Written by Tim Manuel, Cultural Advisor and Public Engagement Lead

Since time immemorial, Indigenous people have used formal protocol to acknowledge their surroundings, which is meant to honour their spiritual beliefs. This acknowledgment is often spoken in their own language. Indigenous people believed and understood that they are only one aspect in the great diversity of life on the land. They use a common expression such as “all my relations” – words that resemble an all-encompassing meaning – when acknowledging the people of the land, such as tqeltkúkwpi7 (Secwepemc version of Great Spirit). Their acknowledgement includes or specifies water, ancestors, animals and plant life, all of which are considered to be alive and therefore having a “spirit.”

Indigenous ancestors knew and believed that everything in nature is connected, that nothing exists in the environment for itself as everyone and everything depends on one other for survival. They are simply recognizing the importance of these spirits and connections in the great cycle of life. Everything Indigenous people need for survival, whether it be food or shelter, comes from the land. Indigenous people believe that they are a part of the land and it is a part of them – this forms a basis of their culture and identity. Indigenous people formally announce their intention of being on the land as though they were to speak to the ancestors, including during an acknowledgement of territory or a formal welcome.

Each Indigenous nation will have different stories to share as well as unique teachings from their ancestors from when they travelled on the land or by water. Some stories were of unity or conflict between nations, while some were regarding land or resources. During the time when travelling was a necessity, one of the most important reasons to do so was to trade goods as part of participating in the traditional economy and to establish relationships between neighbouring nations. These times are important to note because Indigenous peoples believed there is strength in unity, which is a principle element of traditional governance. There were natural boundary markers such as rivers, mountains or mythological places, which indicated to Indigenous people which territory they were on or passing through.

When arriving into another Indigenous territory, they would acknowledge being a visitor to the area: First by acknowledging the ancestors and, if there were blood ties (such as through kin or through marriage), those would be mentioned. If there were no kinship ties, then a meeting with the leadership would happen to announce one’s intent.

During an acknowledgement of the land/territory, the visitor first announces themselves by introduction, which also includes any family ties. Second, they acknowledge they are a visitor/settler and speak about their intention of being there. And lastly, they proceed to acknowledge the territory in which they stand. This helps with understanding that there are protocols in place that must be followed, mostly based on keeping good relationships and respect between people.

Meanwhile, a territorial welcome is from a Chief/political representative/elder or someone who is a descendent of the ancestral lands upon which the event is being held. This should be done with the understanding between the person and the event organizer prior to the event taking place. The importance of following this protocol is to communicate intent and show respect to the spirit of the land.