Moving Beyond Land Acknowledgements: Indigenous Leaders Urge for Tangible Action

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In contemporary times, it has increasingly become customary to initiate events or meetings with a land acknowledgement. Originating from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action in 2015, these recognitions became widespread as an honorable gesture towards Indigenous peoples’ rights to the lands we inhabit.

Almost a decade later, many are advocating that it’s high time these words translate into action. Indigenous matriarch Brenda Dubois expresses her sentiments candidly. “While land acknowledgements were a good start, it isn’t sufficient. As an Indigenous person, I endure them, but I anticipate more. We must transcend just the land acknowledgement.”

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According to Dubois, land acknowledgements have been diluted into mere “optical allyship.” She urges that the time has come to mature the practice and take it to the next level. “Acknowledging the land we are sharing is commendable, but we must also evaluate how we treat this land and our relationship with it,” she asserts.

Doubois advocates for more than just land acknowledgements. She is eager to observe organizations acknowledging the different actions they are taking to enact change and foster better rapport with Indigenous peoples and the land.

She emphasizes the TRC Calls to Action, particularly the principle concerning the elimination of outmoded, systemic institutional structures, as a viable place to initiate change. “We need to be an integral part of this shift to avoid being colonized twice,” Dubois says.

Jason Bird, in a similar vein, substantiates the value of acknowledgments as conversation igniters. However, Bird, an Indigenous business program coordinator with the First Nations University of Canada, believes that over time, these words have become ritualistic and lost their original essence.

He shares Doubois’s sentiment; organizations should support their words with tangible actions. He urges organizations to ponder over what actionable measures they are taking to help the communities and their integration in the workplace.

In response, some institutions like University of Saskatchewan’s Gwenna Moss Centre have devised workshops and resources to help instructors create substantial land acknowledgments that are rooted in Indigenous worldviews and history.

Other institutions and local government units, including the City of Regina, seek the counsel of Indigenous leaders and Elders to ensure the best practice. Regina’s Mayor, Sandra Masters, emphasizes the significance of consulting with those who possess the lived experience, especially when it comes to residential school survivors and Elders.

As the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30 grows closer, Dubois hopes these arduous dialogues and opportunities for growth will persist throughout the year. While she expects an increase in land acknowledgments during the federal holiday, her ultimate aspiration is for organizations to accompany their words with meaningful action.