By Stryker Calvez and Rose Roberts
Five years after the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, Land Acknowledgements are still gaining strength as an important component of the University landscape. In fact, it is more common to notice when this statement has been missed at an event, meeting or in a course than when it is present. More often than not we have people tell us about how uncomfortable someone got when they didn’t hear the land acknowledgement at the beginning of a proceeding, and the lengths people have gone to right this wrong. These stories are a testament to the power of this protocol, its intended purpose, and the readiness of people and society to embark on the journey toward reconciliation.
Five years after the TRC report, the concerns for land acknowledgements are not about whether or not to use them, but how to use them with more purpose, conviction and integrity. Our colleagues are eager to be more prepared to meaningfully engage in supporting and carrying their part of reconciliation forward. This recognized responsibility is not just for themselves, but for their friends, family, students and close colleagues. And, they are doing it for the next generations, our children and grandchildren, who will benefit from a society that is whole and not afflicted by colonization. Lastly, many people are doing land acknowledgements because they care and love the land that provides so much for all of us; the same land that has shaped and nurtured the Indigenous Peoples of Saskatchewan for millennia.
This last point is truly what the land acknowledgement is about, the recognition of place – the land, the sky, the water, the plants and the animals – and the people who are of this land. After thousands of years of intimate interaction and relationship, the land and its people have become immutably connected, which makes Indigenous Peoples of this land — physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
Before the TRC report, many non-Indigenous people struggled with this Indigenous spiritual notion of relationship to the land and to place (what the Cree people call wahkohtowin). Post-TRC, the land acknowledgement has become a doorway for many people to gain greater awareness and understanding about the role of place and its impact on people. With this emerging understanding they have begun to reflect on how this place they now call home is leaving an indelible mark on each one of us.
To this effect, by incorporating land acknowledgements in your work, you are contributing to the process of honouring and embracing the spirit of a place, with all of its wisdom, knowledge and compassion, and invoking that spirit in support of doing things in a good way. And nowhere is it said that you cannot personalize your land acknowledgement, in fact we highly recommend it. There is the risk that a formal land acknowledgement that everyone uses can become commonplace, and it is the personalized ones that people have repeatedly told us had an impact on them.
We have been offering land acknowledgement workshops at GMCTL for a while now, and here are some examples of personalized land acknowledgements (we did receive permission from the individuals to share publicly):
I live and work on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis. The Indigenous nations who entered into Treaty 6 are the Cree, Dene, Saulteaux, and Nakota. I also recognize the Dakota and Lakota, who too have lived here long before contact. Let us pay our respect to the ancestors of this place. May our relationships with the land teach us to live and work in good relationship with one another. (Stephanie Frost, BC Member, Coordinator Online Support, GMCTL)
I acknowledge that we are gathered on Treaty 6 Territory and Homeland of the Métis. I pay respects to the original caretakers and warriors of this place: the Cree, Dene, Saulteaux, Anishinaabe, Blackfoot, the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Nations, and my people, the Métis. Spanning the past, present, and future, I affirm the relationships we have to each other, including our relations to the animals and insects that inhabit the water, land, and sky. I also recognize the relationship and responsibility we have to the lands of Treaty 6; the quiet creeks and rushing rivers, the rustling grasses and sprawling forests, the brilliant palettes of the skies, the roots that grip the soil, and the earth beneath our feet. (Jennifer Sedgewick, Research Assistant, College of Medicine)
I come here as a visitor on the Treaty Six territory. I realize that this beautiful land is the homeland of the First Nation and Metis ancestors, and I respect their culture and rights fully and deeply with humbleness. (Yanhua Liu, Visiting Scholar (China), College of Engineering)
By engaging in personalizing the land acknowledgement, you are participating in a process of respecting the relationships between the land and all that live within it: all our relations. Acknowledging the Land is a timeless tradition that has been and will be around as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the river flows.