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I. more than words A Guide to Land Acknowledgements at Western University

This Guide aims to provide context around giving land acknowledgements at Western University, offering reflection questions along the way that will aid in writing your own oral land acknowledgement.

When it comes to Indigenous*-Settler** relationships in what is now known as Canada, the basis of that relationship is founded upon, well, land, but also, ongoing settler-colonialism. Through our shared needs for survival, we all carry responsibilities to the land, and in many territories, those relationships are encoded through Wampums and/or Treaties. Treaties created between Indigenous Nations and the Crown are the basis and grounds upon which Canada was created. This Guide operates on these Truths.

*"Indigenous" in this Guide refers to Indigenous Peoples in what is now known as Canada, unless otherwise indicated. This includes First Nations, Métis, Inuit as well as urban, rural, non-status and/or mixed peoples. It is not our intention to disrespect Indigenous Peoples from other continents, territories in Turtle Island; as well as those who are/whose ancestors were enslaved and/or displaced, as "not-Indigenous," by using this definition - we see you. This definition is used because the Guide is speaking to the context of territorial acknowledgement in what is now known as Canada, specifically in Southwestern Ontario. We recognize there is much work to be done around the nuances of these positionalities and intersections.

**"Settler" in this Guide refers to a group of peoples who benefit from ongoing settler-colonialism in the context of Canada, and Canadian imperialism. This term typically refers to European-descended citizens of what is now Canada. This term is incredibly nuanced and not a hard definition. Read Indigenous and Black scholars unpacking this term, here.

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.

We hope by the end of exploring More Than Words: A Guide to Land Acknowledgements, you will have enough personal reflections - and a sense of the complex political and cultural relationships of Indigenous Peoples to territories, land, local Treaties, 'the Crown,' and governments in Canada, that are being acknowledged - to write and verbally deliver your own Land Acknowledgements. Even if you're not writing your own, you might find some of the information helpful.

This Guide is by no means comprehensive, or wholly inclusive, of all the stories and histories embodied in the land now known as London, Ontario, Canada, and surrounding counties. This Guide does not claim authority, or expertise, in the history of this territory, but offers a collection of perspectives and resources to build understanding behind Land Acknowledgements given in this territory. This Guide does not speak to writing Land Acknowledgements in Métis homelands, settlements, and/or Inuit in Nunavut, Nunavik Nunatsiavut or NunatuKavu.

Assembled by Sara Mai Chitty, an Anishinaabekwe and Curriculum and Pedagogy Advisor in the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, this Guide draws on knowledge offered by Summer Bressette, of Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation; as well as information adapted from the Guide For Working with Indigenous Students (Brunette & Richmond 2017) and London (Ontario) Area Treaties: A Guide (D'Arcy 2018); plus numerous resources linked throughout the Guide and also many on this list. The Land Acknowledgement Reflection Questions throughout the Guide are adapted from the Wiengarten Resource Centre and Native-Land.ca. Sara Mai would also like to acknowledge and thank the following people who were a part of her own education journey in these topics: Al Day, Mark Peters, Sheri Doxtator, Maryanne Kechego, Myrna Kicknosway and Leslee Whiteye; as well as work by Leanne Simpson and John Borrows. Chi meegwech to the Centre for Teaching and Learning Team and Instructional Designers Liz Warwick and Aamir Aman, and the HR Leadership Certificate team, Julia Beltrano, for your invaluable feedback and input on how this material is presented, as well as everyone and anyone who ever attended a Land Acknowledgement session with me.

We encourage you to seek out primary sources on Treaties, Wampums and oral histories and stories of this territory, shared by Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and community members, as well as continue to learn about Treaties, Indigenous Peoples, cultures and histories, beyond this resource.

This Guide is incomplete. It lacks Lunaape, Métis and Inuit perspectives. The dialogue around land acknowledgements and the histories of this territory is ever-evolving. Because of this fluid nature, this guide is a work in progress and we will update it with feedback; and as new contemporary and historical understandings come forth, and other resources become available.

To provide feedback on this guide, or if you think we missed something, email us.

Indigenous community members at Western alongside the Indigenous Post-secondary Education Council (IPEC) developed three template versions of a land acknowledgement as a guideline for writing your own. Please note we recommend using version one or two for written publications, reports, etc coupled with your own separate positionality statement where appropriate. For more information on this as well as guidelines for email signatures; to view the three versions, pronunciations or the standalone reflection questions to help guide writing and delivering your own oral land acknowledgement, follow the links below:

Grab a piece of paper, open a note on your computer, or a journal, or follow along with the above list of questions.

How to use More Than Words: A Guide to Land Acknowledgements at Western University -

This is a self-guided resource. You can learn as much or as little as you wish. Follow links, watch the videos, answer the reflection questions; this is not a quick reference resource, it is fluid; intended to be revisited and reflected upon. You can use Western's institutional Land Acknowledgements as a template, or write your own from scratch using the answers to the reflection questions woven throughout the Guide. You won't necessarily have all the answers to the questions right away, and you might not include all your answers in your Land Acknowledgement, but consider the writing and reflecting process as a step towards unlearning and unsettling in your personal decolonizing practice.

Important tip: Learn and unlearn and write and deliver your acknowledgement - with your heart.

table of contents

  1. More Than Words: An Introduction (you are here)
  2. Local Indigenous Communities
  3. Treaties, Wampums & The Royal Proclamation
  4. Local Indigenous-Crown Treaties & Wampums
  5. Indigenous Perspectives on Land Acknowledgements - forthcoming
  6. More than Words: #LandBack, Unceded Territory & Modern Treaties - forthcoming

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.

Reflect:

  • 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?

As a practice today, Land Acknowledgements are attributed to stemming from these three origins:

Image: A beaver in a red circle with the words "Indigenous Traditional Protocol" underneath; five hands put together in a red circle with the words " Treaty relationships" underneath; a balanced scale in a red circle with the words "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" underneath

As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission travelled Canada gathering Indian Residential School Survivor's stories, they would give a land or territorial acknowledgement to recognize each Nation and/or territory they were visiting. It is through the example made by the TRC that many institutions and organizations have adopted these practices.

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.

Reflection Questions:

  • 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?

where are you?

Western University is located on the traditional territories of the Chonnonton, Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee and Lenaape Nations, connected through the London and Sombra Township Treaties, and to the Dish with One Spoon Covenant Wampum.

with those words, who are we acknowledging?

Knowing where you are and who you are are the most crucial parts of your Land Acknowledgement. If you are at Western University, or in London, ON, your Land Acknowledgement should start with something like the words above. You must include the Nations and Treaties from the place you are located. You will learn more about Treaties in Parts III and IV.

Treaties made with Indigenous Nations are how and why non-Indigenous Peoples are able to live, work and play where they live today. Indigenous communities that are First Nations, are part of larger Nations that are not necessarily defined by their geographic reserve location. We talk about this more in part two, "Local Context."

When you acknowledge the Nations mentioned above, you are speaking to the intricate historical and contemporary relationships those Nations have with each other, this territory, and, you. When you acknowledge those Treaties, you are recognizing that you are a member of, and party to, those Treaties, and therefore you are acknowledging your rights and responsibilities within those agreements. This is why it is important to understand Land Acknowledgements are much more than words.

How do I find out which Indigenous Nations and Treaties cover the territory I live in?

Each of these tools can assist you in finding out which Nations and Treaties are in the territory you live in.

Image: Screenshot of North America from Native-land.ca

A note on place and Nations' names -

Indigenous Peoples have been in what is now known as North and South America, since time immemorial. Many Indigenous Peoples in Southwestern Ontario refer to North America as "Turtle Island," in reference to Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Creation Stories, which tell us we have been here since time immemorial. Some Indigenous Peoples include South America as part of 'Turtle Island' as well. Indigenous cultures and Nations are diverse and do not all have the same, or similar, Creation Stories. It is important to recognize this diversity. Many Indigenous Peoples are also reclaiming their languages, and with that, the original names of their Nations, communities and places. Where possible, use Indigenous Nations' names and place-names in the languages, in lieu of colonial place-names.

Image: Aerial view of water with cliff edge and words "Pause & Reflect: Where do I live? Which Indigenous Nation(s) are in the territory(ies) I live in? Which Treaties cover the territory(ies) I live in? How did I/my family come to live here?"

who is giving the land acknowledgement?

Now that you know where you live, and how you got there, it is important to reflect on who you are. Positionality matters when giving Land Acknowledgements.

There are many Indigenous perspectives on land acknowledgements, however, when delivered by an Indigenous person they are typically "situated within complex local political, spiritual, and diplomatic relationships that centre Indigenous peoples’ Treaty relationships, rights to land, place, and education both historically and culturally" (Brunette & Richmond 2017).

Land acknowledgements should shift according to the positionality of the person delivering one. For example, from a settler perspective, land acknowledgements should centre Indigenous Peoples, and Treaty relationships, as well as responsibilities towards reconciliation, but often include an acknowledgement of complicity in ongoing settler-colonialism.

reflection questions

  1. Who am I? What is my positionality?
  2. What is my relationship to the nation-state and/or Indigenous communities and Peoples?
  3. Am I complicit in settler-colonialism? How do I feel about this? Do I acknowledge these feelings?
  4. Why am I doing this land acknowledgement, personally?
  5. What Calls to Action are relevant to me? My discipline/field?
  6. What is my role in Reconciliation?
  7. How am I dismantling settler-colonial structures beyond this Land Acknowledgement?
  8. How can I write about commitments and actions towards decolonization, Reconciliation and supporting Indigenous reclamation, in a good way, from a genuine place?

consider that Land acknowledgements can be opportunity to disrupt colonial norms & Narratives

In summary (From he Guide for Working with Indigenous Students, 2017)

  • Land acknowledgements are cultural, political, and spiritual practices
  • The Reconciliation movement has increased land acknowledgement practices in educational settings
  • While land acknowledgements may differ based on the person delivering the acknowledgement and/ or the geographic context within which they are being delivered, land acknowledgements recognize Indigenous Peoples’ ongoing presence, sovereignty, traditional lands, and Treaties
  • Land acknowledgements often observe local Indigenous protocols and laws
  • Land acknowledgments may recognize harms committed against Indigenous Peoples
  • Land acknowledgments may also affirm a commitment to renewing relationships and reconciliation
  • Land acknowledgments do not simply recognize place; they educate and inspire people to move into meaningful action
Created By
Sara Mai Chitty
Appreciate

Credits:

Sara Mai Chitty; By CJLippert - Own work, Public Domain, (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5094676); Christi Belcourt "Wisdom of the Universe" (https://ago.ca/agoinsider/artists-statement-christi-belcourt-wisdom-universe); Dish With One Spoon (Indian Time: https://www.indiantime.net/story/2010/08/05/cultural-corner/the-dish-with-one-spoon/7510.html); Wampum by Jes Mason (https://theeyeopener.com/2021/03/opinion-before-you-state-a-land-acknowledgement-mean-it/); Ontario Government Map of Ontario First Nations ((https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontario-first-nations-maps); Sombra Treaty ref# 4138480, Library and Archives Canada (http://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.redirect?app=fonandcol&id=4138480&lang=eng)