Whose land do you live on? The Importance of Land Acknowledgment

By Kristy Ware | Blog

Apr 19

My heart is beating fast, fluttering with butterflies in my stomach. I’m about to begin my presentation, a wellness workshop I’ve presented many times before. I’m not nervous about the subject matter or the delivery. I’m nervous about giving my very first land acknowledgement.

“I would like to acknowledge that I live, learn, work and play on the unceded, traditional ancestral territory of the Sylix Okanagan First Nations.” I said with less confidence than I would have liked.

I’ve been on stages and virtual platforms speaking for years but up until a few years ago someone else had always introduced me and done an official land acknowledgment. Prior to that, it wasn’t something I always did.

After self-reflecting on this experience, I discovered that my nervousness was because I felt I didn’t know enough about First Nation peoples or the reason for making a land acknowledgment. Ignorance and fear were holding me back: two obstacles to creating inclusion.

I did what any inquisitive person would do— I started doing some research. I needed to educate myself and let go of my fear of stumbling or pronouncing something incorrectly. Those were the very things that would block my way to greater awareness. I believe the things that hold us back in life carry lessons, if we’re open and willing to see them. This was my lesson.

If you’re feeling any of the things I was feeling just a few short years ago then I invite you to keep reading. The more we know on a subject the more educated decisions we can make moving forward.

Below is a quick overview of what I learned and I hope it inspires you to become more connected to the land you live on, and the indigenous people of your land; past, present and future. I also hope it helps you understand the reasons for making a land acknowledgement.

Why are land acknowledgments important?

Making a land acknowledgement does five very important things:

  1. It’s a way to express gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory we reside on.
  2. It’s a way to honour the Indigenous people who have lived and worked on this land historically and presently.
  3. It’s a way to acknowledge the vital relationship between Indigenous People and the land.
  4. It’s a way to recognize the traumas colonialism has inflicted and continues to have, knowing that more work needs to be done to reconcile the destructive effects.
  5. It’s a way to celebrate and empower Indigenous communities.

What does unceded traditional territory mean?

Most people, myself included up until very recently, live their lives having no understanding of how their community came to be or what existed on their land historically. In order to develop an appreciation and acknowledgement for something we first need to understand the terminology.

The term unceded means that First Nations people never legally signed (ceded) away their lands to the Crown of Canada (Queen Elizabeth II). Their land was taken from them without consent. They were displaced and their land stolen.

Traditional territory refers to the region identified by First Nation people as the land their ancestors inhabited since the time of inception, before colonizers intruded and overtook the land.

Which brings us to colonialism. Colonialism is a practice or policy where people in power control others or areas of land, establish colonies with the goal to overtake a group of people through economic dominance.

Colonizers (AKA settlers) to Canada exuded power and control over First Nations imposing their religion, language, economic and cultural practices to gain economic dominance. During this process, First Nations peoples were stripped of who they were as people and colonization took place.

I invite you, as I have done, to consider your part in colonialism.

Do you know the name of the territory you reside on?

Do you take pride in caring for the land in your community?

Have you ever purchased native art that wasn’t created by an Indigenous artist?

Have you worn clothing or costume pieces that belong to First Nation peoples without their permission?

Have you utilized Indigenous customs without fully understanding the history and impact?

It’s important to know that our choices, ill natured or not, can have a detrimental impact on those around us. I believe we can all do better. We can make choices each day that are honourable instead of unjust. We can each make a stand to support the reconciliation process by making some very small but important decisions and actions.

Do you know which traditional territory do you live on?

Knowing whose land you reside on is the first small but important step towards honouring the survivors of the harmful and horrendous abuse at residential schools, their families, those who have suffered intergenerational traumas, violence, oppression and discrimination here in Canada.

Taking the time to look up what land you live on will help educate and connect you and your family to your community.

Looking at my past, I was born and raised on the traditional territory of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas First Nation peoples (Hamilton, Ontario). As an adult I’ve lived on the Sinixt and the Ktunaxa peoples (Nelson, BC), the Coast Salish peoples (Vancouver) and I currently reside on the Sylix peoples land (Okanagan, BC).

To find out where you reside, head over to: https://www.whose.land/en/

Here you will find an interactive map and more information on the land you live on.

What is reconciliation between Canada and First Nation Peoples?

As I learn more about my own family’s historical journey, I’m also learning more about the land I call home. Colonialism has caused great devastation to those who’ve come before us and to those who presently live here. The more I learn the more it saddens me to think that my ancestors had a part in the destruction.

It’s only in the past few years I’ve come to understand what truth and reconciliation means and its importance. Truth and reconciliation is a process designed to ensure the basic qualities of life are honoured for all. It’s an ongoing process by which First Nation peoples and the Crown establish and maintain respect. This means living together with a lens that fosters strong, healthy and sustainable communities within Canada.

Truth and Reconciliation Day is on September 30 each year and it coincides with Orange Shirt Day, a Canadian statutory holiday that recognizes the tradition of the Canadian Indian residential school system.

This is an important initiative and this process must be understood and taken seriously. It’s not an “us and them” situation. It’s a human being situation. In order to recognize the tragic legacy of residential schools, the missing children, families left behind and survivors of these institutions we must first acknowledge that these tragedies existed. Then we must vow to be better, do better as we unpack the tragedies of the past and work together to create equitable and supportive spaces now and in the future.

Why make a land acknowledgment?

One of the most important things I’ve learned while doing research on First Nations land and the importance of making a land acknowledgment is that it’s not meant to be a scripted, static statement that gets shared by every person in the exact same way. It goes beyond that. It’s about making a connection with the territory you reside on, the people who still reside there, connecting with the land itself and all that has been shared with you as a result. As a nature lover and someone who feels very connected to Mother Earth, making a land acknowledgment just makes sense.

As a social being, I enjoy getting to know those who reside in my community, connecting with the trees and plants that grow in my area, showing gratitude for the water I drink and play in, the air I breathe and all the bounty that’s made possible. These values have helped to create a more intimate connection to the Earth, the world around me, myself and my body. By taking these steps I have begun to appreciate and care for the world around me with a new lens.

In conclusion, there is always more to learn and the only way to get better at anything is with practice. With repeated exposure and a keen interest in understanding why we do something and its impact on those around us we can create a better future.

The next time you prepare to make a land acknowledgement be sure to ask yourself the five questions shared above. I’m someone who likes to know the “why” behind my actions. This is not something we should do ‘just for the sake of doing it.’ Gaining a true understanding and a personal connection to your words will speak volumes. As always, taking conscious action is always better than doing nothing at all.

Are you an individual or organization looking to learn more about how you can dismantle the obstacles to workplace inclusion? If so, I invite you to check out my book by going HERE:

https://kristyware.com/dismantling-the-obstacles-to-inclusion/

If you need guidance on how to create your own land acknowledgement, here’s a helpful website: https://www.careaboutclimate.org/blog/five-steps-to-writing-a-land-acknowledgement

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