June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada. Since the establishment of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008, significant progress has been made toward normalizing conversations around the true history of our country. One method of addressing historical wrongs and honouring Indigenous peoples is through land acknowledgements.
A land acknowledgement, broadly, is some form of recognition, usually in the form of a statement at the beginning of an event, of the Indigenous peoples on whose land the event is occurring. Such acknowledgements have become common in countries with a history of colonization like Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand – particularly in academic circles.
Land acknowledgements are, at their core, a statement of relationship – relationship to the land, to other beings, both human and non-human, and to the historical context in which we find ourselves. Indigenous cultures are often rooted deeply in the importance of relationship, and many have been conducting introductions in ways like this since time immemorial. Incorporating Indigenous perspectives into our collective worldview is key to moving forward in a productive way as a society. This acknowledgement of relationship and context is an excellent place to start, particularly as we continue to work towards greater equity.
While land acknowledgements are an important starting point in our efforts toward reconciliation, we really shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back too much. Racism and injustice against Indigenous people in Canada are still very much alive; and for many organizations and individuals that regularly conduct land acknowledgements, the original intent in doing so was to demonstrate a commitment to reconciliation and decolonization as more than buzzwords.
With these kinds of acknowledgements becoming increasingly common in many spaces, it’s important to think critically about our motivations for conducting land acknowledgements and how best to go about doing so. “What may start out as radical push-back against the denial of Indigenous priority and continued presence, may end up repurposed as ‘box-ticking’ inclusion without commitment to any sort of real change. In fact, I believe this is the inevitable progression, a situation of familiarity breeding contempt (or at least apathy),” says Métis public intellectual, Chelsea Vowel, on her blog âpihtawikosisân (https://apihtawikosisan.com/2016/09/beyond-territorial-acknowledgments/).
To conduct a meaningful and well thought-out land acknowledgement is a powerful act of good will and support towards Indigenous peoples. It is a first step toward breaking the cycle of colonial violence. This is why we should be wary of cheapening the ideas of allyship and solidarity by allowing land acknowledgements to become a mindless checklist item in the conducting of business as usual. As Vowel hints, one of the purposes that a land acknowledgement serves is to disrupt the tacit acceptance of Indigenous erasure.
It’s important to take time during Indigenous History Month to reflect on how colonialism has impacted all our worldviews. Non-Indigenous people in Canada, no matter how long their families have lived here, benefit in some way from colonialism, colonial structures, and the oppression and silencing of Indigenous peoples. Think of how you can support and uplift Indigenous voices this month. Consider donating to a charity or fundraiser supporting Indigenous folks if you have the resources. If not, be sure to check out some of the educational resources below and tell a friend about what you learn.
- Aubrianna Snow, Vice President Student Life
https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1466616436543/1534874922512 – GC National Indigenous History Month Homepage
http://www.trc.ca/ – Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Website
https://native-land.ca/territory-acknowledgement/ – Info about land acknowledgements. This website also has a cool feature for finding out whose land you’re on.
https://www.cbc.ca/books/35-books-to-read-for-national-indigenous-history-month-1.5585489 – CBC’s 35 Books to Read for National Indigenous History Month
Organizations to Donate to:
http://legacyofhope.ca/get-involved/ – Legacy of Hope Foundation – Works to raise awareness of residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, and other forms of violence against Indigenous peoples
https://www.nwac.ca/ – Native Women’s Association of Canada – Aggregate of many Indigenous women’s organizations across Canada, engages in advocacy for the rights of Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit, and LGBTQ+ people
https://moosehidecampaign.ca/get-involved/donation-campaigns – Moose Hide Campaign – Grassroots organization of Indigenous and non-Indigenous men and boys working to prevent violence against women and children
https://indspire.ca/ways-to-give/donate/ – Indspire – Organization working to promote education for Indigenous students through scholarships and programs