Derek's Land Acknowledgement

Derek's Land Acknowledgement

by Derek Murray -
Number of replies: 5

Hi all,

Some context for this: it's quite long! I teach Canadian history, American history, and the history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada at Capilano University in North Vancouver. I usually set aside about 15 minutes at the start of the first class of the term for the land acknowledgement, and then probably spend about an hour talking with students about what the acknowledgement means. When I first started teaching I used to feel really awkward doing a land acknowledgement because I didn't see what it would accomplish: if we are not giving the land back, what is the point? It felt disingenuous and like I was just paying lip service to something. My position on that has evolved since then, though I still find it challenging in the sense that, if we are to truly recognize Indigenous title to unceded (and "ceded") land, it may mean giving it back! That's a big deal. This acknowledgement stems from that in-class practice, from what I have learned so far this week (which is a lot!), from what I have learned from elders and colleagues at CapU and from working with Naxaxalhts'i (Sonny McHalsie) of the Stó:lo Nation. I try to change my land acknowledgement each time to make it feel more authentic and more disruptive of colonial narratives, but that is a work in progress and I appreciate any feedback you have on that front!

I am envisioning this acknowledgement in the context of my work at UVic where I am a Learning Experience Designer with Technology Integrated Learning (a unit with the Division of Learning and Teaching Support and Innovation). One of the projects I am working on is a "model course" based in our LMS (Moodle) where faculty at UVic can go and see what an online course looks like, complete with assignments, student contributions, discussion boards, etc. The model course is based on a real course in the history of Canada before Confederation, hence the reference to that course in the acknowledgement below. My intent is that this acknowledgement video and text can go directly into that course as part of the introduction process and establishing the classroom environment.

I look forward to your feedback and appreciate the guiding questions posed by Dianne and Donna.


At the University of Victoria we acknowledge with respect and gratitude the Lkwungen-speaking peoples on whose traditional territory the university stands and the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

The standard UVic acknowledgement recognizes the importance of ongoing relationships of Indigenous peoples to the land on which our university sits. At the same time, on its own, the statement fails to acknowledge the history of colonialism that sought to destroy those relationships for more than 170 years since even before the founding of the colony of Vancouver Island in 1849. In many ways, those policies continue this work in the present.

For generations since time immemorial, Lekwungen people fished, farmed, hunted, and husbanded on Southeastern Vancouver Island. They not only harvested what the land offered, but they cultivated and shaped the land to ensure that it would continue to provide for future generations. In his history of Aboriginal-white relations, UVic historian John Lutz notes that much of what is now Victoria, including the university campus, was attractive for settlement because it was open meadow that had been cultivated and cared for by the Lekwungen women who tended their families’ camas crops. [1]

When James Douglas and the Hudson Bay Company looked to set up shop here, the Lekwungen provided not only the land, but supplies for the fort, labour to build it, and food to nourish the traders. The Lekwungen were eager trading partners and sought, from their position of power, to develop reciprocally-beneficial relationships with the newcomers.

According to Lekwungen elder Elmer George, the university sits on Chekonein land. Chekonein are one of six family groups comprising the larger Lekwungen nation who, in 1850, signed treaties with Douglas (now Governor) in an attempt by the latter to formally acquire title to Lekwungen lands. [2] By both British and Lekwungen accounts, the treaties ensured continued Lekwungen ownership of village sites and fields, as well as hunting and fishing rights in the surrounding territory.

In this arrangement, Lekwungen people prospered in the 1850s, but in subsequent decades they were hit hard by disease, alcohol, and out-migration. Their population of 700 in 1850 were reduced to 182 in 1876 and stayed around that number for the next 100 years. At the same time, the modern city of Victoria grew up around them and laws like the potlatch ban attempted to stamp out their culture.

In 1911, the Lekwungen band known as Songhees agreed to relocate to a new reserve next to the existing Esquimalt reserve. They continued to prosper, despite their reduced numbers. [3] New laws were brought it to prohibit Indigenous people from fishing and racist hiring practices often made it difficult for the Lekwungen to get work off-reserve, especially during years of economic depression. Every time the Lekwungen gained a new foothold, colonial policies and practices worked to undermine their success. By the 1960s Lekwungen people faced the prospect of starvation and economic destitution. Despite these challenges, they maintained their connection to their land and continue cultivating that connection to this day.

Knowing this history means that I must acknowledge that my presence here was made possible by the welcome offered to Douglas by the Lekwungen, but also by the colonial policies and practices which sought to remove the Lekwungen from their lands. My privilege comes with a steep cost.

What does that mean going forward? Even though I was not here when the treaties were signed, and I played no part in writing oppressive colonial laws, it means that I have a personal responsibility to repair the relationship between Indigenous peoples and newcomers, to listen to the demands of the people who this land belongs to, and, in partnership with First Peoples, to take up the stewardship of the land so that the reciprocal relationships that sustain our presence here can be maintained and nurtured for both present and future generations.

As a historian and an educator, I have the particular responsibility to make this history more widely known, and to instill in students the same respect that I have for the land that sustains us and the people who care for it.

Though I call Victoria home and I am putting down roots here, my origins are elsewhere. On my father’s side my ancestors came to Canada from Ireland in the 1850s and settled in unceded Algonquin territory in the Upper Ottawa Valley. Growing up in a rural community, I understand what Chelsea Vowel means when she refers to “‘the two solitudes’ of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples” that exists. [4] I knew little about my Indigenous neighbors except what I learned on TV and in Hollywood movies. The picture was not flattering nor was it accurate.

It was only when I came to Victoria to pursue my PhD in History that I really started learning about the ways in which colonialism has shaped, and continues to shape the lives of Indigenous people in this place we now call Canada. My initial purpose in coming here was to get an education and then go home, but that all changed as I now have a family here and we intend to stay here and raise a new generation.

On my mother’s side, my grandfather fought in the Second World War with the Polish contingent of the British Eighth Army. After the war, he was warned by friends not to return to Poland and so he decided to go to Canada instead where he worked as an indentured labourer. My grandmother fled Nazi-occupied Serbia, walking for days and hiding in barns along the way. She also came to Canada after the war where she was reuinted with her parents, who had emigrated in the 1930s.

As a descendant of refugees and displaced persons on both sides of my family, I am aware of the lengths people will go in order to make a better life for themeslves and I have been taught about what it is like to lose one’s home and connection to a place. As someone privileged to partake in higher education, and to now be working and teaching in a university setting, I am also aware of my own responsibilities.

What does it mean to be welcoming? What does it mean to share the wealth that we enjoy in this place? What does it mean to develop right relationships with the land and with other people?

History, as a discipline, does not directly answer these questions. But, it provides a lense through which we can come to better understand the human experience, to comprehend connections to place and time, and to put change in context.

In teaching this course on the history of Canada before Confederation, I hope that I can help you to become more aware of the long-standing relationships that people have to this place where we are learning and to develop the skills necessary to move forward in a way that respects those relationships, and your place in them, in a more profound way.

I am looking forward to learning with you along the way!

[1] John S. Lutz, Makύk: A New History of Aboriginal-White Relations (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2008), 67.

[2] For a quick overview of the "Douglas Treaties" see Anthony J. Hall, "Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada," in The Canadian Encyclopedia, 6 June 2011, (accessed 14 May 2019).

[3] Lutz, Makύk, 101–2.

[4] âpihtawikosisân (Chelsea Vowel), “Beyond territorial acknowledgements,” September 23, 2016, (accessed 14 May 2019).

In reply to Derek Murray

Re: Derek's Land Acknowledgement

by Dianne Biin -

Hi Derek; I so appreciated the context you give to your acknowledgement from the shared history of colonization. I also appreciate the statements on marginalization and exclusion that run contrary to the welcome and assistance provided to first visitors. Thank you.

I also appreciate how you have situated your own family history into the acknowledgement, you are creating a storyscape with yourself in the acknowledgement rather than providing an acknowledgement that doesn't reflect who you are and where you come from. Connections, intersections and relationships are so key in a genuine acknowledgement and introduction.

So glad you spend time with students talking about the acknowledgement significance and that you are gaining more context and learning through your relationships with First Nation elders. They taught me to be humble and to approach from a place of love and understanding, which is hard to do when you realize the amount of oppression and assimilation bombarding you every day. Knowing who you are and where you come from is the strength that carries you forward into these uncomfortable spaces. 

The worry of 'returning the land back' is a western concept of ownership. So thanks for bringing that forward. I have to remember writings from Franz Fanon that those who have been colonized can also become a colonizer and oppressor. Breaking that cycle is paramount to decolonizing ourselves and re-humanizing our connections to one another. So the thought of returning something that can't be owned always rings false in my Indigenous worldview.

For everyone else in the course - take a look at Sybil Harrison's who's here introduction to see a camas field in Victoria. Restoration of camas meadows and removal of invasive plant species has been underway for a while now and I so thank the continued work of Songhees member Cheryl Bryce.

In reply to Dianne Biin

Re: Derek's Land Acknowledgement

by Derek Murray -

Thank you for the feedback Dianne!

I think the question I am grappling with is around those occasions when the interests of Aboriginal title holders conflict with the goals of the broader social milieu and political powers. Pipelines are just one example. It's easy to make an acknowledgement when you do not see it as a threat to your own self interest. But when the exercise of Aboriginal title threatens powerful economic interests or even entrenched local customs, it starts to get messy.  "Returning the land" might not mean a transfer of ownership in a Western sense, but it might mean changing our relationships to the land in ways that some would consider positive, but others might see as a threat. I am also thinking about the Algonquin land claim that is going on in Ontario right now. It is happening in the place where I grew up and I know a lot of people there felt threatened that the land claim might impact access to private property (it likely won't, but there is that concern nonetheless).

Thank you for the reference to Decolonizing Landscapes, I will keep an eye out for their next Community Tool Shed event!

In reply to Derek Murray

Re: Derek's Land Acknowledgement

by Dianne Biin -

Good query Derek. It has taken me a few days to mull this over. And then, sitting at the Decolonizing Technologies, reprogramming education conference (HASTAC 2019) I heard from one of the speakers that to be authentically engaged, you need to be able to work in the complexities, there is no binary. When we fall into the binary then the problems are perpetuated. And....decolonization can be liberating.

So yes, land negotiations are a worry for those in a fee simple reality. I don't know the details of the Algonquin negotiations. I can only talk to this place. I remember when Tsawwassen implemented their treaty. The first property tax deadline required the administration to create a system from scratch and property tax rates were adjusted and collected on time, with no complaints from 'fee simple' land owners now within Tsawwassen treaty lands.

The gas pipelines has a long sordid history of appropriation through reserve lands (now called cut off lands) and across sensitive gathering habitats. So there is a lot of backstory to the current 'conflict' that comes back to not recognizing the inherent right of Indigenous Peoples to this place. UNDRIP has a level of complexity that will come into play as well. Ohhh if we had a different mini course to explore this!

Thanks for the opportunity to think this through Derek.

In reply to Derek Murray

Re: Derek's Land Acknowledgement

by Jennifer Englund -

Hi Derek,

I don't think our 'posting paths' crossed earlier in the Intro forum, so hello! 

Thanks for your detailed post - I greatly appreciated hearing where you are coming from the reasons you chose to frame your acknowledgement statement in the way that you did, and will do in the future.

I have a professional role similar to yours, and it was helpful to hear how you envision acknowledgement statements for online courses, as that was a question I posted about (just earlier this afternoon) in the Open Forum.

In reply to Derek Murray

Re: Derek's Land Acknowledgement

by Viviana Chiorean -

Hi Derek, 

Thank you for this detailed post. I also really appreciate the transcript, from an accessibility point of view, as I also work part - time with the hard of hearing community.  Some individuals may have difficulty understanding the audio or trying to lip read in the video, so thank you for providing the transcript as well.

Thank you for sharing your story, and as a settler myself, having moved from Eastern Europe to Canada in 1997, I can relate to your statement : "I am aware of the lengths people will go in order to make a better life for themselves and I have been taught about what it is like to lose one’s home and connection to a place". 

I have so much to learn and will be re-reading your post well into next week!