Recently, the COCo team put aside a few hours to dig into some questions that have been on our minds for a while. One of those questions was how COCo wants to integrate land acknowledgements– that is, recognizing the indigenous territories where we do our work- into our meetings, facilitation, and events. Our conversation about land acknowledgements is a work in progress, and we are seeking feedback on it, if you have any! In the meantime, we wanted to share our process with those of you who might be considering this as well.
If you are new to the idea of land acknowledgements, here is a nice description of what they are and why to do them.
Resources on Land Acknowledgements
- One of the things our team was most nervous about was correctly pronouncing the names of the territories we live on and the names of the people who are the traditional guardians of those territories. It was really helpful for us when we found this wonderful recording that helps you learn how to pronounce Kanien’kehá:ka (the Nation whose territories COCo’s offices are on) and Tiohtiá:ke (the traditional name of Montreal). We sat together and practiced these words in pairs until everyone felt more comfortable.
- We also found it helpful to read through Concordia University’s “rationale” document, where they explain, line by line, why they chose the wording for their own territorial acknowledgement. Everyone read this document in advance of our conversation, so we could all come in a bit more informed and ready to think about our own land acknowledgement. You can find their document in English and in French.
- We also looked at a few different examples of land acknowledgements. One of those was Concordia’s, which was helpful but a bit “institutional” for our context. We also took a look at the land acknowledgement that the Midnight Kitchen uses, which says:
This event takes place on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehá:ka. The island called “Montreal” is known as Tiotia:ke in the language of the Kanien’kehá:ka, and it has historically been a meeting place for other Indigenous nations, including the omàmiwininì or Algonquin people. As an organization that centers social and environmental justice, we feel it’s crucial to be informed on the past and ongoing consequences of colonialism. We encourage everyone to learn about the history of these lands and to support Indigenous resistance here and across Turtle Island.
Facilitating a Conversation of Land Acknowledgements
In preparing for our retreat, were not sure how to start a conversation on land acknowledgements. It felt important to us that the gesture of a land acknowledgement was anchored in a bigger conversation, and bigger actions, about reconciliation with Canada’s violent history towards indigenous peoples.
- We found the resources offered by the organization Reconciliation Canada very useful. In particular, their “Kitchen Table Guide for Reconciliation Dialogue: For Individuals, Communities and Organizations“, which lays out a facilitation plan for opening conversations about reconciliation, was very useful to us! We opened our conversation using this video about what reconciliation means, and discussed the concept as a group, before moving on to the specific question about land acknowledgements.
- We made sure to make time for people to pair up in duos and practice offering a land acknowledgement that felt comfortable and authentic to them. While some of the challenges in offering land acknowledgements are more theoretical (what should it include? How do we explain it to audiences who are unfamiliar with this practice? How do we make sure it is heartfelt, and not rote?), a significant barrier was, quite simply, people’s comfort in giving the land acknowledgement themselves. We also decided that we would get more practice by trying out land acknowledgements at our Board and staff meetings before doing them publicly.
Land Acknowledgements In Practice
As we discussed the idea of including land acknowledgements in our events and training, we came up with a list of thing we would like to see included in our land acknowledgements:
- That we speak about our intention in doing a land acknowledgement, and describe how it is linked to COCo’s mission and day-to-day work, including the specific meeting or event we are hosting in that moment
- That our land acknowledgements include our gratitude for the ability to live and meet on these territories,
- That we make sure there is a specific mention of the name of the territories and the Nation
- That we describe how Tiohtiá:ke (Montreal) has historically been an important meeting place for different nations to come together, and how that relates to the specific event we are hosting or facilitating that day
- That we invite people to learn more about this history and to give us feedback on our (nascent) practice of land acknowledgements
- That, when we travel off of these traditional territories, we ensure to learn the names of the territories we are visiting and acknowledge those territories as well
In our initial discussion, we wanted to also include
- a recognition of the violent history that has brought us to this moment and and a gesture towards the important history of resistance by indigenous peoples on these territories.
- That, when possible, we make a connection to contemporary events and resistance. For example, as we were meeting, there was also an emergency meeting about indigenous children who are in the custody of Child Protective Services, a response to many years of mobilization by indigenous activists
However, in talking through our plans with more knowledgeable people, we’ve learnt it is generally more appropriate to separate the expression of gratitude for our presence on these lands from the naming and description of a violent history, or other conversations about reconciliation, reparations, and so on. Instead, we will probably still include a gesture towards of the work of indigenous organizations on our territories who are working for the well-being of their people and these lands.
Learning From Our Partners
When we asked the Urban Aboriginal Community Network for their thoughts for organizations looking to develop land acknowledgements, they told us:
“Land acknowledgements are intended to be personal moments of reflection. Thus, we encourage people to write their own acknowledgements instead of robotically reciting one that someone else wrote. The land acknowledgement should reflect on the organizations past and present relationship with Indigenous people.”
Does your organization have a practice of land acknowledgements? We’d love to hear from you!