Land acknowledgements should reflect actionable commitment by settlers

Reconciliation doesn’t stop at a land acknowledgement

Efforts by colonial institutions should go beyond superficial statements. Photo Courtesy of SFU News

by Serena Bains, Staff Writer

Land acknowledgements have become more commonly recited in recent years, with many meetings, classes, and emails including whose unceded lands we are currently situated on. In most cases, however, land acknowledgements only serve as a script for settlers to recite and to check off the box titled “Performative and Inconsequential Act of Reconciliation.” 

As a settler, prior to hearing my first land acknowledgement in lecture, I was ignorant to which nations’ lands I was on and what this meant. Now, I know that I reside on the unceded Coast Salish lands of the Katzie, Tsawwassen, Kwikwetlem, Stó:lō, W̱sáneć, Kwantlen, and Stz’uminus nations, but I still have a minimal understanding of what this means. While I fully acknowledge that this is part of my responsibility as a settler and ally, this is also a reflection of how empty of a gesture land acknowledgements have become.

Hayden King spoke to the idea of how these acknowledgements can be so hollow. King is an Anishinaabe scholar who wrote a land acknowledgement for Ryerson University in 2012, which he has now come to regret. He stated that “territorial acknowledgment is by and [ . . . ] for non-Native people” and “it effectively [ . . . ] offers them an alibi for doing the hard work of learning about their neighbours.” He also expressed his concern that land acknowledgements are becoming so customary in institutions like universities that settlers are essentially giving themselves permission to reside on unceded land.

So, what makes an effective land acknowledgement? First of all, settlers cannot rely on the labour of Indigenous peoples to provide land acknowledgements at their behest. This too provides an excuse for settlers to ignore the history of the nations they live on. The basis of any land acknowledgement should be for one to recognize their place in the continuation of colonialism, to whom these lands belong, their history, and how they can actively support reconciliation efforts and Indigenous peoples.

It is also important to recognize that while land acknowledgements are a good place to start with reconciliation efforts, they are not the end of them. Colonialism is the status quo, therefore, all settlers play a part in this continuous event even without active participation. Reconciliation is a process that happens simultaneously to colonialism and also requires a consistent and active effort to participate in. Therefore, reciting a land acknowledgement and ending one’s work after standardized words like “unceded meaning these lands were not given up in any way” is not reconciliation. 

It is critical to reflect on what reconciliation truly means in a personal context. In the past, I have considered reconciliation to be the same performative action I’m advising against now. This doesn’t make me irredeemable, but I do recognize that I have and continue to play a role in colonialism. Through true and continued reconciliation, such as further education, supporting Indigenous communities by platforming their voices, donating to and volunteering for Indigenous organizations, and advocating for Indigenous spaces and rights, I can lessen my participation in colonialism and increase my reconciliation efforts. 

The meaning behind a land acknowledgement should be a statement of one’s commitment to reconciliation and the recognition of one’s place in the continuation of colonialism. It should be the starting point for a lifelong education and continued action to support Indigenous peoples. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission consists of 94 calls to action, where many Indigenous people call for reconciliation efforts to go beyond this number. Land acknowledgements are only a precursor to these efforts and a primer in what it means to participate in true reconciliation.

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