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Indigenous Studies

This guide provides resources related to the interdisciplinary field of Indigenous Studies.

What is a land acknowledgement?

In Canada, a land or territorial acknowledgement is a necessarily political statement which recognizes the ongoing relationships between Indigenous Peoples and the land within the context of colonialism. This statement is often made by the host of a gathering as a way to acknowledge the true history of the land on which the gathering is being held.

Land acknowledgements have become more common over the last several years and have at times been criticized for being a surface-level engagement with reconciliatory processes. There has been an increased interest in how to make land acknowledgements more meaningful so that they go beyond being a checklist item.

A land acknowledgement may be seen as an educational opportunity, for the writer as well as for their audience. It can be a process of reflection as one considers their own relationship to the land and to the shared histories between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Joseph Pierce, Cherokee Nation Citizen and Associate Professor of Latin American and Indigenous Studies at Stony Brook University has shared these thoughts:

And the land said to your “acknowledgement”: thank you, now return me to myself. [1]

And then, after returning to itself, the land said “what happens to me, also happens to you.” And the people realized, that returning the land to itself is also returning themselves…to themselves. [2]

The people, having returned the land to the land, and themselves to each other, understood the meaning of time differently now. They understood, now, that the future was already here. [3]

I’ve posted a couple of thoughts on land acknowledgements recently, but the point is this: an acknowledgement is not the same as a relationship. Land does not require that you confirm it exists or that it has been stolen, rather that you reciprocate the care that it has given to you. [4]

Elaboration: The land and water and air, the territory, exists regardless of the acknowledgement, which is only ever a first step. Next steps involve treating territory as kin, building relationships with land itself, as if it were your kin. Because it is. [5]

Elaboration 2: to acknowledge the land on the terms laid out by liberal or multicultural inclusion is only to repeat the hubris of anthropocentrism. To acknowledge the land on the land’s terms is to act in reciprocity. [6]

In other words: if decolonization is not a metaphor, then land acknowledgements cannot be metaphorical. [7]

Additional Resources:

Land Acknowledgements at Okanagan College

“A land acknowledgement is something that everyone should be doing, acknowledging that they are here on the unceded territory of the Syilx people. A land welcome to our traditional territory is something that is only appropriate for a Syilx person to do. Just like if we had visiting dignitaries to Canada from somewhere else, it would be appropriate for them to acknowledge their host. It would not be appropriate for them to welcome other dignitaries to Canada.” Pamela Barnes, Syilx Okanagan Knowledge Keeper

Okanagan College Campuses

The Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton campuses are located on the traditional and unceded territory of the Syilx Okanagan People. The Salmon Arm campus is located on the traditional and unceded territory of the Secwépemc People. The Revelstoke centre is located on the traditional and unceded territories of the Ktunaxa, Secwépemc, Sinixt and Syilx Okanagan Peoples.

What does it mean when we say that the land is unceded?
Unceded refers to land that was never surrendered through treaty or war. In Canada, some traditional territories were ceded through the treaty process while others remain unceded.

First Nations Communities within OC's Service Area

Virtual Land Acknowledgements

Land acknowledgements during online gatherings are different as participants may be joining in from geographically diverse locations. If you are the host of the meeting it would be appropriate to acknowledge the land on which you are personally situated as well as recognizing that participants may be joining from other territories. If you are representing a particular institution/organization, acknowledge the land on which the institution is situated. Depending on the size or nature of the gathering, you may invite others to share their land acknowledgement, verbally or in the chat function.

Creating Land Acknowledgements

As Xwi7xwa Library notes, "there are no true "best practices" for creating a land acknowledgement, as they are all unique to the place, Nations, communities and relationships being acknowledged." These resources may be helpful in creating a meaningful land acknowledgement.

Kyle Shaughnessey, Educational Consultant at UBC, suggests three considerations when creating a land acknowledgement:

  • Educate yourself: what is the history of the territory and the people, what are the impacts of colonization on those lands and people, what is your and/or your organization’s commitment to reconciliation;
  • Go beyond acknowledgement: how can you embed Indigenous representation or perspectives into your course or event, how can you connect your event to the land;
  • Relationality: what is your relationship to the land you are on or that you have an ongoing connection with (where you were born, raised, lived, worked), where have you come from, what community are you from and/or what brought you and/or your ancestors to this place.

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