Section 3: Integrate – Ethical Approach and Relational Protocols

Understanding Territorial Acknowledgement as a Respectful Relationship


As an Indigenous scholar, ethical practice is rooted in cultural protocols and in this I acknowledge that I have experienced many transformative approaches which reflect teachings from these lands. Therefore, I acknowledge the territories for facilitating and assisting in the development of Indigenous leadership, pedagogies and transformation within academia. The relationships we develop within these territories can assist in spiritual, emotional, physical and mental well-being for students, administrators and faculty. I also acknowledge that it is a form of respect, wherever we live, to find out whose traditional territory we are on because every part of what is now known as Canada is someone’s Indigenous traditional territory.

– Todd Ormiston (personal communication, 2017)

Territorial acknowledgements are now being made in many post-secondary institutions across the country. The Canadian Association of University Teachers has developed a living resource called Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples and Traditional Territory,[1] which shows how institutions are identifying the traditional First Nation and Inuit territories they reside upon. As an educator, you play a part in modelling and sharing this learning with students. Meaningful territorial acknowledgements develop a closer relationship with the land and stewards of the place by recognizing the living history and connections of ourselves with other communities. Providing a territorial acknowledgement is protocol. In this Vancouver Island University welcome video[2], Snuneymuxw Elder Gary Manson speaks to the importance of protocol when doing a territorial acknowledgement. Acknowledging territory is political, an act of alliance, and a practice for reconciliation.

Learning to do a territorial acknowledgement takes time. You can learn from other leaders and colleagues. As you build connections with the land, you also build connections with and belonging to Indigenous community; it enables you to engage with education and community in the classroom, together. Modelling a territorial acknowledgement for students creates space to talk about systemic change. In his blog, Liberated Yet?, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh-Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw educator and artist Khelsilem (2015) shares five tips for acknowledging territory:

  1. Elevate Indigenous polity (society, governance, and jurisdiction)
  2. Practise unceded territory, don’t just talk about it
  3. Move the yardstick – centre yourself and your role in the acknowledgement
  4. Don’t insert yourself into internal politics by only sharing one perspective
  5. Make mistakes so you can learn

By providing a meaningful territorial acknowledgment, you are deepening your understanding and incorporation of Indigenous knowledge systems and perspectives in your practice.

Place names tour: Promising practice from the University of the Fraser Valley

Knowing traditional place names is important in building relationships with the places we live and teach from. The University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), in partnership with the Stō:lo Nation, has developed a day-long guided tour for staff, administrators, and faculty to take after they have spent time learning about Indigenous-Canadian relationships and history. The place names tour teaches them what is important in the Stō:lo worldview.

Dr. Sonny Naxaxahats’i leads the tour and sets the tone by sharing a key Stō:lo worldview through a greeting stated at the start of an all-Chiefs meeting by Elder Tillie Gutierrez:

S’olh tmexw te ikw’elo. Xolhemet te mekw’stam it kwelat
(We have to take care of everything that belongs to us)

It reaffirms that Stō:lo People accept responsibility for “everything” living and flowing through the traditional territory.

In the tour, participants learn that some of the English names in the area are translations of the Halq’emeylem names; for example, Chilliwack is Ch-ihl-kway-uhk and Chehalis is Sts’ailes. They also learn that some places describe a geological phenomenon; for instance, Mount Baker is called Kulshan because it refers to the “bleeding wound” at the top of the mountain. (Mount Baker was so named in 1798 by Captain Vancouver. Joseph Baker, Captain Vancouver reported, was the first of his crew, in 1792, to see the mountain.) Understanding traditional place names heightens the meaning and relevance of the traditional territory for UFV staff, deepening their relationship to place and peoples. Shirley Ann Hardman (personal communication, 2017) has said, “I like faculty, staff, and administrators to take the Stō:lo place names tour because it provides critical insights into what is valued by the Stō:lo peoples. It helps people to know that there was a whole world here before the farmers, before Costco and the freeway.”

  1. Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples and Traditional Territory:
  2. Vancouver Island University Welcome video: