Activism Skills: Land and Territory Acknowledgement
This is a guide on how to acknowledge Indigenous territories at public events and meetings. Acknowledging the land is the process of deliberately naming that this is Indigenous land and Indigenous people have rights to this land. It provides an opportunity for us to reflect on our relationship with the land and the continuous process of colonization that deeply impacts activist work. As Amnesty International calls upon the Canadian government to uphold its obligations under the UN Declaration on the of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we must recognize that those rights were stripped and denied using centuries of laws and policies based on legal doctrines such as “terra nullius”, which declared this land empty despite the presence of Indigenous peoples. Acknowledging the land becomes a small act of resistance against this continued erasure of Indigenous people and their rights.
To keep with this being a thoughtful act we have decided to not include a “script” in this guide but instead a process of reflection to support activists in writing their own contextual land acknowledgements.
Process for land acknowledgements
1. Name which Indigenous territories you are currently on.
For some of you this might be an easy step so we urge you to take some time and learn more. If you do not know whose territories you are organizing on, we have included some resources below that may be helpful, and we encourage further research.
2. Explain why you are acknowledging the land.
Take the time to reflect on why it is important for you or your group to acknowledge the land and what your relationship is with the territory you are on (are you Indigenous, are you settlers, have you come here as a refugee?). Explain why you find it important to acknowledge the land.
3. Address the relevance of Indigenous rights to the subject matter of your event or meeting or to your activist work in general.
Even if we are organizing on issues that are seemingly separate, the struggle for Indigenous rights is deeply connected to all human rights work. Take the time to reflect on these systemic connections. If you find it hard to capture the relationship between the issues you are working on in words, you can also speak to how you and your group will continue to support Indigenous rights in your ongoing activist work.
4. Put the answers for the above questions together as a statement.
It does not have to be in order if that helps the flow.
Example: “I would like to acknowledge the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish First Nations on which we are learning, working and organizing today. I think it’s important to acknowledge the land because growing up as an immigrant here, I never heard the traditional names of the territories. Indigenous people were talked about in the past tense and all the struggles they faced were in the past tense as well. It is easier to deny Indigenous people their rights if we historicize their struggles and simply pretend they don’t exist. As an activist I would like to take this opportunity to commit myself to the struggle against the systems of oppression that have dispossessed Indigenous people of their lands and denied their rights to self-determination, work that is essential to human rights work across the world.”
You and your group may know an elder or Indigenous person from the territory that your event is taking place on who would be happy to be invited to your event to conduct a Territory Welcome. Unless it is explicitly said not to, it’s important to pay folks for their time and work, and traditional protocol of that Nation might mean offering them a gift i.e. tobacco or sage.
Written by: Ayendri Ishani Perera, Regional Activism Coordinator for Western Canada and the Territories