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Introduction to Indigenous land acknowledgement

October 4, 2018
Elder Shirley Alphonse provides an opening prayer as part of 2018 National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations at Royal Roads University.
"Acknowledging the traditional lands can start conversations from which we all can learn." - Roberta Mason, student and academic services associate vice-president.

When she arrives at work each morning, Asma-na-hi Antoine takes a moment to pause and acknowledge the land beneath her feet.

“I’m full of gratitude to be here,” says Antoine, manager of Indigenous Education and Student Services at Royal Roads University. “It’s so beautiful. How can I not be grateful?”

Situated on the shores of Esquimalt Lagoon, Royal Roads is located on the traditional lands of the Xwesepsum (Esquimalt) and Lkwungen (Songhees) ancestors and families who have lived here for thousands of years.

Honouring this history is essential for building respectful relationships and understanding between people, Antoine says.

“A land acknowledgement is important because it’s a small sign of reconciliation,” says Antoine, a member of the Toquaht Nation of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth lands on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. 

“I’m not from these lands. I’m a visitor,” she says. “Acknowledging the land is a sign of respect.”

Acknowledgement of traditional lands is a practice often performed at the beginning of public or private events, meetings or classes to express gratitude for the opportunity to gather on the traditional land of Indigenous groups.

Traditional welcomes are often provided at more formal meetings and events. While anyone can give a land acknowledgement, a traditional welcome is reserved for local chiefs or their delegates.

“If you host guests, you welcome them to your home. It’s the same with the owners of the land,” she says.

Increasingly, land acknowledgements and traditional welcomes are more commonly practiced in institutions like universities or in the political sphere.

Pausing at the beginning of a gathering to acknowledge the land provides an opportunity to think about the history and the relationship Indigenous groups continue to have with the land, says Roberta Mason, student and academic services associate vice-president.

“I always find that it makes me more thoughtful about the extraordinary challenges they have faced and their amazing resiliency. Acknowledging the traditional lands can start conversations from which we all can learn,” Mason says.

Whether it’s how you begin your day or your event, acknowledging the ancestors and families sets the tone for whatever comes next, Antoine says.

As long as you reference the families and your intentions are genuine, you can’t go wrong, Antoine says.

“You may make a mistake and you may fumble in the pronunciations but at least your purpose and intention is there. Just acknowledge that mistake and learn from it.”

Mason says the acknowledgement provides an opportunity to engage in her community.

“This practice is one way that I can personally engage in making a difference—by respecting a centuries-old practice of Indigenous peoples and by taking even just a few moments to think about what I can do to work with Indigenous peoples for the best future for us all.”

Learn more about Indigenous Education and Student Services at Royal Roads University.