New video explores the importance of understanding the land acknowledgement

Ruth Koleszar-Green

What is the land acknowledgement? Why is it important and what does it mean? These questions are at the heart of a new video produced through a collaborative effort involving the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services (CASS) at York University; Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Deborah McGregor, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Environmental Justice; School of Social Work Professor Ruth Koleszar-Green, special advisor to the president on Indigenous initiatives; and Amy Desjarlais, traditional knowledge keeper.

The video, which was funded by the Office of the Vice-Provost Academic, explains the statements included in the land acknowledgement, the history of the traditional territory of the Indigenous Peoples who called the Keele and Glendon Campus lands their home before the arrival of the settlers and the Dish With One Spoon Treaty that covers the area.

For several years now, major events at York University such as convocation, conferences and symposiums have begun with a recitation of the University’s land acknowledgement, which reads as follows:

We recognize that many Indigenous nations have longstanding relationships with the territories upon which York University campuses are located that precede the establishment of York University. 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, the Wendat, and the Métis. It is now home to many Indigenous Peoples. We acknowledge the current treaty holders and 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 land acknowledgement is an important part of reconciliation following the findings of the 2015 Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada and its calls to action, Koleszar-Green said. (It was most recently updated to include the name change by the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, formerly the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.)

Koleszar-Green said many Indigenous community members are becoming increasingly concerned that people are becoming tone-deaf to the importance of the land acknowledgement or regard it as a checkbox to be performed at events for political correctness and are losing sight of its significance to the efforts underway to indigenize the academy.

“It is important to take time during the land acknowledgement to pause and reflect on what it means and how it applies to the University and beyond,” she says. “For example, what do non-Indigenous people know about the Dish With One Spoon Territory, or the fact that it is a treaty to share and protect the land?” said Koleszar-Green.

She has a request for faculty, staff and students at York University: “Watch the video and reflect on the teachings it contains, reflect on how it applies to what you are learning, teaching or working on,” she said, noting that the land acknowledgement and their reflections on its meaning it can be applied to deepen the understanding of the theories contained in engineering, science, liberal arts, fine arts, environmental studies, professional studies, business and the law.

“When you hear the land acknowledgement and it talks about the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant treaty,” said Koleszar-Green, “the central circle represents a dish, and in that dish the great peacemaker, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, cut up the beaver tail and put it in that dish, so we can serve it to each other with one spoon. That dish has three simple teachings. First, never take more than your share. Second, make sure there’s enough food to go around for everybody. Number three, don’t foul the dish or take the dish.”

There is a rich history to the area known as Tkaronto, and the peaceable agreement to share and care for the Great Lakes region – a history, said Koleszar-Green, that can deepen and enrich teaching, learning and research at the University.