This Land Acknowledgement...

April 18, 2023
Ruth Green, Associate Professor, Indigenous Research, Guest and Host Relationships - York University

This Land Acknowledgement… 

Has become a check box… 

Do you know who these Nations are…? 

Is it not just performative… 

These statements/questions/ponderings are common, and now more than ever it is important to engage in deeper conversation and dialogue about relationships and responsibilities.  

A Land Acknowledgement or Territorial Statement is a beginning step in understanding the occupation of Indigenous Lands. It is not where responsibilities end. The Indigenous Protocols Guide that has been prepared for Congress 2023 includes a history and explanation of the York University Land Acknowledgement. It speaks to the Nations and the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt. There is also a section, explaining when and who should to do a Land Acknowledgement:  

         We expect that host, coordinator or organizers will provide their own reflections of the land acknowledgement and offer “food for thought” for participants in their session…. Instead of opting out, completely opt in! When giving the Land Acknowledgement make it relevant to the meeting/event and if you can personalize it, all the better.  

In this blog, it is my intent to share more about what this statement means to me. In writing that we hope people will offer “food for thought,” we are asking them to reflect on the privileges they have gained by living on occupied territories, and to link those privileges to the work that is being shared in the session while making tangible commitments to solidarity.  

In suggesting that people completely opt in, we are asking for relationships that are reciprocal and respectful. We are asking that as you enter into these territories, you give (both in thanksgiving and in physical ways) to the ancestors past and future—that you are open to the learnings and teachings of the Anishinaabe Nations and Haudenosaunee Confederacy.  

The notion that a Land Acknowledgement is a check box that is not “mandatory” is problematic. It is only a check box if it is read without commitment and feeling. It should not be something the reader stumbles through without reflecting on what it means for them to be reading words that are usually penned by the Indigenous people at an institution (as the York Land Acknowledgement was). If you have read a Land Acknowledgement for your own institution, have you found out who worked on the development of that Land Acknowledgement? Have you taken the responsibility to understand why specific words were chosen? Have you committed to making it personal? 

For me, it is personal. It is about acknowledging my ancestors who fought against colonial structures so I can proudly say today “I am Haudenosaunee.” 

Care taken or taken care of… 

I could tell many stories of why the words in the York Land Acknowledgement are intentional. One sentence that I hear altered, and for me, changes its meaning is, “The area known as Tkaronto has been care taken by the Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Huron-Wendat.” Should it be care taken or taken care of? This line is intentional. It is about relations. It is about stewardship. When I hear it read as “taken care of” I think of this sign written in Innu, French, English and Naskapi. Each language is thought to communicate the same or similar thing, but in reality worldviews and relationship to Land are understood differently. 

The Anishnabek Nations, sometimes called the Three Fires Confederacy, is made up of three original nations (Ojibway (Chippewas), Odawa and Potawatomi Nations) with others joining at later dates. One of the central teachings of the Anishnabek Nations is the Seven Grandparent teachings. These teachings are about ethics and expectations about how one is to behave. They consist of seven ideas/words that guide ethical life: Love, Respect, Truth, Honesty, Wisdom, Bravery, and Humility.

The Haudenosaunee have the Great Laws of Peace that were explained to us by our Great Peacemaker who taught us to live with a good mind, free and clear of alteration. Haudenosaunee give thanks for all of Creation, as the earth, the waters, the trees, the grasses, the flyers, the crawlers and four legged continue to uphold and preform their responsibilities in line with the cycles and stages of the seasons and life. Often instead of reading a Land Acknowledgement, Haudenosaunee people recite the Thanksgiving Address (the Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen)

So, when you gather at York this spring, will you listen to or read the Land Acknowledgement with feeling, commitment and awareness? Will you hear how we wrote these words with intention and responsibility? 

As you think about how to build relations or offer support, you may also want to consider making a monetary donation to an Indigenous-led organization working in local Tkaronto communities. We welcome you to this territory and look forward to building good relations.