3.5 Acknowledgments of Indigenous People and Land

Linda Macdonald; Nicole Rathie; Margaret McLennon; Joshua Touw; Kayler Mutyabule; and Alana Michelin

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to

  • identify the Native Land on which you are living and attending university
  • explain the significance of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) Report for Canada and Canadian business
  • define your role as a citizen, permanent resident, or international student in Reconciliation
  • create a land acknowledgment
  • incorporate techniques to establish credibility and trust with Indigenous and non-Indigenous audience members.

The focus of this book is the developing and maintaining of business relationships through verbal and written communication. Our desire to create positive relationships and trust can be established in part through the sincere and authentic delivery of a land acknowledgment.

You may be called upon to deliver a land acknowledgement at an event, meeting, or ceremony. Your instructor may have delivered a Land Acknowledgment at the start of your university course, or you may have heard an acknowledgment at a sports event or theatre production. These acknowledgments recognize the First Nations, Métis, and/or Inuit territories from which the acknowledgment is delivered. They are essential for establishing respectful and reciprocal relations with the people on whose land we conduct economic activity. They also remind us that we are obligated to fulfill our agreements with Indigenous people; in much of Atlantic Canada, located in Mi’kma’qi, these covenants are laid out in the Treaties of Peace and Friendship.

Mi’kmaq people believe that everything needed to survive is provided by the lands (Ens et al., 2015; Hatala et al., 2020). Indigenous language and knowledge are meaningful in their interconnections to the land, spirit, and soul. Indigenous people have maintained their ways of life for thousands of years through sustainable nurture and care for the land (Redvers, 2020). Land Acknowledgments recognize the significant relationship between Indigenous people and land (Ens et al., 2015; Hatala et al., 2020; Redvers, 2020).

The health of lands and territory and Indigenous autonomy and self-governance are consistently under threat (Ens et al., 2015; Wilson, 2018). Acknowledgements of Indigenous People and Land remind us of historical and contemporary colonial violence, challenge the myth that settlers found an empty land waiting to be occupied, and voice the genocidal, colonial policies to eradicate Indigenous peoples (Huntington, 2021; Wark, 2021).

As part of a pledge to improve opportunities for Indigenous students and in response to the 2015 publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada final report, many Canadian Universities, local governments and businesses are either introducing or reaffirming their commitment to a public acknowledgement of Indigenous lands, treaties and peoples (Wilkes et al., 2017).

For settlers and people who are not Indigenous, the purpose of a land acknowledgement is to recognize that we are here on their land. Acknowledgments are a starting place to a change in how the land is seen and talked about. Additionally, they help redefine how people place themselves in relation to Indigenous people and the land they are on. They act as an introduction for non-Indigenous people to the land’s accurate colonial history and the importance of Indigenous self-governance of their territories (Huntington, 2021).

This video, produced in the United States, explains the importance of land acknowledgments.

 

(Direct link to #HonourNativeLand by the US Department of Arts and Culture video)

This chapter discusses why it is important that we acknowledge Indigenous peoples and territory, what you should do in preparation for delivering or writing an acknowledgment, and the steps to follow in creating a meaningful statement.

Why Acknowledge Territory?

In 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) began collecting the experiences and impacts of residential schools on Indigenous individuals and communities.  Their 2015 final report details the loss of identity and culture resulting from the separation of children from their families. The report states,

The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources. If every Aboriginal person had been “absorbed into the body politic,” there would be no reserves, no Treaties, and no Aboriginal rights.

To address the long history of physical and cultural genocide, the TRC created 94 “Calls to Action”.  Call to Action #92 addresses the responsibility of Business. The corporate sector is asked to

i. Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.

ii. Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.

iii. Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism. (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015)

[Note. The use of the word Aboriginal is no longer considered acceptable in reference to First Nations, Métis, or Inuit peoples.]

Presenting a Land Acknowledgment works toward “building respectful relationships” and furthers your training in intercultural competency and anti-racism.

In summary, we acknowledge territory to

  • celebrate our Indigenous communities and their stewardship of the land;
  • accept our colonial past and the impact of colonialism;
  • recognize that we have obligations to fulfill as outlined in the Treaties for our region;
  • demonstrate awareness of Indigenous land rights; and
  • move toward establishing respectful relationships.

Before Creating Your Acknowledgment

Before writing a Land Acknowledgment, build your knowledge about the land and its Indigenous peoples, look at issues with land acknowledgments, and consider actions you might take toward Reconciliation.

Explore the Land You Are on and Its Indigenous Peoples.

Begin your exploration by discovering where you are. Go to Native-Land.ca. Enter the location for your presentation. You may also wish to look at the territorial map of your birthplace or other places of significance to you.

Interactive map of Native lands

Image by Native-land.ca. Used with permission.

Learn about the history of the territory and its people. If you are in Atlantic Canada, you can explore the Mi’kmaq History Month site. This site contains information about Mi’kmaw history and experience through links to treaties, videos, and posters. Exploring the site provides an overview of the Mi’kmaw people and their connection to the earth. As business communicators, it is essential to know your audience and understand their world view.

In your acknowledgment, you can show respect by referring to the specific Indigenous peoples from the land you are on and the name of the territory. In a speech, pronounce these names correctly and use the correct grammatical form.

  • In much of Atlantic Canada, acknowledge the land as Mi’kma’ki , pronounced “Mi’ gma’gi” (“The university is located in Mi’kma’ki”).
  • Use the word Mi’kmaq to refer to these Indigenous people in the plural (“The relationship between settlers and the Mi’kmaq is decreed in the Peace and Friendship Treaties”).
  • Use Mi’kmaw to refer to a person in the singular or as an adjective (“The Mi’kmaw Nation retains rights to its unceded land”).

You may wish to greet your audience by saying hello in the Indigenous language of your territory. In Mi’kma’qi this word is kwe’. Only Indigenous leaders should welcome others onto their territory.

Explore Issues with Acknowledgments

Land Acknowledgments can be meaningful celebrations of Indigenous people and lands. Often, however, these acknowledgments fail to demonstrate movement toward Reconciliation because they are

  • formulaic and scripted rather than personal;
  • institutional requirements rather than authentic reflections; or,
  • disconnected from the event or meeting that it precedes.

The following video from the Baroness von Sketch Show illustrates the problem created when satisfying institutional obligations produces inauthentic results.

 

(Direct link to Land Acknowledgement on the Baroness von Sketch Show video)

Consider Actions You Can Take

To be meaningful and sincere, Land Acknowledgments should state what actions you will take toward Reconciliation. The Native Governance Center (USA) suggests that the focus of acknowledgments should be on “the all-important action steps for supporting Indigenous communities”: “[W]e encourage you to commit the bulk of your writing time to outlining the concrete ways that you plan to support Indigenous communities into the future. Otherwise, your land acknowledgement statement simply becomes yet another form of ‘optical allyship.’” Latham Thomas [2glowmaven] (2008) defines optical allyship as allyship that platforms the “ally” at the surface level but “doesn’t go beneath the surface and is not aimed at breaking away from the systems of power that oppress.”

Think about actions you can take toward Reconciliation. This commitment to action indicates that your acknowledgment is not merely performative but a sincerely motivated effort to dismantle colonialistic practices and develop just and mutual relationships with Indigenous people. For example, you might commit to

      • supporting Indigenous business,
      • learning about Indigenous peoples in your region,
      • fostering business relationships with Indigenous suppliers,
      • exposing business practices that devalue the Indigenous community and exploit people and the planet for profit,
      • identifying methods of systematically oppressing Indigenous people in business dealings and eliminating barriers,
      • recognizing the historic economic exclusion of Indigenous people and working toward eliminating inequalities, or
      • learning about sustainable economic development.

A genuinely expressed statement of action demonstrates your desire to establish positive, authentic relationships with both your Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences.

Creating Your Acknowledgment

Your Land Acknowledgment should be a personal statement, unique to you and the place and time in which you deliver it. In your statement you should do the following:

  1. Name the Indigenous territory on which your meeting or event takes place, and, if you are not residing in that location, the territory on which you are living. Also name the Indigenous people who live in your region and have acted as continuous stewards of the land, the water, and all its plants and animals.
  2. Explain who you are, why you came to this land, and what treaty(s) establish your relationship with the land and its people.  Are you here as a student? A settler? Have you immigrated to Canada? Why are you thankful to be here? What are the treaties or agreements that our ancestors committed to?
  3. State the actions you might take toward further Reconciliation.
  4. Connect the acknowledgment to the purpose of the meeting. Think about the purpose of your event or meeting. Consider the relevance of the Land Acknowledgment to this purpose.

Examples

Kwe‘. Today we meet on the land of the Mi’kmaw Nation to discuss the environmental impact of development on the WIlliam’s Lake watershed. As an immigrant to Canada and a settler on Mi’kma’ki, I am grateful to call this place my home. I recognize that in referring to this place as “home”, I am responsible for making sure that I understand my obligations under the Treaties of Peace and Friendship and for following the example of the Mi’kmaq in maintaining the health and well-being of all of its people, land, waters, plants, and creatures. I commit to this work and to ongoing  consultation with the Mi’kmaq before moving forward with this development. Wela’lin [Thank you].
Shé kon. Greetings to those watching today’s game. We come to you live from BMO Field in Tkaronto, part of the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and the Anishinaabe peoples.  Tkaronto consists of ceded lands covered in the Toronto Treaty 13 and the Williams Treaties, but also unceded lands that are contested today. It is our duty to be stewards of this land, treating it and the Indigenous peoples surrounding us with the respect and dignity they deserve. Together with Indigenous Sport & Wellness Ontario, we commit to providing sport, recreational, and physical activities that promote well-being in Indigenous communities. [Student-contributed example]
Kwe’ and welcome to you all. It is with great excitement that we are officially kicking off the 2021 Orientation week festivities. What an honour it is to stand together in Mi’kma’ki, the traditional and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. Being born and raised in a formally colonized country in East Africa, and feeling like what rightfully belonged to my people was once taken from them,  makes it dear to my heart to show respect and honour to all land and its Indigenous people. I am devoted to learning more about Indigenous people and the challenges they face and to working toward eliminating  inequalities. [Student-contributed example]

Kwe’.  It is with great appreciation that we are gathered today in Mi’kma’ki, the traditional and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq nation. Growing up in Unama’ki (Cape Breton) as a settler, I am deeply grateful to be welcomed on these lands that I call home. I honour the Peace and Friendship treaties that were signed, setting the terms of coexistence between settlers and the Mi’kmaq nations in 1726. This coexistence recognizes that the Mi’kmaq people hold rights and are a self-governing nation. It also recognizes that we all have a responsibility to uphold the treaties and work towards building respectful relationships. I’m committed to working on decolonizing myself, which involves constantly examining my beliefs and myself in relation to the land and Mi’kmaq people in Mi’kma’ki. [Student-contributed example]

Good morning, we are excited to welcome you to the Atlantic Small Business Conference. We are gathered here today in Mi’kma’ki, the traditional and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq.  Growing up in the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, I was able to learn from and respect the land I settled on. Acknowledging the land and historical genocide is the first step in reconciliation. By actively practicing allyship, being an equal opportunity employer, and building long term, meaningful economic, social, and environmental relationships, we as small businesses can further reconciliation. My experience and respect for the land inspires me to take action, support the TRC, and be an ally to Indigenous people. I hope you will join me in this important work for a just future; we are all treaty people. [Student-contributed example]

 

 

Deliver the Acknowledgment

Deliver the acknowledgment of Indigenous peoples and land extemporaneously– without a script, notes, or memorization. By delivering your message extemporaneously, you demonstrate your authenticity and heartfelt commitment. Your audience will see you as genuine and trustworthy, essential qualities for building lasting relationships.

Conclusion

A Land Acknowledgment at the start of a presentation is one way to demonstrate a commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Calls to Action and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is not, however, the end of your responsibility in working toward Reconciliation. Reconciliation is an ongoing process. Nor is it the end of your organization’s responsibility. Businesses further Reconciliation by building relationships with Indigenous communities, consumers and suppliers; contributing to economic developments that benefit Indigenous peoples; training employees for intercultural competency and appropriate conflict resolution;  and developing and employing Indigenous talent. As future business leaders, you have an essential role in moving Canada toward fair and respectful business practices.

Glossary

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the purpose of a Land Acknowledgment?
  2. As an InFocus APTN 2019 article states, some people question whether Land Acknowledgments are “useful in reconciliation or simply superficial platitudes meant to give the illusion of honour and respect for Indigenous land and nations.” What techniques can you use to convey sincerity in your delivery of a land acknowledgment?
  3. Effective Land Acknowledgments do not simply announce the territory of Indigenous peoples and the treaties that establish our relationship. The Land Acknowledgment should state the action(s) that will be taken toward Reconciliation. What actions can you take as residents of this Indigenous land and as future business leaders?

References

APTN. (February 27, 2019). Questioning he usefulness of land acknowledgments. InFocus. https://www.aptnnews.ca/infocus/questioning-the-usefulness-of-land-acknowledgements/

Ens, E. J., Pert, P., Clarke, P. A., Budden, M., Clubb, L., Doran, B., Douras, C., Gaikwad, J., Gott, B., Leonard, S., Locke, J., Packer, J., Turpin, G., & Wason, S. (2015). Indigenous biocultural knowledge in ecosystem science and management: Review and insight from Australia. Biological Conservation, 181, 133–149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2014.11.008

Harper, C.H. (2020, June 3). If you want to be anti-racist, this non-optical allyship guide is required reading. Vogue. https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/non-optical-ally-guide

Hatala, A.R., Njeze, C., Morton, D., Pearl, T. , & Bird-Naytowhow, K. (2020). Land and nature as sources of health and resilience among Indigenous youth in an urban Canadian context: A photovoice exploration. BMC Public Health, 20 (1), 538. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-08647-z

Huntington, H.P. (2021). What do Land Acknowledgments acknowledge? Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 63 (4), 31-35. https: //doi.org/10.1080/00139157.2021.1924579

Mi’kmaq History Month. (n.d.).Wi’kipatmu’k Mi’kmawey: Honouring of the Mi’kmaw way. https://mikmaqhistorymonth.ca/

Native Governance Center (n.d.). Beyond Land Acknowledgment. https://nativegov.org/beyond-land-acknowledgment/

Redvers, J. (2020). “The land is a healer”: Perspectives on land-based healing from Indigenous practitioners in northern Canada. International Journal of Indigenous Health, 15(1), 90–107. https://doi.org/10.32799/ijih.v15i1.34046

Sterritt, A. (2020). Reconciliation in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/reconciliation-in-canada

Thomas, L. [@glowmaven]. (2018). There are people who are truly energized and moved to work to improve the lives of marginalized people. https://www.instagram.com/p/BiPDZkbFJFY

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Calls to Action. https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf

Wark, J. (2021) Land Acknowledgements in the academy: Refusing the settler myth. Curriculum Inquiry, 51 (2), 191-209. https://doi.org/10.1080/03626784.2021.1889924

Wilkes, R., Duong, A., Kesler, L. and Ramos, H. (2017). Canadian University acknowledgment of Indigenous lands, treaties, and peoples. Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue canadienne de sociologie, 54, 89-120. https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.dal.ca/10.1111/cars.12140

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Building Relationships With Business Communication by Linda Macdonald; Nicole Rathie; Margaret McLennon; Joshua Touw; Kayler Mutyabule; and Alana Michelin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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