Land Acknowledgement

I write these words from what is unceded Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Wendat lands, a place governed by the Dish with One Spoon wampum agreement. This place is currently called Toronto, Ontario, Canada but as my friend Terry Monture tells us, each of these words come from the Mohawk language; when we speak the names of the land in this way they remind us of the obligations and responsibilities that we have to this place and to one another. The Wendat also had a place near what we call Toronto that was called Taranton/Taronteau/Toronton. This place has a long, complex history of Indigenous residency and diplomacy.

The Dish with One Spoon treaty which governs this place, holds responsibilities for me as an uninvited visitor – a settler – responsibilities which require me to be in good relation with the original peoples of this place as well as the land itself. It was originally an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples to share the land around Niigaani-gichigami/Kaniatarí:io (Lake Ontario) and the Great Lakes region, to protect the resources that sustained them, and to live in peace; though, this is a simplified version of a complex agreement. As Hayden King reminds us, this treaty is not a metaphor; it is a real, living, governing agreement that holds responsibilities for each of us that recognize it. Before the settlers arrived, these nations had large cities and towns where they lived together, traded, farmed, and respected one another (such as what archeologists now call the ‘Mantle Site’). These are things that can once again happen when we support Indigenous peoples, nations, and the laws that govern them. As the Ogimaa Mikana project reminds us, “If you want to learn something, first you must learn this.” 

Indigenous peoples have lived here for more than 15,000 years and continue to do so despite the violence they have faced since the arrival of European settlers. Despite the violence they continue to face. Colonialism never ended and continues to harm, kill, and remove Indigenous peoples from the land in its many often changing but always violent forms today. This has to end. We must work towards ending it.

My friend Ian Mosby, along with many others, has documented the role food played in this colonial violence. In places such as the Mantle Site as well as across Turtle Island, extensive crops were grown, animals were respectfully and sustainably hunted, seasonal plant cycles were respected, and diverse lifeways thrived here. Food was not only for sustenance but it was also social and medicinal; it connected people to the land and with one another, it was a source of physical, emotional and spiritual health. With the coming of the settlers, this was disrupted; Indigenous peoples’ foodways were destroyed and many Indigenous peoples were intentionally starved to death. The Canadian government intentionally used food as a weapon against Indigenous peoples. The food we eat is still impacted by this ongoing colonial violence. When I buy ‘more ethical’ local produce, it is still farmed on stolen land (and often by low-paid temporary foreign labor…). The fresh, healthy food I can access in Toronto is not available to many northern Indigenous communities, many of whom do not even have potable water, and if it is available the prices are prohibitively expensive. We who live in this place must face this and work to rectify these wrongs.

The relationships we have to the land and to one another are often complex, complicated, deeply personal and cannot be summed up in public acknowledgement such as this. These public acknowledgements are never enough; we cannot acknowledge colonialism away. They are but a step towards real change. But they are a step; public acknowledgements such as this one work to disrupt the myth making of a settler state that seeks to disappear Indigenous claims to the land that was stolen from them. They work to re-story cities such as Toronto as Indigenous places. As this beautiful video and essay on land acknowledgements tells us:

“Land acknowledgements might seem like a small and simple gesture, but like many of our Indigenous ways, they are designed to evolve and hopefully hold much more meaning than the words alone—and to allow us to re-imagine the real story of this land, together.”

This is necessary work.

And, in this commitment to Indigenous places, peoples, and laws there is hope – a chance to re-imagine our stories on this land. As my friend Susan Blight writes in regards to knowing Toronto as an Indigenous city,

For me, Toronto really represents a place of hope for people of all different backgrounds to live together in a reciprocal relationship with each other and the land, and to come to a different kind understanding of how we do that respectfully, with generosity and kindness.”