WHY should you write your own land acknowledgement?
Scripted Land Acknowledgements by institutions and organizations have been heavily critiqued by many Indigenous Peoples (and settlers too), with some describing the practice as virtue-signalling, performative, lip service, erasing ongoing settler-colonial violence, reduced to a checkbox, "meaningless and patronizing," and in some cases, re-traumatizing. Watch this Baroness von Sketch skit to get a sense for what we mean (2:15):
Many people at the university and throughout London, use Western's land acknowledgement verbatim, altering it slightly according to their own institution/organization, or removing some parts all together. As a result, many Indigenous people are critical of land acknowledgements because they are often recited word for word, the same every time, with little to no reflection on the violence and ongoing nature of settler-colonialism.
As well, since land acknowledgements are often short, and at the beginning of a meeting or event - without any connections made to the Land Acknowledgement throughout the event - there is little space made for listeners to reflect upon their own positionality and complicity in settler-colonialism, let alone where to begin in dismantling it.
While we recognize Western's land acknowledgement is comprehensive, copying and pasting it without putting much thought into what is being said, who is saying it or seeking to understand the complex histories and relationships Land Acknowledgements are referring to, lends to the frustrations Indigenous people feel about Land Acknowledgements. Taking the time to reflect on your own responsibilities towards Reconciliation - and as businesses, organizations, operating in Treaty territories - can point towards more meaningful Land Acknowledgements and relationship building.
These tensions are why we created this Guide to help you through this unlearning process. We're glad you're here!
The process of writing a personal land acknowledgement should be self-reflexive, and is a good place to begin to interrogate personal and institutional complicity in ongoing settler-colonialism; as well as reflect on positionality, Treaty and Reconciliation responsibilities.
We can't guarantee you will write a non-performative Land Acknowledgement, as it is unlikely it will embody transformative decolonial justice in and of itself; nor will it absolve settler-colonial complicity; nor will it mend broken Treaty relationships; nor will it automatically designate the institution or individual delivering them, an ally, or Reconciliation All Star...at this point you might be wondering, should we even engage in the practice at all?
That's not for us to speak for anyone, or anywhere else, but here at the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, we encourage Western University settler and non-Indigenous staff, leadership, faculty and students, to use the process of writing your own land acknowledgement to reflect on the impact of their words and actions, and engage in the practice of writing their own and adjusting it according to the following:
- their own positionality;
- the event ocurring;
- their relationships to Indigenous Peoples in Canada;
- discipline/field specific commitments and actions regarding the TRC Calls to Action; UNDRIP
- And for everyone at Western University to grapple with the question: "What am I doing to dismantle settler-colonialism beyond this territorial acknowledgement?" (Native-Land.ca)
Image: Bridge in Kitigan Ziibing (Garden River) by Fungus Guy, 2005. Wikipedia Commons.
What are land acknowledgements?
"In recent years territorial, or land, acknowledgements have become a more common and widespread practice in Canadian universities (Wilkes et al, 2017)" (Brunette & Richmond 2017). On many university campuses, incorporating Land Acknowledgements has been led by Indigenous people seeking to recognize Indigenous self-determination and Indigenous Peoples’ relationships with the land upon which universities occupy.
The practise is rooted in traditional protocols, but has evolved in an institutional and settler-colonial context. When different Nations gather in each others’ territories, Indigenous people often acknowledge the land they are on, the Nations connected to the land, as well as Wampum and Treaty relationships, where applicable.
Many Indigenous people in southwestern Ontario open events "in a good way" by inviting an Elder or Knowledge Keeper, who gives thanks to the land and all the living beings whom we all rely on for sustenance and life, such as the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address. This is not a land acknowledgement in the sense that they might not always speak to Treaties, or territories, but to their relationship to the land, as Original Peoples.
Wait, so who gives land acknowledgements?
It's complicated, but -
Typically events and conferences at Western run by non-Indigenous persons might have a Land Acknowledgement. You can invite a local Elder or Knowledge Keeper to give an opening, or welcome, but consider how you are engaging them beyond the opening/welcome.
Having Indigenous people merely give an opening or welcome can come across as tokenism if the rest of the event/conference does little to nothing towards Reconciliation, dismantling settler-colonialism, or engaging Indigenous Peoples/communities. However, sometimes inviting Indigenous people to give an opening provides a chance to make space for Truth, or Indigenous perspectives on the event/conference. We recommend consulting with the Office of Indigenous initiatives before engaging Indigenous community members, Elders or Knowledge Keepers for your opening.
- Why am I giving a Land Acknowledgement?
- Who is my audience?
- How have I engaged Indigenous community members, communities and/or Elders/Knowledge Keepers in my event/conference and beyond?
When are verbal land acknowledgements given?
"Acknowledgements are often used at the beginning of a gathering to open, recognize, and honour" local Treaties and Nations as well as acknowledging institutional complicity in ongoing settler-colonialism. "They have also been used in online forums, reports and course syllabi." (Brunette & Richmond 2017)
- at the beginning of gatherings, events or conferences
- at the beginning of semesters
- at the beginning of a concert
- at the beginning of a presentation
- at the beginning of a public lecture
- at the beginning of a meeting
The occasion the Land Acknowledgement is being delivered at, should impact what you say.
- What is the occasion for the event?
- Does the purpose of the event have roots in settler-colonialism?
- How have we as organizers interrogated our gathering/events roots in settler-colonialism; structures and complicity?
- Is there a historical or ongoing relationship between Indigenous Peoples, communities and the organization/institution hosting the event? Is it a positive or negative relationship?
- What are the impacts of settler-colonialism on Indigenous Peoples and/or communities as it pertains to this event/gathering?