Land Acknowledgements, Treaties and Land Claims

Whose treaty territory is your law firm on? See the guide with links to land acknowledgements for many regions across Canada.

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The Purpose of Land Acknowledgements and Why They Matter

It’s likely that you’ve heard someone give a land acknowledgement, perhaps at the opening of a conference, meeting, event or other gatherings. It is becoming more commonplace.

What is it?

As the name implies, it is an acknowledgement, a recognition of the traditional First Nations, Inuit and/or MĂ©tis territories and homeland of a particular place. It asks people to think about whose land they are on. It recognizes that Indigenous people have lived in these territories for many generations, in some cases “since time immemorial.”

It commemorates their kinship and relationship to the land, the water and the animals in a particular territory.

Many First Nations, prior to European contact, had their own ceremonies, protocols and practices regarding land acknowledgements which might include sharing food, smoking a pipe, singing a welcoming song, waiting to be escorted into the territory, or other processes.

Land acknowledgements are for people who are not from the territory. If, for example, at the beginning of an event in a particular territory, an Elder is invited to do an opening prayer or protocol, that Elder does not need to acknowledge the territory; rather, they would welcome everyone to their territory. All others (including other Indigenous people from other territories) would do a land acknowledgement.

So while you may believe land acknowledgements are important, they are not mandatory, nor are they consistent, and there is no legal weight to them.

How to Make Land Acknowledgements Meaningful

In order to make land acknowledgements meaningful, we have to move Beyond Territorial Acknowledgements. As blogger âpihtawikosisân says, “the fact of Indigenous presence should force non-Indigenous peoples to confront their own place on these lands.”

That is not always the case. As land acknowledgements become more ubiquitous, they “can become stripped of their disruptive power through repetition.” If they are spoken by rote, then there is little room for true reconciliation. As writer Stephen Marche wrote:

They are written, it seems to me, so that we may express a sentiment without, as far as possible, feeling it, a natural result of being written by academic committees and government lawyers. They sound like microwave warranties, not the desire for atonement.

Hayden King of the Yellowhead Institute and academic at Ryerson University agrees: “For me, personally, I think I started to see how the territorial acknowledgement could become very superficial and also how it sort of fetishizes these actual tangible, concrete treaties.”

Acknowledging Indigenous territories must move beyond simple verbal recognition. Here are some questions to consider if your law firm wants to make land acknowledgements meaningful:

  • Is there more than one nation in this territory? What is their relationship with each other?
  • If you are on treaty territory, do you know anything about that particular treaty? How can you learn more?
  • Do you have a relationship with the Indigenous community/communities closest to your office/s?
  • Was the land acknowledgement created by/vetted by the group/s or nation/s you are acknowledging?
  • If you are on treaty territory, what is your responsibility, your obligation, as a settler/visitor/non-Indigenous individual to that treaty?
  • What are the actions behind the words of the land acknowledgement?

If you want to know whose territory/territories on which your law firm offices are situated, see this interactive map.