perhaps you heard this land acknowledgment at the start of a department meeting or a campus event.
It’s important to offer a land acknowledgement; it’s even more important to make it a meaningful expression of your recognition for the lands that you are a visitor on as well as the Indigenous stewards of those lands.
When we teach, it’s a good idea to include a meaningful land acknowledgement. That’s why we developed this guide: to highlight some reasons for offering a land acknowledgement and some suggestions on how to make it meaningful when you’re teaching at Trent.
“Place at the End of Rapids”
Trent University’s Peterborough and Durham GTA campuses, are located on the treaty and traditional territory of the Mississauga (Michi Saagiig) Anishnaabe, which is made up of Curve Lake First Nation, Alderville First Nation, Hiawatha First Nation, and the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.
Although these specific communities were established in more recent years through the treaties and land claims processes, the Michi Saagiig have existed in what is now the Peterborough area - originally called “Nogojiwanong” (an Anishinaabe word meaning “place at the end of rapids”) - for many generations.
What is a Land Acknowledgement?
Land or territorial acknowledgements are increasingly common at post-secondary institutions across Canada. Often spoken at the beginning of a public event, they are a formal way of recognizing the Indigenous stewards of a specific territory, their ancestors, and communities.
These land acknowledgements that are normally affiliated with an institution or organization 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.
Why are they necessary?
Delivering a land acknowledgement demonstrates how an individual or group is identifying the traditional territories they reside upon while also showing gratitude to Indigenous peoples and disrupting European-centric narratives.
In fact, delivering a land acknowledgement is a subtle way by which we recognize the history of colonialism and the need for change across our modern society. In other words, these acknowledgments are a necessary part of the reconciliation process that is evolving throughout our country.
Who should deliver them?
All people living in Canada - whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous - are treaty people with their own set of rights and responsibilities.
As settlers or visitors on Turtle Island (North America), one of our important responsibilities is to engage bravely in the fundamental process of acknowledging traditional territories. It is a necessary and respectful protocol that recognizes the land that we live on and work on, and gives thanks to local First Peoples for welcoming us in their homelands.
This is a practice best done by non-Indigenous people, and must not be confused with a “welcome to territory” statement, which is something an Indigenous person may provide when on their home territory when addressing guests.
Educators play a key role in modelling reconciliatory behaviour with their students. As an instructor, becoming more proficient at (and comfortable with) delivering land acknowledgements, enables you to engage with the land and local culture more deeply in the classroom. Doing so creates space for you and your students to talk about advancing systemic change through real-life actions. The end result is a better and brighter future for all who call these lands home.
When and where should they be delivered?
In most situations, land acknowledgment statements are shared orally at the beginning of an event taking place on land originally inhabited by or belonging to Indigenous people. In the context of teaching, they may occur once at the start of a course or at numerous times throughout the course to commence lectures, seminars, or labs. In each case, consider how the land acknowledgement relates to the topic at hand or the kind of gathering that is taking place.
Land acknowledgements can also be written and posted in physical and online spaces for students to view at any given time throughout a course. For written statements, all of the same guiding principles included throughout this guide apply. A written land acknowledgment statement can be located within a printed syllabus - at the outset, just before the course description - or, it may exist virtually, on a Blackboard course site.
For example, a land acknowledgment can be comprised within an initial “Welcome to the Course” announcement, or be allocated its own standalone tab, found along the left hand navigation bar of the Blackboard course page. Whatever the case, be sure to locate the land acknowledgement where it is visible and relevant.
How do you make them meaningful?
Knowing how to deliver a meaningful land acknowledgement takes some thought and practice. Below are a few tips intended to help those creating a land acknowledgement for the first time:
Before beginning work on your land acknowledgment statement, reflect on what your goal is (e.g. to inspire others to take action in supporting Indigenous communities). Developing a land acknowledgment simply because “everyone else is doing it,” is a sign that perhaps further self-reflection is in order.
Ensure that you are well informed by researching the following:
The Indigenous people to whom the land is home for.
The pre and post settlement history of the land as well as related treaties.
Indigenous words and phraseologies including correct pronunciation for the names of nations, communities, places, and individuals.
Existing relationships between you/your department and local Indigenous people, groups, or organizations.
Contemplate the language you will use in your land acknowledgement statement:
Use appropriate identifying terms such as First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, rather than antiquated designations (e.g. Indian, native, etc.)
Use terms like colonization, settler, assimilation, and stolen land to highlight actions taken in the past that have disrupted Indigenous wellbeing.
Use past, present, and future tenses thoughtfully. Indigenous people are still here - they are not a remnant of the past.
There are many different ways in which a land acknowledgment can be shared. The most frequent way is to acknowledge the lands on which an institution sits. Another way is to acknowledge Turtle Island and all Indigenous peoples in broad terms. You might also acknowledge the territory in which the host is delivering or creating materials from - this is usually the case for those teaching online (if you are teaching a remote course, consider taking a moment to discover whose traditional territory you are working in by using resources like Native-Land.ca).
If delivering a land acknowledgment is an unfamiliar practice or a new practice, reciting the institution’s statement (included at the top of this guide) is a fine place to begin. Although doing so is preferable to omitting a statement entirely, when they are overly scripted or sound impersonal, land acknowledgements can inadvertently begin to feel like a mere formality.
For instance, Anishinaabe educator Hayden King, helped write Ryerson University’s Land Acknowledgement in 2012, but now regrets doing so for this very reason, explaining in a 2019 CBC interview that “...the territorial acknowledgement is by and large for non-Native people. So if we're writing a script then providing a phonetic guide for how to recite the nation's names, then it doesn't really require much work on behalf of the people who are reciting that territorial acknowledgement. It effectively excuses them and offers them an alibi for doing the hard work of learning about their neighbours and learning about the treaties of the territory and learning about those nations that should have jurisdiction.”
There are many good ways to share a land acknowledgement, but do not expect to find one specific formula or template that will always work. Speaking from the heart about colonialism and your personal path on reconciliation is challenging but a good way to ensure your Land Acknowledgment is meaningful. Speak authentically to what you know: your own positionality, your settler background, your relationship to the land and with Indigenous Peoples, and your journey of reconciliation. Think also about why you are acknowledging the land and about how you are fulfilling your responsibilities as a person occupying that land. Remember, delivering a land acknowledgement should always be done with clear and thoughtful intention, and not just to fulfill a “checkbox” for sake of political correctness.
Below is an example (as opposed to a template) of how an instructor might personalize the university’s pre-existing land acknowledgement statement, to make it meaningful and heart-felt:
“Before beginning class, I would like to share some truths about myself and about the place that many of us call home:
I am not Indigenous, rather I am of settler-colonial ancestry. Although my heritage extends to _____ (England, France, Ireland, etc.) _____, I - like many other settler people - have benefited greatly from living on Turtle Island.
As a visitor on this land, I have an important responsibility to acknowledge the grounds on which we are privileged to gather in the pursuit of higher education:
Our university (Trent Peterborough/Trent Durham GTA) is located in the traditional and treaty territory of the Mississauga Anishinaabeg. I believe that it is not only important to recognize the Mississauga for their care for, and teachings about the earth and our relations, but to honor those teachings through our interactions today and every day hereafter.
Nearly 100 years ago, Canada and seven Mississauga and Chippewa First Nations signed agreements that became known as the Williams Treaties. These agreements were intended to be the foundation upon which sovereign peoples would build a common relationship, but lead to long-standing disputes about compensation, settlement, and harvesting.
In light of this history and understanding a role as Treaty People, may we dedicate ourselves to moving forward in the spirit of partnership, collaboration, and reconciliation, as we learn together and contemplate the possibilities that lay ahead.”
Trent University’s First Peoples House of Learning has developed a video guide on how to deliver a meaningful Land Acknowledgement, which can be found here.
Written by: Mitchell Huguenin
Last Updated: 3 May 2021