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Land Acknowledgements: More than just ‘Token Pieces’

They Remind us Where we Come From and are Fundamental in Reconciliation
Land Acknowledgement at Ontario Shores
Published Date

They Remind us Where we Come From and are Fundamental in Reconciliation

I believe we cannot change what we cannot see. In order to engage in healthy conversations and truly understand the purpose of acknowledging the land we stand on, we must all step back from our often narrow perceptions of experiences to consider not only ours, but others perspectives with humility, open-mindedness, and flexible thinking. We have to be courageous in order to respectfully examine another lens, as well are our own, gently but firmly. In particular, two points of debate stand out for me and I hope that, through this journey of words we can help unpack and resolve these particular queries and concerns: 1) Why do we need to do them, they don’t apply to me and 2) What if I don’t say it “right” and I offend someone.

I encourage us to begin this journey by pondering two fundamental questions and subsequent answers: 1) what are we doing them for and 2) what does it mean to acknowledge the land itself.  

Acknowledging the land is not a new concept for Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Peoples have thanked the land for all she provides for us to live a good life since time immemorial and you only need to look as far as the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address to the Natural World to see this demonstrated. The current form of Land Acknowledgements have arisen over more recent years from land claims and treaty rights. Though Land Acknowledgements are not part of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action specifically, they have become woven into the very fabric of Truth and Reconciliation.

Land Acknowledgements support a number of deeply important factors such as: 1) allowing us to better recognize and understand, show respect and gratitude for the traditional territories and the Peoples who lived on this land, took care of this land, long before settlers arrived, 2) creating and supporting allyships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, 3) humbly reminding us that reconciliation is not an ‘Indigenous thing’ but something that concerns all of us who live on Turtle Island, and 4) coming to understanding and embracing them as guides and teachers for us all who live on this Earth, our first Mother.

Land Acknowledgements help us move together in allyship in a Good Way meaning coming from a place of honouring spirit and traditional ways of being with Creation. One only needs to explore the Anishinaabe 7 Grandfather Teachings: Humility, Honesty, Respect, Courage, Wisdom, Truth, and Love to comprehend what it means to ‘go in a Good Way’. The 7 Grandfather Teachings challenge us to look beyond our human ego-focused perspectives and grasp a simple truth: All Relations in Creation (including humans) have a deeply symbiotic relationship with our Earth Mother, to understand it is She whom we all come from. So next time you’re sitting to a meal, stop and look at your food, then thank Mother Earth for providing it for you. Her provisions in supporting all life on Turtle Island demands respect from us all.

Finally, I encourage we each step outside the boxes of our own limited biases with courage to reach towards and engage with allyship change, and for you to reflect on the following words: 

  • Where do you think we actually come from (hint: I’m not talking about your birth parents). Who and What should we be grateful to for the life we are walking in this moment? Ask yourselves: How long could we survive without the sacred Elements: Water, Air, Earth, and Fire, the plants (our aunties and uncles), and the animals (our brothers and sisters), these things we tend to take for granted. 
  • For me, the journey of acknowledging the land or Land Acknowledgement starts with the Original Creation Story Teachings of the Haudensaunee People (the Iroquois People), the People I come from. Our Creation Story is long with many parts, so I will simply share one piece here. When it came to creating humans, we are told that Creator or Great Spirit crafted us from the mud, from the Earth herself. In her book The Clay We Are Made Of, Susan M Hill explores the literal translation of the Mohawk word Otara or clan, she writes: “when one asks another what clan they belong to, the question literally translates to “what clay are you made of?” (pg 5). Further to this, Hill explores deeply held teachings, spanning generations of Indigenous cultures, whose Elders and Knowledge Keepers tell us: the land itself does not belong to humans, but rather that we belong to the Earth
  • True allyship must come from a place of genuineness and the authentic self. For true change to happen, we must learn to see all perspectives, then, from an informed place of wisdom, we can turn our humble knowledge into healthy action towards honouring Truth and Reconciliation and the land itself. It is therefore our responsibility to make sure Land Acknowledgements don’t become ‘token pieces’ i.e. “land acknowledgement done: check”, then ‘wipe my hands and move on’.

If you are hesitant and unsure where to start when crafting your own Land Acknowledgement, remember it’s okay to ask for support and guidance; you are not expected to ‘know the right way’. The critical element is that you are trying in a Good Way with good intention.

May you go in a Good Way.