Land Acknowledgement

In 2017, the then York University Aboriginal Education Council, now called the Indigenous Council, formulated a new land acknowledgement for York University, recognizing the presence of Indigenous peoples on the campus both in the past and present. In 2019, it was revised slightly. It now reads as follows:

"York University acknowledges its presence on the traditional territory of many Indigenous Nations. The area known as Tkaronto has been care taken by the Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Huron-Wendat. It is now home to many First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities. We acknowledge the current treaty holders, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. This territory  is subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement to peaceably share and care for the Great Lakes region."

The Alternative Campus Tour recognizes the importance of such land acknowledgements but in the spirit of the Tour, we would also like to recognize the difficulties, challenges, and contradictions that may go along with them. We think this is important since land acknowledgements are now often read mechanically at formal events, including theatre performances and hockey games, without deeper reflection. Such reflections may encompass questions related to who to include and exclude, whether the category of land is a colonial static and bounded concept that does not recognize the fluidity of Indigenous peoples' movement across land both spatially, socially and ethnically, and whether First Peoples are honoured in mere words but with little restitutive action. For a good brief discussion of these questions, see Stephen Marche, "Canada's Impossible Acknowledgement," The New Yorker, 7 September, 2017. The recent revision of the acknowledgement reflects some of these questions. The 2017 version included the Métis as the traditional care takers of Tkaronto while the current version does not. The Métis are instead recognized in the sentence "It [Tkaronto] is now home to many First Nation, Inuit, and Métis communities." That sentence read previously "It [Tkaronto] is now home to many Indigenous communities."

At York University, the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services and Indigenous faculty members have produced a video entitled "Understanding the Land Acknowledgement" that speaks to the importance of not merely using the land acknowledgement as a “tick off” but also as a means to engage its wider and deeper meanings. This includes paying tribute to the land, something done beautifully by Amy Desjarlais, Wabishka Kakaki Zhaawshko Shkeezhgokwe, Knowledge Keeper, holding a piece of the land, at the very beginning at the video. Sheridan College's provides a good example of a land acknowledgement paying tribute to the land, including a video interview with Stephen Paquette.

Jeffery Hewitt, in an article titled "Land Acknowledgment, Scripting and Julius Caesar," provides a compelling argument for land acknowledgements that are more committed to action. His reading of the land acknowledgements of each university posted online in Canada shows that they recognize at least one Indigenous Nation who occupied or occupies the lands where the university now sits. However, they yet have to mention how colonization violated Indigenous peoples and lands as well as incorporate action-based words that commit to change.

In an article titled "Naagan ge bezhig emkwaan: A Dish with One Spoon Reconsidered," Dean Jacobs and Victor Lytwyn provide additional critical insights on York University's and many other land acknowledgements in the Toronto region. They argue that the reference to the Dish with One Spoon Belt Covenant as an agreement to peaceably share and care for the Great Lakes Region blurs the Covenant’s exclusive application to First Nations, suggesting erroneously that it applies to everybody, including colonial settlers, and that concern for the environment takes precedence over Indigenous people’s rights to land.