Here’s What We’ve Learned About Land Acknowledgements

In recent years, land acknowledgments have become commonplace at public events in some cities. If you’ve attended an event in Ottawa, you’re probably aware that the city sits on “unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin territory.” The purpose of land acknowledgments is for non-Indigenous settlers to acknowledge the history of the land, and the traditional and current territory of the Indigenous Nation(s) who have resided on it long before the arrival of settlers. 


People often come to us, and ask about our approach to giving land acknowledgments. They’re worried about making a mistake, or “getting it wrong.” Simply put, our approach comes from the heart, and is a reflection of MediaStyle’s values, and commitment to working with Indigenous people and like-minded organizations toward a goal of reconciliation and decolonization. 


MediaStyle has had the honour and privilege to work alongside and learn from many First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. It’s not been an easy road as mostly settlers unlearning things that we were taught throughout our lives. We have made mistakes, but we work to acknowledge those missteps and do better next time. Specifically, we’ve been lucky enough to call Elder Claudette Commanda a mentor and a friend (it may help that she thinks that MediaStyle has the best coffee in Ottawa). She has sat with us many times to tell us stories about Kitigan Zibi and her grandfather William Commanda. She has also helped us translate our land acknowledgement into Algonquin. 


Here are a few of the lessons we’ve learned along the way:

  • If you’re not sure about something, ask: If you aren’t sure about the pronunciation of a name, or if something is correct, reach out to the Indigenous communities of the territory you live on and ask. How would they like to be acknowledged? What is important to them? Building relationships is an important part of reconciliation, and this is a great place to start.
  • When is it appropriate to do a land acknowledgment? It is appropriate to do a land acknowledgment when hosting a public event, conference, or workshop. Some organizations begin internal meetings with a land acknowledgment. The question isn’t so much about frequency versus meaning. Ask yourself, is this meaningful to me as an individual, or the event I’m hosting/organizing? If the answer is yes, then go ahead.
  • Do your research: What do you know about the history of the territory you’re living on? The Indigenous people who live there? This is an important aspect of thinking through what a land acknowledgment means to you (Check out this web-based app called Whose Land for some help starting your research)
  • Reflect on what it means to you: A land acknowledgment shouldn’t be a rehearsed speech read from a card. Reflect on what it means to you/your organization and speak from the heart. It’s okay to go off script.
  • Do it yourself: Indigenous people are often asked to give land acknowledgements, but really this an opportunity for settlers to acknowledge the Indigenous Nations whose territory they live and work on, and affirm their commitment to reconciliation (If your Indigenous friend/colleague is from a community in the territory- they already know it’s their land!)
  • Include a commitment: Beyond a land acknowledgment, you should reflect on what you/your organization intends to do to further reconciliation and build relationships with the Indigenous people whose territory you reside on.

Sarah Harney is a Strategist at MediaStyle.

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