June 25, 2021

Treaty 7 and Land Acknowledgements for Settlers: Part 2

The UCalgary Psychology Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Blog

This blog will be posted in two parts. On Monday, we posted Part 1, which focuses on Treaty 7. On Today, we post Part 2, which focuses on land acknowledgements.

In the past several years, many of us at the University of Calgary have heard or said a land acknowledgement at the beginning of our events. In these acknowledgements, we have hopefully taken care to acknowledge that we reside on Treaty Seven territory, and that Calgary is home to the Métis Nation of AlbertaRegion III. But how many times have we just read off the ‘standard’ statement, without putting much thought into what we are saying? While land acknowledgements are important ways for settlers to recognize the Indigenous territory we continue to live on and colonize, to be meaningful, it is critical that these acknowledgements are personal and acknowledge our individual role in advancing reconciliation on the land which we reside. As White settlers, in this two-part blog post, we will explore what living on Treaty Seven territory means to us (Part 1), and how to incorporate this into land acknowledgements (Part 2).

Land Acknowledgements

            The exploration of Treaty 7 in Part 1 brings us back to land acknowledgements. As Syreeta Hector noted in a recent piece in Vice, most land acknowledgements are “not from a genuine place. It’s not an authentic acknowledgement…it’s literally reading names off a piece of paper.” This echoes other recent critiques from Indigenous communities on the use of standard land acknowledgements. Based on these critiques and our own experience as White settlers giving land acknowledgements, here are some ideas about how to prepare a more authentic land acknowledgement:

  • Make the time to prepare a land acknowledgement that is personal. This land acknowledgement should reflect your own relationship with the land you are on, and the first peoples of that land. It should not be a standard statement read off a website – this is impersonal and communicates that it was not worth your time to prepare something meaningful and authentic. Some things you might want to cover in this land acknowledgement include…
    • The land you are currently living on, and that you have lived on in the past. Visit www.nativeland.ca to learn about the lands you have lived on (and if you can, donate to support the work of Native Land).
    • The first peoples who have historically and currently live on the land where you reside.*
    • What you are grateful for about the land that you reside on.
    • The relationship between first peoples and settlers on the land where you reside. For Treaty 7, this means acknowledging the history of this treaty, including how First Nations were deceived into giving up their land, and how treaty promises are still not being honoured.
    • The actions you are taking right now to advance reconciliation, and what you want your audience to do. This is a critical part of an authentic land acknowledgement. Listen to what Indigenous communities are asking settlers to do. For example, you could talk about how you are making reparations. You could talk about current Indigenous social movements, and what you are doing to support these movements. You could highlight an Indigenous organization and the work they are doing. You could highlight an Indigenous writer’s work that you recommend. You could ask the audience to contact their MP with a specific request.
  • When making a land acknowledgement, intention matters. As noted by Shana Dion, land acknowledgements need to be “built to be fluid enough so [they] resonate with yourself when you’re saying it, so that it’s not just words you’re reading from a script, but that it comes more from your heart.” This means that you should take time before each use to update your land acknowledgement to reflect current events and actions you are taking in response to these events.

As we as settlers continue to occupy stolen land, land acknowledgements are the bare minimum we can do in acknowledging the impacts of colonialism. Thus, it is critical for settlers to understand the land they are living on, and acknowledge it appropriately when giving a land acknowledgement.

*Make sure you correctly pronounce the names of the Nations and any Indigenous words in your land acknowledgement. This is basic land acknowledgement etiquette. Pronouncing names incorrectly communicates that you couldn’t be bothered to take a few minutes and learn the pronunciation – if that’s the case, what does that say about your commitment to reconciliation? There are lots of online listening guides to help you practice your pronunciation (for example, this one, from the Federation of Calgary Communities). If you make a mistake, acknowledge it and apologize, and commit to doing better in the future.

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Calgary nor do they reflect official University of Calgary policy. This blog post was written from a settler perspective and does not speak for Indigenous voices. For more information on Indigenous perspectives of Treaty 7, please see the Calgary Public Library’s discussion of the Making of Treaty 7 with First Nations representatives.