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How to develop a powerful and meaningful land acknowledgement

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Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Congress 2021 blog edition 

By Claire Kroening, University of Alberta human geography alumna and communications professional 

Keith King, University of Alberta, opened the Congress 2021 land acknowledgement workshop saying “as inhabitants of the land, it's essential we explore relationships with the original peoples of this land, and to learn with the local Indigenous people.” He noted how rare it is to be in a place that doesn't have a history of colonization and occupation. When we look, we will see we are always on Indigenous land.  

Land acknowledgements are an old Indigenous tradition and protocol done to pay respect to the people and history of the lands you are situated on. Today, land acknowledgements affirm the enduring relationship between Indigenous peoples and express commitments of reconciliation.  

Teachings and quotes from Grandmother Doreen Spence 

Elder Doreen Spence of the University of Calgary spoke during the first part of the workshop. A well-travelled woman, she always makes sure to honour the land she is visiting through ceremony. “I always give gratitude and share a piece of Earth from over here, to our land over there.” 

Elder Doreen Spence spoke on the resiliency of Indigenous peoples that she has seen during her travels to New Zealand, Greenland and Mexico, and in her own home.  

“Be humble, we are the most resilient people on the planet. We have been gifted so much. Yes, we feel our trauma, yes, we feel our pain. But that is the power of our Elders and the power we have in healing.” 

“We must balance dark times and light times. I believe that now, with a lot of the history being uncovered, you will hear a lot more of the celebratory aspect of songs to celebrate the survival of the people.” 

How to develop and deliver a meaningful land acknowledgement 

Begin every presentation with a personalized and spoken land acknowledgement. The meeting host should begin with one, as well as any speakers that follow. The acknowledgement should be genuine, earnest, and delivered in the spirit of a treaty partner. Statements should not be guilt-focused; rather, they should focus on the positive spirit of reconciliation. 

It’s critical to consider the intent of the acknowledgement for it to be genuine. We make land acknowledgements to raise awareness of Indigenous land rights, acknowledge our status and engage in a conversation or dialogue. Ensure your statement reflects these intentions, either implicitly or explicitly. 

A common issue of poor land acknowledgements is they often come across as a static statement, written far ahead of time. They are words about reconciliation, disconnected from concrete, reconciliatory actions. The big question each person, organization, and institution must ask of themselves is: what commitments are we making, and how do we make these commitments live beyond our words?  

The basic process for creating a meaningful land acknowledgement is as follows:  

  • Identify and research who the Indigenous peoples of the area are, and learn to pronounce their names correctly. 
  • Identify your positionality - Are you a descendent of a colonizer? A settler? A visitor?  
  • Personalize your delivery - determine what commitments you are responsible for, and describe the actions you are taking to carry forth those commitments.  

Written versus verbal acknowledgements 

The big difference between verbal and written land acknowledgements is fluidity. A written acknowledgment is static and likely will appear in multiple places like on websites, formal documents, or email signatures.  

A verbal acknowledgement should always be personalized to the person delivering it and the context in which it is being said.

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Congrès des sciences humaines