Documentation:Inclusive Teaching/Land Acknowledgements in Teaching and Learning

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This resource was developed through a collaboration of non-Indigenous settlers who work, live, and play on the traditional, unceded, lands of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓-speaking Musqueam people. It attempts to serve as a beginners guide to help better understand the importance of land acknowledgements and how to integrate them into teaching and learning practice, specific to UBC Point Grey campus.

What is it?

Acknowledging Indigenous lands, rights, and peoples is a practice to inform where universities and institutions are situated. It is a starting point to understanding the long presence and histories of Indigenous peoples as well as our historical, social, and physical locations. Land acknowledgements have become a recognized practice at universities across Canada, but they vary by context and place[1].

UBC Indigenous Peoples Language Guidelines provides common ways to acknowledge territories on three campuses—Point Grey, Robson Square, and Vancouver General Hospital (see page 12). However, individuals who are making this acknowledgement should consider extending and personalizing this given acknowledgement statement by integrating it into the context, in which they are speaking or teaching.

Why is it important?

Territory acknowledgements are a step towards building better understandings and relations with Indigenous peoples and communities. It is also an opportunity to make meaningful connections to the land. Acknowledging traditional[2], ancestral, and unceded lands is a way to invite guests - particularly those who are not Indigenous - to listen and acknowledge their positions on this territory, and to understand that as guests they benefit from being situated on unceded lands and the resources that the lands offer.

As territory acknowledgements become part of common practice within institutions, they run the risk of losing some of their meaning. It is important to highlight their purpose and their significance for learning. In Why We Acknowledge Musqueam Territory, Dr. Linc Kesler states that acknowledging Musqueam is recognizing the long history and presence of the Musqueam people for thousands of years before UBC Point Grey came to be. As the university grew, Musqueam history became more invisible and Musqueam lost access to their own traditional land and resources. UBC Aboriginal Centennial provides the hidden history behind how UBC Point Grey came to be where it stands today. Starting off class or any event with a territory acknowledgement is a small way to disrupt this problematic pattern and show respect for Musqueam as well as other Indigenous communities. It also serves as a commitment to engage in ongoing relationships with Musqueam people and to continue learning from them.

How do I bring land acknowledgements into my practice?

Acknowledging Indigenous lands in a thoughtful and respectful way requires deeply engaging with your social location on the land and the the reason and impact of land acknowledgements[3]. Instructors can consider these guiding questions and use the answers to shape how they word their territory acknowledgments:

  • How do you situate yourself on the land? How does your positionality shape your relationships to your students and course content?
  • What are the learning objectives and outcomes for your students from engaging with land acknowledgements in the classroom? How can you connect this to your teaching practice?
  • What prior knowledge do your learners have with territory acknowledgements?
  • What experiences have they had with it? Through their experiences, what have they learned about land acknowledgements?

Another first step is to look into what Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have written about land acknowledgements from their points of views. Territory acknowledgment should look different depending on who does it and where that happens.

For example, a former UBC student, Justin Wiebe, describes what territory acknowledgements means to him:

“When I acknowledge traditional territories, it is rooted in an understanding of the privilege I have in being here. I am blessed to be here, to be living and working on territories that are not my own. It is also about positioning myself as an uninvited guest, and sharing who I am and where I am from. This is part of my own protocols. By sharing these details about my story, people gain valuable insights into my life. In doing so, I am held accountable not only to myself but also to my family and broader community. This is something I spend a lot of time thinking about, and try to incorporate into my work. I believe this is important for all people to do. Although an acknowledgement is important, it alone is not enough. Territory acknowledgements must coincide with a deep understanding of how guests on Indigenous territories continue to benefit off these lands and resources.”[4]

What are points for critical considerations?

Stating territory acknowledgements are not enough. They must be followed with actions and initiatives for deeper learning on how as guests we occupy Indigenous lands, or else they risk becoming token gestures rather than a meaningful step towards better relations with Indigenous peoples and communities, as Khelsilem warns in the blog post “Liberated Yet? Khelsilem’s Tips for Acknowledging Territory 1.0.” Making land acknowledgements should be a starting place for a lifelong process in learning, not a final destination.

Resources for Further Learning

Musqueam and UBC - Aboriginal Portal (aboriginal.ubc.ca)

Information on the Musqueam and UBC relationship with a video welcome from Musqueam elder sʔəyəɬəq (Larry Grant) and an explanation by Dr Linc Kesler, Associate Professor of First Nations and Indigenous Studies and Director of the First Nations House of Learning, about why we acknowledge Musqueam territory.

Indigenous Foundations

The Indigenous Foundations website was developed to support students in their studies, and to provide instructors, researchers, and the broader public with a place to begin exploring topics that relate to Aboriginal peoples, cultures, and histories.

Native-land.ca

A note from the author: Native-land.ca is not an organization (yet) and is run by Victor G Temprano, whose company, Mapster, funds the website. This is not an academic or professional survey of Indigenous territories, and the maps are constantly being refined from user input. These are meant more for the sake of helping people get interested and engaged. This map must be used critically. Maps potentially function as colonial artifacts and represent a very particular way of seeing the world - a way primarily concerned with ownership, exclusivity, and power relations.

CTLT Indigenous Initiatives: Classroom Climate Series Territory Acknowledgement

This blog article was co-created by CTLT’s Marketing and Communications team and Indigenous Initiatives that features interviews with UBC faculty members who are actively discussing territory acknowledgements within their units and research. It also features a session in partnership with UBC Learning Circle on Territory Acknowledgements in Teaching and Learning.

UBC Indigenous Peoples: Language Guidelines

This guide has been produced to help UBC communicators navigate the terminology and meanings associated with this subject in order to produce the best—and most respectful— results, with the recognition that, as time passes, the terminology is subject to change and this guide will need to be refreshed.

The Talon: An Introduction to Settler Colonialism: Part Three

A three-part series on Settler Colonialism at UBC co-authored by UBC students, Justin Wiebe and Kay Ho.

Beyond Territory Acknowledgements

Chelsea Vowel critically looks at the practice of territory acknowledgements and ways institutions have embedded this practice into their day-to-day operations. In addition, the article provides an extensive bibliography of other sources to draw on.

Canadian University Acknowledgment of Indigenous Lands, Treaties, and Peoples

An academic journal describing the varying content and practices of acknowledging territory and its’ relationship to treaty relationships (or the lack of).

CAUT Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples and Traditional Territory

Common ways to acknowledge territory for institutions by province across Canada. This resource serves to be as a guide, not a script.

References

  1. Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples & Traditional Territory. (2017) Canadian Association of University Teachers. https://www.caut.ca/sites/default/files/caut-guide-to-acknowledging-first-peoples-and-traditional-territory-2017-09.pdf
  2. According to the UBC Indigenous Peoples Language Guidelines (2016), traditional territory refers to the acknowledgement of lands that were traditionally occupied by First Nations. This also includes, ancestral, where land was handed down to subsequent generations. Unceded refers to land not turned over to the Crown by treaty or some other agreement.
  3. Beyond Territorial Acknowledgements. (2016) By âpihtawikosisân. http://apihtawikosisan.com/2016/09/beyond-territorial-acknowledgments/
  4. An Introduction to Settler Colonialism at UBC: Part Three. (2014) By Justin Wiebe and K. Ho. The Talon, UBC's Alternative Student Press. http://thetalon.ca/an-introduction-to-settler-colonialism-at-ubc-part-three/