Photo: Candace Wasacase Lafferty accepts CSLA and SALA Honorary Membership from Brad Wilson, SALA President, and Chris Grosset, CSLA Immediate Past President (June, 2023, in Saskatoon)
This CSLA's Guide to Land Acknowledgements is intended to offer baseline information to guide members and friends of the CSLA as they embark on developing a land acknowledgement.
It is not to be viewed as a standardized checklist; rather, it provides the important considerations you will need to understand as you develop a meaningful land acknowledgement.
You are encouraged to research your context and seek out guidance and understanding from Indigenous organizations in the area for which you are preparing your land acknowledgement.
At times, traditional Territories have not been resolved or may overlap between Inuit, Metis, and First Nations as their extent varied over generations and long histories. Fixing territories based on a point in time makes definitive boundaries challenging. It is recommended to be inclusive in these instances and to research the Indigenous historical context you will be speaking from, live, or practice.
What is a land acknowledgement?
Land acknowledgements are based on traditions and protocols of many Indigenous communities in Canada. They are a way for guests to recognize and show their respect for Indigenous communities and territories with which they are visiting and engaging.
Land acknowledgements are also a responsibility. They require the speaker to learn about the history of the land on which they work, live, and speak.
*Land Acknowledgements are not traditionally practiced in Inuit territories (see A Note about Inuit Nunangat)
Why are land acknowledgements important?
Recognition and respect are essential elements of establishing healthy, reciprocal relations - acknowledgements are one small part of disrupting and dismantling colonial structures. Delivering a land acknowledgement demonstrates gratitude, awareness, and recognition of Indigenous peoples and their traditional territories while disrupting euro-centric narratives. It is a necessary part of the reconciliation process as a way to recognize the history of colonialism and the need for change across Canadian society.
Our Responsibilities as Landscape Architects
The profession of landscape architecture can contribute to the national effort towards reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. Landscape architecture is concerned with relationships between people and the environment and offers an interdisciplinary approach that considers our environment in a holistic manner. The principles and goals of landscape architecture in Canada are well aligned with many of the values among Canada’s Indigenous cultures. Incorporation and consideration of Indigenous peoples, their values, their voices, and their knowledge in the planning, design and management of the Canadian landscape should be the goal of all landscape architects.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission defines ‘reconciliation’ as the establishment and maintenance of mutually respectful relationships between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous peoples. For that to happen, there has to be:
- Acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted
- Awareness of the past and atonement for the causes, and
- Action to change behaviour.
- What are the privileges settlers enjoy today because of colonialism?
- How can individuals develop relationships with peoples whose territory they are living on in the contemporary Canadian geopolitical landscape?
- What are you, or your organization, doing beyond acknowledging the territory where you live, work, or hold your events?
- What might you be doing that perpetuates settler colonial futurity rather than considering alternative ways forward for Canada?
- Do you understand the on-going violence and the trauma that is part of the structure of colonialism?
How do we do land acknowledgements?
Land acknowledgements should be a meaningful expression of your recognition for the Indigenous peoples and territory where the project, meeting, or gathering is located.
It’s important that a land acknowledgement change depending on where you are, what is happening, the issues being discussed, the communities involved, as well as what has been learned. This ensures that the Land Acknowledgement places the event, meeting, or gathering within the context of specific Indigenous histories and territories so that those participating keep this in mind.
Who should deliver them?
Land acknowledgements are undertaken by visitors, non-Indigenous residents, and Indigenous residents who live on another Nation’s traditional territory. They should not be confused with a territorial welcome, which is something an Indigenous person from that territory may provide when addressing guests.
When and where should they be delivered?
In most situations, land acknowledgment statements are shared orally at the beginning of an event. They can also be written and posted in physical and online spaces but this should supplement and not replace the protocol of a verbal land acknowledgement. For written statements, all the same guiding principles included throughout this guide apply.
Know your Goal
Before beginning work on your land acknowledgment statement, reflect on what your goal is (e.g. to inspire others to take action in supporting Indigenous communities). Preparing a thoughtful acknowledgement requires time and care. You may find it helpful to reflect on and research questions such as:
- How does this acknowledgement relate to the event or work you are doing?
- What is the history of this territory? What are the impacts of colonialism here?
- What is your relationship to this territory? How did you come to be here?
- What intentions do you have to disrupt and dismantle colonialism beyond this land acknowledgement?
Learn about the Land
Do your research to find out if the land you are gathering on is Treaty Territory, non-Treaty Territory, and/or part of Inuit Nunangat and/or Métis homelands. Find the names of local Indigenous peoples and communities who live in the area. A helpful resource to begin to identify territories and local nation is: https://native-land.ca/ but should be cross-referenced with other sources to ensure accuracy.
At times, traditional Territories have not been resolved between Nations as their extent varied over generations and long histories. Fixing territories based on a point in time makes definitive boundaries challenging. It is recommended to be inclusive in these instances.
Use the Correct Language and Pronunciation
Ensure that you are well informed by researching:
- pre and post settlement history of the land as well as related treaties
- correct pronunciation for the names of nations, communities, places, and individuals.
- use of appropriate identifying terms such as First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, rather than antiquated designations (e.g. Indian, native, etc.)
- use of terms like colonization, settler, assimilation, and stolen land to highlight actions taken in the past that have harmed Indigenous people.
- use of past, present, and future tenses thoughtfully. Indigenous people and cultures are alive and active - they are not a remnant of the past.
There are hundreds of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit groups in Canada, and many territorial names and titles that non-Indigenous people are not used to saying. Do not be afraid to ask questions and find out the names of Indigenous peoples connected with the territory, and how to correctly pronounce the names in your acknowledgement.
If you are not sure how to pronounce names, there are several ways to learn, including:
- Respectfully asking someone from that nation, community or from a local organization such as a Friendship Centre.
- Check the website of the nation, organization or community; they may have a phonetic pronunciation on their “About” page, an audio-recording of their name, or videos that include people saying the nation’s name.
- Searching for the name of the people, nation or community on social media is another way of finding videos with pronunciations.
- Call the nation, community or organization after hours and listen to their answering machine recording.
Make it Personal
Speaking from the heart about colonialism and your personal path on reconciliation is challenging but a good way to ensure your land acknowledgment is meaningful. Speak authentically to what you know: your own positionality, your background,(eg acknowledging you are a settler), your relationship to the land and with Indigenous Peoples, and your journey of reconciliation. Think also about why you are acknowledging the land and about how you are fulfilling your responsibilities as a person visiting or residing on that land.
Relate your experience and the meeting itself to the Indigenous people of the land. Here are some examples:
- “As a non-Indigenous person myself, I am committed to… [describe your commitment to actively working against colonialism, towards reconciliation].”
- “As a visitor on this land, coming from [describe your background], I strive to deepen my own understanding of the local Indigenous communities…. I commit to reframing my responsibilities to land and community.”
- “I come with respect for this land that I am on today, and for the people who have and do reside here.”
- “The reason for our meeting today is to discuss a project that involves natural resources and directly impacts Indigenous communities. We acknowledge the need for meaningful
- consultation with Indigenous communities.”
- “We acknowledge the contributions of [name Indigenous community] to the project/work we are involved in today.”
Land acknowledgements need to be part of all gatherings, including virtual meetings. Depending on the location of your participants, you may acknowledge the territory you are on and “all the territories” those joining you in the meeting are connecting from and suggest that others might let the group know on whose territory they are connecting from by going around the call or through the chat if available.
Land acknowledgements need to be part of all gatherings, including virtual meetings. Depending on the location of your participants, you may acknowledge all Indigenous groups, or research the First Peoples of the land you are on. Here are examples of land acknowledgements you can reference and personalize:
- “I would like to begin by acknowledging the Indigenous Peoples of all the lands that we are on today. While we meet today on a virtual platform, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the importance of the lands, which we each call home. We do this to reaffirm our commitment and responsibility in improving relationships between nations and to improving our own understanding of local Indigenous peoples and their cultures.
- From coast to coast to coast, we acknowledge the ancestral territory of all Inuit, Métis, and First Nations people that call this land home.
- Please join me in a moment of reflection to acknowledge the effect of residential schools and colonialism on Indigenous families and communities and to consider how, in our own way, each of us is trying to move forward in a spirit of reconciliation and collaboration.”
- As a remote team, we encourage our team members, clients, and partners to reflect on colonialism’s enduring legacy and engage in reconciliation meaningfully.
Other Ways to Acknowledge Land
Email signatures and websites can also include a land acknowledgement. They can be added to the signature block of an email or the home page of a website. Publications, reports and other formal documents may contain a land acknowledgement. Consider the physical space that you occupy, whether an office or facility, and explore ways you can ensure all visitors to your workplace are able to identify what traditional territory and land you are located on. For example, place a written land acknowledgement on a plaque in your lobby or common area.
The tradition of acknowledging territory is not a common practice among Inuit.
The Inuit homeland, Inuit Nunangat, stretches across Arctic lands and waters, comprising nearly one third of Canada's landmass, more than half of its coastline, and major marine areas, including land fast sea ice, inland waters and offshore areas. Inuit are a distinct rights-holding Indigenous People with their own history, identity, culture (including language) and way of life. Inuit Nunangat includes four separate regions, each with its own culture and history:
• Nunavik (Quebec)
• Nunatsiavut (Labrador)
• Inuvialuit Settlement Region (Northwest Territories and Yukon)
Although land acknowledgements are not common in Inuit Nunangat, there are protocols for opening a meeting among Inuit that may vary by location. Seek the guidance of the host community about ceremonial practices which can include but are not limited to: an opening prayer, a qudliq ceremony (the lighting of a traditional oil lamp), or opening remarks or storytelling by an Elder. Should you wish to provide a territorial acknowledgment in Inuit Nunangat, the wording depends on whether there exists a modern land claims agreement. For example: “We acknowledge we are meeting in Iqaluit on lands covered by the Nunavut Agreement and within Inuit Nunangat.”
The Indian Act, 1985 does not apply to Inuit.
Through the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, the Government of Canada and Inuit are renewing their relationship based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. Across Inuit Nunangat, there are five modern treaties (also known as land claims agreements), and a single Inuit Treaty Organization or Government:
- Inuvialuit Final Agreement (self-governing) - The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation
- Nunavut Agreement - Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated and the Government of Nunavut
- James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement - Makivik Corporation
- Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement - Makivik Corporation
- Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement - The Nunatsiavut Government
Acknowledgement and Other Ceremonial Practice
Although land acknowledgements are not common in Inuit Nunangat, there are protocols for opening a meeting among Inuit that may vary by location. Seek the guidance of the host community about ceremonial practices. Examples include (and are not limited to):
- An opening prayer
- A qudliq ceremony (the lighting of a traditional oil lamp)
- An Elder providing opening remarks and storytelling
Should you wish to provide a territorial acknowledgment in Inuit Nunangat, the wording depends on whether there exists a modern land claims agreement. For example, a meeting taking place in Iqaluit could include the following acknowledgement: “We acknowledge we are meeting in Iqaluit on lands covered by the Nunavut Agreement and within Inuit Nunangat.”