Territorial Acknowledgement

Why should we do territorial acknowledgments? 

  • It is what local First Nations have asked of us.
  • Indigenous students have told us that the acknowledgements are meaningful to them. 

From the SFU Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee report:

Recognizing Aboriginal people and their traditional lands is one of the most important acts of reconciliation; is a way to honour Aboriginal people; and is something that the SFU community can consciously, collectively, and individually practice. Historically, all colonial oppressive acts were directly linked to the removal of Aboriginal peoples from their traditional lands through legislation and colonial structures including Indian reserves, the Indian Act, and the Indian residential school system. These were devised to control “Indians” and their lands and to eliminate what was commonly called the “Indian Problem.”

For Indigenous people, an inherent connection to Mother Earth and their traditional lands defines who they are as a people and is intrinsically linked to their Indigenous cultures, knowledge systems (epistemologies and methodologies), and their ways of knowing, seeing, and doing. Accordingly, the acknowledgement of traditional lands is an important way to pay respect to the Indigenous peoples on whose lands SFU is situated.

When should we do territorial acknowledgments? 

Territory acknowledgements are appropriate at the start of meetings, classes, defenses, and public events. The bigger, more momentous, or more public the event, the more important it is to acknowledge traditional territory.  At public events, it is also appropriate to employ members of local First Nations to provide a welcoming. 

Some people are uncomfortable giving land acknowledgments because they are worried they will get it “wrong,” or feel as if they do not have a meaningful enough connection to the local nations to be delivering an acknowledgement, and it somehow seems “fake.”   These are certainly understandable feelings.  That said, giving an acknowledgement is actually not that hard, and gets easier with practice. 

How should we do territorial acknowledgments?

There is no one right way to do a territory acknowledgement, and people will have different preferences depending on their own identities, politics, and experiences.  However, some simple examples are provided below that are generally acceptable and consistent with the recommendations of the SFU Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee. Approximate pronunciations are provided in brackets (). From SFU's Office of Aboriginal of Peoples, their protocol for territorial acknowledgments can be noted below. For SFU Library's overview of territorial acknowledgments, please click here.

At Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby campus, an acknowledgement is often – and appropriately - given to the traditional territories of the Squamish (Sḵwx̱ wú7mesh Úxwumixw), Tsleil-Waututh (səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ), Kwikwetlem (kʷikʷəƛ̓əm) and Musqueam(xʷməθkʷəy̓əm) Nations.

At Simon Fraser University’s Vancouver campus, an acknowledgement is often –and appropriately - given to the traditional territories of the Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw), Tsleil-Waututh (səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ), and Musqueam (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm)Nations.

The SFU Surrey campus is located on, and serves many First Nations local to the campusincluding the Semiahmoo, Tsawwassen, Kwantlen, Katzie, the Kwikwetlem (kʷikʷəƛ̓əm), and the Qayqayt First Nations.

The term "Coast Salish"

Those who acknowledge traditional territory often use the comprehensive term Coast Salish. For example, “To begin our event/celebration, we wish to acknowledge the traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples…”  However, representatives from the local nations have expressed the wish that their nation be acknowledged by individual name rather than be mentioned as part of a group. “Coast Salish” is a linguistic term, referring to the Coast Salish language family. This language family encompasses many First Nations, including those mentioned below and others whose traditional territory is found on Vancouver Island and in the United States. In that sense, the term is quite broad and does not actually acknowledge the local nations.

For additional information on pronunciation of Indigenous nations, click here.

Variations, personalizations, and reflections

It is certainly acceptable for you to give an acknowledgment in your own way, personalizing the acknowledgement to make it more authentic, or to emphasize certain issues.  For example, some people like to use the word “land” or “home land” rather than “territory.”   Others might add “unceded”, as in “traditional unceded territories.”  A brief moment of silent reflection could be added. To avoid the acknowledgements becoming too “stale” and superficial, some people add a personal reflection on the land acknowledgement (for example, what it brings up for them personally), or to connect the reality of being on traditional territory to the event, meeting, or class topic. 

Territory acknowledgments are only a starting point

Territory acknowledgements are important; however, it should be noted that acknowledgements do not in themselves actually change policy or the material conditions for indigenous peoples. Acknowledgements are an important place to start and can potentially have a large effect on the culture of SFU, but they have a bigger effect when combined with other reconciliation efforts. 

Is acknowledging Indigenous territory enough? (Gehl, 2017) 
âpihtawikosisân (2016, “Beyond Territorial Acknowledgement”) provides an excellent critique of the limitations of territory acknowledgements.