Why we do land acknowledgments

June 21, 2019 | Society
As host of one of the three 2019 Interdisciplinary Dialogue: Spirit Bear Dialogues ᐊᐦᒑᐦᐠ ᒪᐢᑲᐧ ᐅᓯᐦᒋᑫᐃᐧᓂ ᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ forums, Design Studies faculty member Dr. Leslie Obol shared these words following the opening land acknowledgment.

Leading up to this year’s Spirit Bear Dialogues, MacEwan’s Indigenous Knowledge Keeper Roxanne Tootoosis asked us to think about why we do land acknowledgments and encouraged us to move from “head to heart.” At the risk of floundering, I will try to answer her question speaking from my own settler perspective.

Land acknowledgments can disrupt settler colonialism, they can contribute to building better relations with Indigenous Peoples and they can be a starting point for acknowledging Indigenous presence.

While I know these reasons in my head, I also know that land acknowledgments need to be accompanied by a commitment to some kind of real change. And I have also seen these acknowledgments be misunderstood as something to get through or as a box to check.

What might land acknowledgments look or feel like if taken to heart?

When I hear MacEwan’s land acknowledgement, I feel in my heart gratitude for being part of this learning community. I feel proud to be part of an institution led by a Métis woman president and one that is home to an Indigenous Centre – kihêw waciston – run by Indigenous people, for and with the wider community. I feel grateful for the team that so carefully and with so much integrity wrote MacEwan’s land acknowledgement.

In the design classes where I teach and learn, we take turns reading MacEwan’s land acknowledgement. We are learning and feeling our way through these words. At times we are floundering together, at times we are pausing and showing gratitude together. But in the safe space that is our learning community, we are considering some of the many ways that Indigenous knowledges are informing our collective learning. We are feeling our way, from head to heart, through the big question of what does it mean to be treaty people? We are starting to feel where the power of sharing circles comes from.

In this way, doing land acknowledgements never becomes redundant, but rather an ongoing opportunity to learn, from wherever we are at. By relating to and with Indigenous knowledges and presence, I feel we can take even the smallest of steps toward collective healing.

– Dr. Leslie Obol, Faculty Member, Design Studies

The university-wide Spirit Bear Dialogues brought together students and faculty to look at Indigenous research through the lens of decolonization and reconciliation. Read more

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