Territorial Acknowledgement

For Indigenous peoples, land acknowledgements honour the territory of diverse communities by recognizing the relationship that exists between the people and land. They also illustrate the way that Indigenous communities practice values of respect and etiquette when visiting a territory that is not their home.

Wemigwans and MacKay
(2023, 4)

Acknowledging the Indigenous territories we are situated within has increasingly become a standard practice at post-secondary and community events. Beyond simply reading the official territorial acknowledgment of their given institution, faculty are encouraged to understand how and why we give acknowledgement and to develop thoughtful and reflexive acknowledgements when used. However, giving a territorial or land acknowledgement is complicated by the critiques of how these practices have become institutionalized and evacuated of their meaning.

Acknowledging the land that a university occupies or that a gathering takes place on through naming the people who are in Indigenous relationship to that land is a growing social justice practice. Universities are settler institutions in that they occupy Indigenous lands as a result of the growth of property and public space facilitated by modern nation-states.

Theresa Stewart-Ambo and K. Wayne Yang
(2021, 22)

When acknowledgements are given within a university context in a repeated recitation of the institution’s official statement, especially by non-Indigenous members, it can reinforce the settler colonial power structures that shape the relationship between educational institutions and Indigenous peoples and communities (King 2019).

Considering the havoc that has been created by settlers through the institutionalization of land acknowledgements, we look to Indigenous knowledge systems and practices that teach the necessary ontological orientation of relationality through the practice of gratitude with the human and more-than-human world. We imagine this as a way of cultivating land-based education that centres Indigenous knowledge that includes an unsettling of settler colonialism to support and honour the practice of land acknowledgements as it has always been intended.

Jennifer Wemigwans and Lanna MacKay

To address the above critiques and limitations of non-Indigenous territorial or land acknowledgements, many groups have suggested more thoughtful approaches to crafting and giving acknowledgement. For instance, according to Theresa Stewart-Ambo and K. Wayne Yang, “settler land acknowledgments are not the same as Indigenous protocols… What kinds of relationships do settler acknowledgments actually name? What impacts do practitioners and advocates for acknowledgments hope these statements will have? What impacts do these practices actually have?” (2021, 28).

Online resources, such as native-land.ca, propose similar questions and offer more detailed prompts for building acknowledgements.

While a brief acknowledgement may work for some groups, others wish to add more intention and detail to acknowledgements. To thoughtfully prepare an in-depth acknowledgement requires time and care. You may find it helpful to reflect on and research questions such as:

  1. Why is this acknowledgement happening?
  2. How does this acknowledgement relate to the event or work you are doing?
  3. What is the history of this territory?
  4. What are the impacts of colonialism here?
  5. What is your relationship to this territory?
  6. How did you come to be here?
  7. What intentions do you have to disrupt and dismantle colonialism beyond this territory acknowledgement?

Territory Acknowledgement

While critiques of land acknowledgements require careful reflection on what role non-Indigenous people play in upholding settler colonialism, Stewart-Ambo and Yang suggest that we reject “formulaic scripts for approaching land acknowledgment … [and] move beyond perfunctory and rote gestures that serve as excuses and alibies for settler institutions” (2021, 42). In doing so, they propose centring “Indigenous relationality, land pedagogy, and accountability to place and Native peoples. Land acknowledgments are not the end; they are a beginning and should lead to greater institutional responsibility” (41).

If we think of territorial acknowledgments as sites of potential disruption, they can be transformative acts that, to some extent, undo Indigenous erasure. I believe this is true as long as these acknowledgments discomfit both those speaking and hearing the words. The fact of Indigenous presence should force non-Indigenous peoples to confront their own place on these lands…. However, as we are already seeing, territorial acknowledgments can become stripped of their disruptive power through repetition. The purpose cannot merely be to inform an ignorant public that Indigenous peoples exist and that Canada has a history of colonialism.

Chelsea Vowel


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Better Practices in the Classroom by Natalie Kouri-Towe and Myloe Martel-Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book