Why acknowledge territory?
Territory acknowledgement is a way that people insert an awareness of Indigenous presence and land rights in everyday life. This is often done at the beginning of ceremonies, lectures, or any public event. It can be a subtle way to recognize the history of colonialism and a need for change in settler colonial societies.
However, these acknowledgements can easily be a token gesture rather than a meaningful practice. All settlers, including recent arrivants, have a responsibility to consider what it means to acknowledge the history and legacy of colonialism. What are some of the privileges settlers enjoy today because of colonialism? How can individuals develop relationships with peoples whose territory they are living on in the contemporary Canadian geopolitical landscape? What are you, or your organization, doing beyond acknowledging the territory where you live, work, or hold your events? What might you be doing that perpetuates settler colonial futurity rather than considering alternative ways forward for Canada? Do you have an understanding of the on-going violence and the trauma that is part of the structure of colonialism?
Excerpt from “Territory Acknowledgment” on Native-Land.ca
It’s crazy how often we do things out of habit, peer pressure, or because we’re told to, without ever really putting thought into what we we’re doing and what it means. I’m guilty of this daily but as I’m working to be more present in my life and body, I’m learning to be intentional with my actions and words as well. Land acknowledgments is something I started hearing a few years back in my activist circles and I appreciated the moment of consciousness but felt curious for what this meant beyond the gesture. Recently I’ve been noticing organizations, artists and activists adding land acknowledgments in their bios and again I’m feeling curious for more than the gesture. So as I was preparing my own bio, I knew I’d have to dig deeper. I’d like to start by acknowledging that I was born, raised and live on unceded Indigenous lands. I recognize the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation as the custodians of the lands and waters from which I live and I honour Tio’tia:ke (Montreal) as a gathering place for many First Nations which has now become a home to a diverse population of Indigenous, settlers and other peoples. What does that all mean for me? Well honestly it means a lot of questions and frustrations. I struggle to pronounce Indigenous words, I’m frustrated that I was unconsciously aligned to oppressive practices, I hate that I have very few Indigenous folk in my communities. I still separate myself from the idea of settlers which may be seen as disrespectful but my skin and experience here makes it difficult for me to be aligned with colonialism in that way. I wish there was better vocabulary for the layered and complex relationships we’ve all had with this land. I wish I knew more about the relationship between Black and Indigenous communities in Montreal over the long history of this space. I’m actively working at finding meaningful and genuine ways for me to engage with Indigenous communities and ideas. I think about the stories this land holds a lot and hope to get to a point where I don’t fear these stories as much so I can feel more open to listen. I wonder about my sense of belonging and if it really is tethered to this land or has it been more to my people and skin. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I have so much that I want to unpack in terms of my relationship to this land, its history, its peoples. I’m here because of colonialism, I was raised in capitalism, all the stories I’ve learned about Indigenous communities came from White supremacy. I feel ignorant and frustrated but I’m trying to be proactive while patient with myself. I’m 30 years into just barely understanding my Blackness which I wear daily so I know I have to give it all time and space, find bridges and parallels that I can grasp and be ok with aspects I don’t quite understand yet. All this to say that territorial acknowledgement for me is not a gesture, it’s my prompt. A prompt for me to remember where I am, to remember to ask questions, to remember who I support, to remember to do better. What is it for you?