Land Acknowledgements and Why They Matter

This video was written, produced and directed by Ryan Matheson, a graduate student of settler heritage in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development in collaboration with local Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members in consideration of the land on which the Guelph campus resides.

[Black screen with text that reads: “Land acknowledgments are living entities formed by sacred breath that should be spoken from the heart and reflect humility, gratitude, respect, and responsibility toward place, fire, water, and air.

They should speak of our honest, traditionally accurate recognition of our kinship with the land.

If you are a guest on traditional lands that First Nations, Inuit and Métis called home for thousands of years, your acknowledgment should demonstrate respect and gratitude towards these peoples for the way they lived and continue to live in nature.” – Jan Sherman, Anishinaabe mother, culture keeper, storyteller, drummer and spiritual guide.]

[Camera pans back on an animated painting showing two women with drums standing on a giant turtle. Narrator Bruce Weaver speaks as the Good-Hearted Women Singers quietly sing “Anishinaabe Prophecy Song”  in background along with drumbeat]

Guelph, known as Thadinadonnih, the place where they built, to the Mohawk nation, on the shores of the Um-ne-mo-sah river, as it is known to the Mississaugas, this place has many names that are not consecrated on colonial maps.

We are on the traditional lands of of Attawandaron, Anishinaabek, and Haudenosaunee peoples and on the treaty lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit. This place is home to peoples who can trace their lineage here back thousands of years.

We are within the jurisdiction of the Two Row Wampum and the Dish With One Spoon covenant. These are nation-with-nation agreements, and they serve as reminders that all the people on this land are still accountable for the promises made by their ancestors.

[Camera pans back on an animated painting of two people in canoes paddling along a river]

This land is a product of many stories, seen and unseen. It is shaped by the wind, the water, and the people that have flowed and continue to flow across it. It is one of the many meeting grounds of Turtle Island. It has been the stage for many dramas that have been forgotten and many that are all-too-well remembered. But all of these dramas have played a part in building the life that we have today, with all of its privilege and all of its pain.

Being honest and open about this history is central to the Land Acknowledgement.

Land Acknowledgements are not meant to instill guilt or to assert treaty rights. They are not lip service to institutional or governmental mandates, nor are they meant to simply convey sympathies or regret. They are a way for us all to feel more connected to the land that sustains us. They are a reminder of our responsibilities to the land and of our relationship to the natural world. They are meant to push us to educate ourselves about the history that has shaped our lives here so we can begin rebuilding relationships from a place of honesty.

[Camera is now focused on portion of painting that shows an Indigenous man in a headdress sitting across and holding the hand of a white man in colonial clothing, a bowl of food between them.]

Land Acknowledgements are meant to remind us that Canada was foundedneither on pristine wilderness nor on empty space. Rather, it  was built alongside, and then on top of, Indigenous nations that existed since time immemorial. And also to remind us that those nations continue to exist and continue to have responsibilities to the land and inherit rights to determine their own futures and practise their own languages and cultures without discrimination or interference from other forms of government.

The Land Acknowledgement highlights the importance that Indigenous peoples place on kinship with land in a culturally responsible way. And it’s a step towards building a future focused on understanding, respect, reciprocity, and a reconnection with the land and with one another.

Finally, the Land Acknowledgement is a platform for real change and real commitments to be put forward. It is meant to break the silence that has left Indigenous peoples and communities in Canada deprived of clean water, disadvantaged in educational opportunities, forced into housing and poverty crises, and destabilized by systemic racism and inequality.

For settlers and visitors, the Land Acknowledgement should inspire questions like, what steps will Western institutions and organizations take to mend the privilege gap which began with colonization and has continued in so many of our present-day policies?

[Music and drumbeats stop. Animated painting of an eagle flapping its wings and flying off screen]

How have you benefited from colonization at the expense of the cultures, lives, and livelihoods of Indigenous peoples? What will your contributions be to reconciliation and a future focused on equity, reciprocity and nation-with-nation relationships?