Land Acknowledgement: Five Steps Toward New Beginnings

The following is an op-ed post by Gwen Nguyen, advisor, Learning and Teaching, at BCcampus

Like many educators and scholars across the province and country, I’m engaged in land acknowledgement — also known as territorial acknowledgement — which has become a common practice at the beginning of public gatherings such as academic events, meetings, or conferences since the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015 (Wilson, 2021). Recently, land acknowledgements have also appeared in written forms in course syllabi, with educators’ signatures, on online discussion forums, and on websites and social media.

Perhaps by now you might say, “Another article about land acknowledgement?” You’re not wrong at all.

This piece is becoming

another snowflake

falling into the ocean when I write

Although I am aware of recent criticism regarding land acknowledgments, and I have been making mistakes in this praxis, I still wish to share how I am growing with it in my work. I hope you won’t look for best practices or persuasive arguments to advocate for land acknowledgements in this thought piece.

To start with I would like to revisit the meanings of the words land and acknowledgement. Land is part of Earth’s surface that is not covered by water — as opposed to the sea or air. Land is also understood as a country or place. The word acknowledgement “refers to a recognition and appreciation of another’s right to self-determining autonomy and existence” (Wilkes et al., 2017, p. 91). In general, land acknowledgements are statements that recognize both the land and the Indigenous peoples who lived – and in many situations continue to live – there prior to Canada’s colonial history. Land acknowledgements originated from a tradition carried out in Indigenous communities in Canada and are a way for guests or visitors to show their respect for the communities with which they visit and engage. “It recognizes the strength and wisdom of the place that has given rise to the people who are of that land and it invokes the spirit of that place to support your good intentions” (Calvez & Roberts, 2020).

When I came,  

the land was a part of Earth’s surface.

When I left,

the land suddenly transformed into a spirit

flying with me wherever I went.

We usually talk about land and people as two separate entities. However, in some Asian cultures, such as in Vietnam or Japan, there’s no dualism between humans and the environment. The land is the people, and the people are the land. Before I came to Canada, I learned about the close relationship to nature held by Indigenous peoples here from some books on my dad’s shelves. I learned Indigenous people love the land as themselves because the relationship with the land and everything surrounding us is crucial to shaping and growing who we become.

Even though more commitments and actions are needed to facilitate change in our walk toward truth and reconciliation, I find land acknowledgements an important and powerful start, as this practice encourages deep reflection and inspires many of us to find ways to reconnect, understand, and improve our relationships with Indigenous communities.

Below I share my five steps to creating a land acknowledgement: Walking Toward New Beginnings, inspired by the poem “A Digital Land Acknowledgement” by Deidre Lee (2020).

Step 1: Read, Stop, and Restart

In the poem Lee (2020) writes

Read this poem aloud

Ideally outside

In the sun

So the trees & the wind can listen in

If this makes you roll your eyes


Go away

Have a nap

Try again

I love these first few lines. I start my land acknowledgements with lots of reading. I read the statements on my university’s or organization’s website. I read what’s on the First Peoples House at the school where I used to work. I read and watched my colleagues’ land acknowledgements. I truly found it uneasy. I don’t think I have been brave enough to say my land acknowledgement outside and out loud, so the trees and wind around can listen. But as I come from Vietnam, a country that has suffered from war, invasion, and colonization, I understand land acknowledgement is a process of unlearning and relearning in which we need to stop and restart several times.

Step 2: Relearn and Discover

Now, let’s continue following Lee (2020)’s thoughts:

Learn what “unceded” means

Understand that this

Is just the beginning

I used to ask myself what unceded, visitor, and uninvited guest meant. If you’re like me, you would probably be concerned about the difference between land and territory. After Step 1 we need to come to a big step of relearning, researching, and discovering. It would be helpful to start with some reflective questions. The first is: What is your goal with a land acknowledgement? Do you do it because the topic is about Indigenous culture? Or is it because it’s required at your institution? Or is it to inspire others to take action in supporting Indigenous communities?

After this big question, let’s continue researching to understand more about the Indigenous people and traditional territory you are working on.

  • Learn whose traditional territory you are working on by using resources like
  • Discover the pre- and post-settlement history of the land as well as related treaties.
  • Research Indigenous words and phrases, including correct pronunciations for names and nations, communities, places, and individuals. Learn about appropriate terms such as First Nations, Métis, and Inuit as well as colonization, settler, assimilation, and stolen land to highlight actions taken in the past that disrupted Indigenous well-being.
  • Historical relationships don’t mean Indigenous peoples are remnants of the past. Statements use past, present, and future tenses thoughtfully to reflect this as well as your existing relationships between you or your organization with Indigenous people.

Step 3: Be Present

Now you know where you are, be present. If you’re like me, you might feel uncomfortable with this practice. As an immigrant I feel I’m an outsider to both my native land and also this new culture. However, learning to be present in a land acknowledgement is a part of growing as a human.

While we have been stuck in the technical world, and our brains locked in front of the screen, I believe the moment of land acknowledgement is a chance for me to hear myself breathing. At that moment I learn to listen to others and Earth breathing as well. Somewhere out there, very close to me, “Rivers get dammed, lands get flooded, the Earth gets blasted, trees get chopped, and children get ignored. While animals get sick, fish grow deformities, parasites spread, brains grow tumours, and pandemics take over” (Keeptwo, 2021, p. 363). As we live we deeply hurt the planet, each other, and our souls (Tanaka, 2015). It’s probably time for us to confront issues like ecological sustainability, social justice, and holistic wellness in our work despite how daunting this might sound.

And as Lee (2020) suggested in her land acknowledgement poem:

Be present

With feelings of being uncomfortable

In some ways a land acknowledgement requires that we stay honest and true to our feelings — that we remain uncomfortable, as it is truly a process of making concrete, disruptive change.

Step 4: Locate Yourself and Say It Out Loud

Locate yourself –

Time to say

Whose traditional territory

Do you live

& breathe

& work

& love upon?

Who was here for thousands of years

Before you?

All our relations

(Lee, 2020)

Do you know who and where you are most of the time? Honestly, sometimes I don’t. Perhaps partly because I’ve been living far away from my homeland for the past fifteen years, I feel like an outsider to both my home culture and new culture. I come to the practice of land acknowledgement as a way to understand more about who and where I am. Tanaka (2015) suggested locating yourself means returning to your familial history and finding who you are through all the doing and becoming of your ancestors (Tanaka, 2015). In many cases in this process, you will find many stories — personal, professional, emotional, and even spiritual — about pain, privilege, love, power, etc. interwoven into one another. Locating the self is a holistic process, and “in locating self, we identify ourselves not only by social markers (such as gender, race, class, etc.) but we also locate ourselves in relation to spirit” (Restoule et al., 2010, p. 2)

Now it’s time to tell your stories. Perhaps this is not very transformative and magical in Western culture. I come from a culture where feelings are normally oppressed. We rarely say out loud, “Sorry,” or “Thank you, or “I love you,” even to our most beloved people, but since I studied English as a second language, I have been practicing saying sorry and thank-you more. It’s simple, but I feel good. In other words I find the practice of saying out loud how I feel about my being with the world surrounding me, saying thank-you to the land and the people I have a chance to be with, a beautiful practice. One day I’ll be able to tell my parents and my home country I love them more naturally, and I know that would make them happy.

As educators we all wish to take steps to create warmer, more welcoming, and respectful learning environments. We all learn to accept diverse and inclusive Indigenous ways of knowing and being. We also play a key role in modelling reconciliatory behaviour with students. Verbally delivering land acknowledgements allows you to open a safe space for others to engage with the land and local culture more deeply. Sometimes, while trying to find ice-breaker activities or how to bridge in the main session, land acknowledgements simply fit in as a great reflective practice that welcomes participants to the learning circle. Doing this creates space for you and your students to talk about advancing systemic change through real-life actions. The end result is a better and brighter future for all who call these lands home.

Step 5: Keep Walking Toward New Beginnings

It would be so great if there were prescriptive steps for how to do a perfect land acknowledgement or how to decolonize curricula. But even if there are some prescriptions out there, I’m not there yet. In Step 5 I picture myself as a wayfarer walking forward with the hope that as I move, every step is home to me.

I have changed my territorial acknowledgement many times, and I might have made a hundred mistakes along the way. But I’m happy my walking teaches me more about this practice and means I’m sharing some of my thoughts in this piece. I’m happy to know some people are walking this practice with me and finding ways to engage in new ways.

Have you heard of walking as a land acknowledgement? The practice of “walking on and with the land” can be a form of embodied land acknowledgement (Wilson, 2021, p. 99). I love what Wilson wrote:

I’m coming into a relationship with the land. Even if the grassland has been ploughed under, even if you’re passing canola fields, she said, you can still feel the sun on your face, see the sky, hear the birds, sense the gentle contours of the land in the muscles in the legs… You’re not alone when you’re walking by yourself. You’re with the land and it is with you. (2021, p. 105)

Back to my discussion about how some Asian and Indigenous cultures view the close relationship of land and people. Walking can help you enter a process of unlearning and critical engagement with the land, people, and culture and might be a way to address some of the critiques of verbal land acknowledgments (Wilson, 2021).

Another way of breathing life into territorial acknowledgements is including what you are comfortable sharing and connecting the statement with your work or what you aim to do (Janzen, 2019). Keeptwo (2021) suggested you can make land acknowledgements more related and insightful by organizing them just like a theatre-opening scenario, especially when you participate in virtual conferences that take place over a period of time with the same purposes and participants. You can also learn to bring in music by a professional Indigenous artist (please consider addressing copyright and permissions) or start with some traditional stories and stories based on life experiences. Even though I don’t specifically advocate for romanticizing land acknowledgements, I believe integrating Indigenous music, poetry, knowledge of land treaties, life experiences, stories of resilience, and making connections and enhancing community makes a good recipe for an honest and powerful land acknowledgment, because we are all connected through music, poetry, and stories (Keeptwo, 2021).


Although there is much more to be done to address barriers facing Indigenous communities, territorial acknowledgements function as a fresh start and an inevitable part of working together and learning to listen and understand more in our journey of reconciliation. I invite you to continue this practice with me, to confront unambiguity and fear, to stumble and learn through mistakes. We are all transforming in every step we take. Teaching and learning is all about walking alongside each other with an honest and open heart.

My name is Gwen. Today I’m writing in my little office located in the traditional territories of the Lekwungen Peoples, including the Songhees, Esquimalt, and the Wsanec Peoples whose historical relations with the land continue to this day.

Lest forget

forests of dry bones

mountains of graves

barren fields

and flaming houses

Lest forget

songs of fear

stories of pain

in the stolen land

Lest forget…

And when the wind blows,

clouds ride over the river,

hidden voices will cast into the wind

calling us all

to reconcile

— December 2022

Further Reading


Calvez, S., & Roberts, R. (2020). Land acknowledgements.

Janzen, M. (2019). Breathing life into the territorial acknowledgement. Transnational Curriculum Inquiry16(2), 74–81.

Keeptwo, S. (2021). We all go back to the land : the who, why, and how of land acknowledgements. Brush Education Inc.

Lee, D. (2020). A digital land acknowledgement. Canadian Art.

Restoule, J., Archibald, J., Lester-Smith, D., Parent, A., & Smillie, C. (2010). Editorial: Connecting to spirit in Indigenous research. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 33(1), 1–8.

Tanaka, M. (2015). Finding courage in the unknown: Transformative inquiry as Indigenist inquiry. Education, 21(2), 65–85.

Wilkes, R., Duong, A., Kesler, L., & Ramos, H. (2017). Canadian university acknowledgment of Indigenous lands, treaties, and peoples. Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue canadienne de sociologie, 54(1), 89–120.

The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by mali maeder