Back to Top

Acknowledging Traditional Lands

Before presenting a conference paper, academics who study Aboriginal history have a tradition of acknowledging the First Nations upon whose traditional lands they are standing. For example, at a major academic conference held at the University of Waterloo the scholars opened with, “I acknowledge the Haudenosaunee upon whose land we are standing.” This stems from historic traditions that began before Europeans showed up in Canada, when First Nations would request permission to pass through other peoples’ lands when travelling for any reason. This is a common human practice; across the globe civilizations used similar practices. Even today the use of passports carries some of the same connotations.

When we do this, we do not fix anything. The content of the following presentation does not hinge on this opening. If I was a more jaded person than I am, I would scoff at this practice as a manifestation of ‘white-guilt.’ But I am not jaded. I believe that this shows Aboriginal peoples respect and is vital if we want to build a more equitable society.

When we acknowledge the traditional land that we stand on, we recognize a longer story that informs the present. We recognize that European governments marginalized Aboriginal peoples economically, socially, and politically. We look around the room and see not enough Aboriginal peoples, and we realize that our, my, place in this room is the product as much of systemic inequalities as my own academic achievements. We do not change the context, but we do recognize it. That is powerful.

Perhaps there is a lesson here that churches could learn.

Imagine, just for a moment, if at the beginning of a church service a pastor or elder began by recognizing that the land where their specific church stands is not neutral. Imagine that we opened worship by realizing that the land at one point belonged to a particular First Nation and that now it does not any longer. Imagine if this was more than an abstract awareness, but instead a concrete acknowledgement that a very particular First Nation once owned this land, and that the descendents of those people still live in our communities. The worship service would not change in form or content, but perhaps it would change in meaning.

As we begin to think more seriously about how we can “Do Justice,” beginning with an awareness of injustice is a great place to start. Aboriginal peoples today face far more social issues than the rest of Canadian society, all because of this colonial context. Furthermore, the same context granted me many of the privileges I enjoy. Many people despair at how we can work towards justice when so much remains to be done. Developing an awareness of the context in which we worship is a good place to start.



The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.