THIS IS OUR SHARED JOURNEY
Acknowledging Traditional Territory – YOU CAN DO IT!
What if I make a mistake? Who am I to acknowledge territory? Shouldn’t I leave it to someone with Indigenous ancestry?
More often these days we are hearing presenters start with an Acknowledgment of Traditional Territory. At important events and meetings the sessions are opened with an acknowledgement. This is the first of many valuable steps towards Reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous communities in Canada.
We’re going to unpack what an acknowledgement of territory means. What do we need to include to ensure that they are meaningful and respectful? Why are they becoming more prevalent? Who can give an acknowledgement?
We start by acknowledging that we are on the traditional territory of the First Nation who has lived in the area since time immemorial. For example, the BCIT main campuses are located on the traditional territories of the Coast Salish Nations of Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish.
What do we mean when we say “time immemorial”? There is evidence of First Nations in Haida Gwaii dating back 13,000 years. Locally, there is a village site from 7,000 years ago. This site is located under the Alex Fraser Bridge at what was then the mouth of the Fraser River. First Nations have lived in this place for thousands of years. Their legends only tell of them living here ~ not coming from somewhere else.
Over thousands of years the Fraser River has been important to Coast Salish First Nations. The river was a main route for seasonal movement, transportation and trade. Over this period the Nations lived an abundant life based on sophisticated relationships with the area. They were stewards of the land and recognized the importance of sustainability and care. Many First Nations continue to fish the bounties that the river holds. They have access to unique openings for fishing not available to non-Indigenous fishers. The fish caught during these openings are for ceremony and food for the Nation. The traditions of their ancestors continue today – and they remain stewards of the land.
You may also hear reference to these lands as being “unceded territory”. This means that there was never any kind of negotiation or payment for the land with the First Nation inhabiting the area. The land was stolen from them. In many cases First Nations were moved away from their traditional territories to land reserves. These reserves represented a fraction of their original territory.
Another important piece of an Acknowledgement of Territory is to offer respect to the Elders who have gone before us, and the First Nations people who are with us today. This honours the Indigenous worldview of remaining connected to the ancestors. They took care of the land so that it survived and thrived to provide for future generations.
Why is it important to include the First Nations people who are with us today? Recognizing them calls to attention the fact that they are “alive and well” and still living in the area. This reinforces that they have not disappeared. Although there was once a concerted effort to destroy Indigenous culture in Canada it was not completely successful.
It is imperative that we see this as our shared Canadian history. It would also be appropriate to include something about this shared history at the end of the acknowledgement as well. Recognizing all Canadians who are on this journey of reconciliation together. It is not always comfortable to identify as a “settler” but by doing so we are recognizing the history of this land before the arrival of early explorers.
- Establish whose First Nation Traditional territory you are meeting/ living/ working on
- Acknowledge the ancestors who have gone before us
- Pay respect to the Indigenous people with you today
- Recognize that this is a shared Canadian history
- Mention our journey towards Reconciliation
- Anyone can say an acknowledgement (or you can invite a member of the local First Nation to offer a welcome)
So in closing, the next time you hear an acknowledgement of territory, think about who was in this place before us. Us meaning the settlers on this land, the people from away. Remember that we are currently occupying the traditional Coast Salish territory of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish First Nations. This includes all Hunqu’minum speaking people who have been stewards of this land since time immemorial. Take a moment to recognize all of the Elders who have gone before us, the First Nation people who are here with us today and all Canadians who are walking together on this journey to reconciliation.
We need to continue to be mindful of the history of the place where we are gathering. Acknowledging the traditional territory offers respect to Indigenous people across Canada. It will take time for Canadians to become comfortable with standing up and making a commitment to actions of reconciliation.
Just remember, you can do it!