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‘Saying with intention’

Recognizing Indigenous history and culture with land acknowledgements

special feature: Indigenization

Part of a special feature chronicling the transformation of the academy through the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge, voices, critiques, scholars, students and materials at Memorial.

By Meaghan Whelan

A hockey game between the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers, a city council meeting in Toronto, Ont., and a meeting at Memorial University.

When people come together as a group, they are increasingly taking the time to acknowledge that the land on which they are gathered is Indigenous land.

While land acknowledgements, also called territory acknowledgements, may seem like a relatively new phenomenon, the practice dates back hundreds of years.

“A land acknowledgment itself is an Indigenous practice that goes back centuries,” explained Catharyn Andersen, Memorial’s special advisor to the president on Aboriginal affairs.

“In British Columbia, for example, where there were hundreds of nations, it was protocol and practice for visitors to a place to acknowledge they were visiting someone else’s territory, to acknowledge that territory and thank them for being on that territory.”

Multiple and specific

Memorial has multiple land acknowledgements to be used on different campuses. All were developed in consultation with Newfoundland and Labrador’s Indigenous groups.

On St. John’s campuses, the acknowledgement recognizes the ancestral homelands of the Beothuk, the island of Newfoundland generally as the ancestral homelands of both the Mi’kmaq and Beothuk, the Inuit of Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut and the Innu of Nitassinan, and their ancestors, as the original people of Labrador.

“When we open an event or a meeting with a land acknowledgement, it should be something that we are saying with intention and reflecting upon, not just a checkbox to complete.” — Catharyn Andersen

On Grenfell Campus, the statement acknowledges that the land is in traditional Mi’kmaw territory and recognizes the diverse histories and cultures of the Beothuk, Mi’kmaq, Innu and Inuit of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Labrador Institute recognizes the Inuit of Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut and the Innu of Nitassinan.

Recognize and acknowledge

The land acknowledgments can be used by any faculty member, student, employee or visitor to Memorial who would like to recognize and acknowledge the pre-colonial history of this province.

While there is a video available on the Aboriginal Affairs website, Ms. Andersen urges the Memorial community to read the acknowledgement themselves or use it as a framework to acknowledge the territory in their own words.

“The video was created for orientation a few years ago so that new students could see the president and the provost—Memorial’s highest levels of leadership — making this acknowledgement,” she explained.

“When we open an event or a meeting with a land acknowledgement, it should be something that we are saying with intention and reflecting upon, not just a checkbox to complete.”

She recognizes that unfamiliar words in the acknowledgement may be daunting, but encourages people to try.

“As long as people are making a respectful attempt, no one is going to attack or criticize them.”

Working towards reconciliation

The increasing prevalence of land acknowledgements is beginning to feel like a cultural shift, according to Ms. Andersen.

“There is still a lot of discussion happening across the country about land and territory acknowledgements, and we are all at different stages of that journey.

“Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, it is still a relatively new practice, so I think that the more it becomes the norm and people get used to hearing it in different venues, the more it opens the conversation about reconciliation and what we are doing at Memorial to further Indigenize the institution.”

To read Memorial’s land acknowledgements, visit the Aboriginal Affairs website.

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