Open Forum

When and where to acknowledge territory

When and where to acknowledge territory

by Sarah Lefebure -
Number of replies: 11

A question I have been sitting with for a while is when and where land acknowledgments are called for/appropriate. When I facilitate a special event (training session, large meeting), it has become my practice to always include a territorial acknowledgment. I've been wondering, though, if more day-to-day happenings call for acknowledgments as well. For instance, regular staff meetings, ongoing student workshops, etc. It was suggested to me once that I could start initial counselling sessions with students by acknowledging territory and placing myself introducing my cultural heritage. I haven't woven that approach into my practice (admittedly out of some discomfort about how it would work)... but I'm still wondering about that idea. 

So I suppose my question is about standards of practice for when and where to acknowledge the territory, essentially the kinds of events where acknowledgments are appropriate, and if there are some where it's not appropriate. Are there guidelines of any kind around this, or does it vary from nation to nation and/or institution to institution? 

I haven't found much information to guide me in this question so far, so I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

I really enjoyed the article "Beyond territorial acknowledgments, and these lines feel like some guidance for me around this question:

If we think of territorial acknowledgments as sites of potential disruption, they can be transformative acts that to some extent undo Indigenous erasure. I believe this is true as long as these acknowledgments discomfit both those speaking and hearing the words. The fact of Indigenous presence should force non-Indigenous peoples to confront their own place on these lands. I would like to see territorial acknowledgments happening in spaces where they are currently absent, particularly in rural and remote areas and within the governance structures of settlers. Source: https://apihtawikosisan.com/2016/09/beyond-territorial-acknowledgments/

It was helpful for me to reflect on the fact that one of the desired outcomes of land acknowledgments is disruption (if even in small ways) of the colonial systems in place and/or transformation of relationships, and that discomfort on the part of speaker and listener is expected and in fact desirable. 


In reply to Sarah Lefebure

Re: When and where to acknowledge territory

by Dianne Biin -

Hi Sarah; thanks for the query!

At Camosun, we do territorial acknowledgements at the beginning of staff meetings, committee meetings, and curriculum approval meetings, and it usually done by leaders and administrators, not always the Indigenous staff person at the table.  Our Board of Governors adopted a territorial acknowledgement as standard practice at the beginning of all board meetings and special sessions.

The discomfort, so I've heard, is lack of practice! Once you become comfortable providing an acknowledgement in these spaces it becomes more natural. I hear this from staff who take our in-house course (TELTIN TTE WILNEW); during the course we have a series of talking circles to debrief about the online content. Yet, before our debrief we practice acknowledgements. When students heard about the staff course (because after staff complete, they can use the materials in their own classroom), they asked a version be offered as a general UT course (IST 120). Students appreciate the ability to build their own leadership skills with the territorial acknowledgement.  

I have heard from an instructor at UBC how she does a territorial acknowledgement in stages/blocks for large classroom teaching throughout the semester. And then there is space to talk about 'unceded' and personally reflect on a ceded instance in one's family history as an active learning activity (1,4, all).

When is it not appropriate? I haven't figured that one out yet, because for me, hearing it at meetings, in the classroom, and at events gives me a sense of comfort and a level of trust that the person attempting and/or comfortable with the acknowledgement has actually taken the time and space to do the work of decolonizing one's practice and creating a welcoming space as an act of indigenizing.

In reply to Dianne Biin

Re: When and where to acknowledge territory

by Sarah Lefebure -

Hi Dianne,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. I actually worked at Camosun from 2012-2016 (in the Counselling Department) and was fortunate enough to take TTW - I found it so informative. How wonderful that students can now take a similar course!

I appreciate you sharing about the practices you've observed at Camosun, and I agree with you that it's likely lack of practice that is the main source of awkwardness. It also helps me to know that you can't see a setting in which it wouldn't be appropriate. I suspected as much, but don't want to seem like I'm overusing them or tokenizing them in some way. 

This FLO course has been a good opportunity for me to stop and reflect on the practices that I see taking place (or not) here at Okanagan College, and ways that I can weave land acknowledgments more into my work. 

In reply to Sarah Lefebure

Re: When and where to acknowledge territory

by Dianne Biin -

I thought you looked familiar!!! Thanks Sarah. I know that Okanagan College is starting their path and I so appreciate the work Bill Cohen has undertaken at the college.

The history of relationships in the okanagan region is a different history than down on the coast, so creating places of trust is first and foremost. secondly, recognizing our gratitude to be together is a way to rebuild relationships. I'm so glad you are here with us!

In reply to Dianne Biin

Re: When and where to acknowledge territory

by Derek Murray -

One practice we have adopted in our Division (LTSI) at UVic is to have a different person acknowledge the territory at the start of each Division meeting (about once every couple months) and to do it from memory rather than a script. If you don't do it exactly as it is in the standard script, that's okay, the point is to make it personal.

In reply to Derek Murray

Re: When and where to acknowledge territory

by Sarah Lefebure -

That's a great idea, Derek. Many thanks for sharing it!

In reply to Derek Murray

Re: When and where to acknowledge territory

by Jennifer Englund -

This is a helpful idea - thank you, Derek. All of the suggestions and conversations are propelling me along in so many ways!

In reply to Sarah Lefebure

Re: When and where to acknowledge territory

by Jennifer Englund -

As someone who is at the starting point of using land acknowledgment statements, this was a topic I've been thinking about too. In addition, a good chunk of the work that I, and other designers in my group, do is online. That might look like a synchronous online webinar or it could be an asynchronous online course of varying duration. 

The specific questions that have come up for me:

  • Some of the courses I develop are training courses, that staff members need to take before receiving higher-level access to our learning management system. Would there be a place for land acknowledgment statements in those courses, maybe in a section about who developed the course?
  • I also teach online courses for an undergraduate minor. All of the classes for the minor are online, but students are mostly residential and here on our campuses. So would there be a land acknowledgment statement in my syllabus and the online course site?
  • During my course development projects, at what point should the conversation turn to this topic? My initial thought is during one of the early meetings, but on the other hand, it might be more useful to wait until a working relationship has been established, to ideally set the foundation for having a deeper conversation.

I plan to figure out how to start addressing these questions by asking others on campus about it. I am open to other suggestions too.

In reply to Jennifer Englund

Re: When and where to acknowledge territory

by Derek Murray -

I am so glad to hear that other people are asking these questions! I have comments on each of your questions and I am really interested to hear what you and others think.

My colleague here at UVic does a lot of work on our staff training courses. We do not at this point have a land acknowledgment in those courses, though it is something we are looking at. It is especially challenging when you are building a course but the course really belongs to someone else. It is also one of those situations where it can easily become an "add on" rather than being integrated into the course. We have a standard university-wide acknowledgement video that people use in a variety of ways. At Capilano we have a standard land acknowledgement statement that goes on the front of every course syllabus.

I was chatting with Donna this morning about the "model" online course I am developing at UVic. The goal is that the model course will foreground the importance of Indigenization as something that is woven into the design process of a course from the very beginning (not as an afterthought) and will give faculty and instructors concrete strategies for how to accomplish this. I am working from the definitions of Indigenization and decolonization that are provided in the BCcampus "Pulling Together" series (which Dianne was a big part of putting together). Indigenization by their definition "refers to a deliberate coming together of these two ways of knowing [Indigenous and Western]." It is a weaving together of Indigenous knowledge and Western knowledge, not a mash-up, or an add-on, or a replacement of one with the other. The guides were developed for the Canadian context (and BC in particular) but I don't see why they couldn't also be useful in Minnesota!

I am also interested in the Indigenization of online learning more broadly, which was part of my reason for taking this FLO course. I will be at a conference in a couple of weeks presenting on "Decolonizing Online Learning and Using Indigenous-Inspired Pedagogy to Create a “Model” Online Environment." It is more of an information-gathering talk, rather than a formal paper and I certainly do not have all the answers, but I am actively looking. If you want to chat more about that after the conference, I can let you know how it goes!

If you have any thoughts on that, I'd love to hear!

Does anyone else have thoughts on what Indigenization looks like in the online environment? I am thinking not only about adding content to online courses, but about Indigenous-inspired pedagogies (e.g. place-based learning) and how/whether/if they translate to the online environment.

In reply to Jennifer Englund

Re: When and where to acknowledge territory

by Donna DesBiens -

At RRU, we also give land acknowledgements at the start of all regular meetings as standard practice, and it's usually done by whoever is chairing/facilitating rather than requiring any Indigenous staff present to do all the work. Sometimes, a brief cultural self-intro is also given.

However, it's only appropriate for local Indigenous leaders welcome others to the land, unless they give special permission for a representative to do it. I think the RRU practice is in the References & Resources; just in case, it's also here.   

In all our online courses for both students and faculty development, we include this Traditional Chiefs' Welcome video as the first entry on the landing page.  Course instructors / facilitators are also beginning to include a land acknowledgement more regularly. Sometimes its a text statement that reflects the formal institutional acknowledgement and on the same LMS page as the Traditional Chiefs video. Or, it may be shared more personally, along with a cultural and/or disciplinary self-location in Course Welcome/Intro videos. (Kinda like Derek's draft course intro!)

Online practice so far is fluid and tends to flow with the nature of disciplinary practice, as the research shows - Dimitrov & Haque, 2016.  Intercultural teaching competence in the disciplines. In Pérez, G. & Rojas-Primus, C. (Eds.) Promoting intercultural communication competencies in higher education. (pp. 89-119). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. (Sorry not OER, but available via uni libraries). 

In reply to Donna DesBiens

Re: When and where to acknowledge territory

by Derek Murray -

Thank you again for the resources Donna!

In reply to Donna DesBiens

Re: When and where to acknowledge territory

by Jennifer Englund -

Thank you, Donna - this is valuable to hear about institutional practices from those who have been at this work a long time. I am adding the resources to my personal course notes.