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Territorial Acknowledgement

Acknowledgement and Introduction

Equitas recognizes that our offices are located on the unceded Indigenous territories of Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil Waututh), and xwməθkwəyəm (Musqueam) First Nations. We also work on the unceded Indigenous territories of Mississauga of the New Credit, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, and Anishnabeg First Nations and throughout Turtle Island. We express our gratitude to the Caretakers of the lands and waters on which we are situated and in doing so, remind ourselves of the history of oppression that is often forgotten or neglected.

It is important for Equitas to recognize the land on which we work because it is a way that we raise awareness of Indigenous presence, land rights and human rights in everyday life. It is also a small way to recognize colonialism, its impacts and the need for change and a way to acknowledge the colonial system within which we exist and engage in reflection around more equitable and just relationships and spaces.

Land acknowledgements can easily be a token gesture rather than a meaningful practice. Equitas feels that all settlers have a responsibility to consider what it means to acknowledge the history, legacy and current impacts of colonialism. In doing so, we reflect on the privileges settlers are enjoying today because of colonialism and what can be done beyond acknowledging the territory on which we work to contribute to decolonization. We reflect on what actions we take (or do not take) as an organization and as individuals that perpetuate colonial systems and how settler colonialism is linked to systemic racism. We also aim to connect these reflections and organizational practices to our programming. As an organization that works around the globe, we recognize and affirm the rights of Indigenous Peoples worldwide and aspire to incorporate a decolonial approach in all of our work to promote and support Indigenous sovereignty, self-determination and human rights*.

This territorial acknowledgement and call to action is a process that is ongoing for Equitas. In building this page, we aimed to share information thoughtfully and meaningfully, and remain open to feedback on how it can be improved. As a learning organization, Equitas is always open to opportunities to continue to learn, un-learn and re-learn and to be held accountable by the communities we work with. We are open to feedback on this page from anyone, but also invite feedback specifically from Indigenous readers or from settlers who would be interested in sharing good practices on land acknowledgements specifically. Please email us at communications@equitas.org to share your feedback.

*Source: Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Learning opportunities

Who are Indigenous Peoples?

The term “Indigenous” refers to the original peoples of North America. In Canada, there are three distinct groups: First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Each group includes different nations, communities and histories as well as a diversity of languages, cultural practices and beliefs*.

*Source: https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1100100013785/1529102490303

What is the Indian Act?

Still in effect today, the Indian Act was introduced by the Canadian government in 1876 and was intended to eradicate the culture and rights of First Nations and promote the assimilation of their members into colonial society. The Indian Act only applies to people with Indian status, not to Métis or Inuit. The Act has been amended several times, most significantly in 1951 and 1985. It is a living document – full of contradictions – that has resulted in generations of trauma, human rights violations, and social and cultural disruption for Indigenous Peoples*.

*Source: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/indian-act

What is the Doctrine of Discovery?

According to the Assembly of First Nations*, the Doctrine of Discovery is a theory that originated in the 15th century, based on official papal declarations, and has continued over the past centuries. The so-called discoveries have been used as a justification for the dispossession of Indigenous lands, to exploit, subjugate and disenfranchise Indigenous Peoples of their rights. The Assembly of First Nations recalls the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (including Call to Action #49) and the importance of rejecting the Doctrine of Discovery and replacing it with a new paradigm.

*Source: https://www.afn.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/18-01-22-Dismantling-the-Doctrine-of-Discovery-EN.pdf

What were residential schools?

Residential schools are one of the consequences of the Indian Act. An amendment to the Act in 1894 made attendance at residential schools mandatory. More than 150,000 children were removed from their families and cultures and forced to learn English or French, adopt Christianity and conform to the customs of the country’s white majority. These schools were run by the church and funded by the government from 1870 until the last residential school closed in 1997. Thousands of children died there and tens of thousands were physically, sexually or psychologically abused. This cultural genocide by the Canadian state left Indigenous Peoples with an intergenerational trauma that still has consequences today*.

*Source: https://ici.radio-canada.ca/espaces-autochtones/1799250/guide-pensionnats-autochtones-reponses-questions

What is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada?

It was established through a legal agreement between residential school survivors, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit representatives and those responsible for the creation and operation of the residential schools, namely the federal government and Catholic Church authorities.

The mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was to inform all Canadians about what happened at residential schools. The TRC documented the truth from survivors, their families, communities and anyone else who was personally affected by the residential school experience, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis former students, family members, communities, churches, former residential school staff, government representatives and other Canadians.

The TRC’s mandate ended in 2015 and resulted in a series of 94 calls to action to foster reconciliation. The establishment of a National Council for Reconciliation was recommended (Calls to Action 53-56) to follow up on the recommendations. This council has yet to be established.

What is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a global human rights instrument adopted by a majority vote of the United Nations General Assembly on September 13, 2007, with four votes against, including Canada’s. The rights recognized in it “constitute the minimum standards necessary for the survival, dignity and well-being of the world’s Indigenous Peoples.”

It was only after decades of advocacy efforts by First Nations that the Parliament of Canada passed An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Act received Royal Assent on June 21, 2021 and sets out Canada’s obligation to respect the human rights (including treaty and inherent rights) of Indigenous Peoples affirmed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These rights include the right to self-determination and the right to the respect and fulfilment of treaties*. 

The United Nations Declaration contains international human rights standards that Canada and all members of the United Nations have affirmed, and reaffirmed, on many occasions. The Act does not create new rights. It does not remove, diminish or redefine any rights. It is about taking long overdue measures to uphold and implement the rights that First Nations already have.

*Source: https://www.afn.ca/implementing-the-united-nations-declaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples/

Commitment and Call to Action for Non-Indigenous People

If you are a non-Indigenous person, do you know what unceded land you are on? The Native Land Digital website can help you find out. Land recognition is an important step towards reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and can be a way to be an ally, but it is not enough. Education on the human rights of Indigenous Peoples must continue! We need to continue the work by educating ourselves, educating those around us, in our living and work environments, and educating the youngest among us for lasting change. Don’t know where to start? Start thinking of one or more personal actions and gestures you can take towards reconciliation today, this week, this month, this year. This could be:

  • Read a book written by an Indigenous person
  • Learn about the history of residential schools
  • Volunteer with an Indigenous organization
  • Watch films and/or documentaries on the history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada
  • Listening and reflecting on the unjust experiences of Indigenous people in Canada
  • Ask elected officials and decision-makers in your community to take concrete actions for reconciliation
  • Read the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
  • Read this guide for ideas on how to get involved
  • Check out this Decolonial Toolbox
  • And more!

*** Equitas is always open to learning and improving and we know that we are not experts on Indigenous realities. We do hold ourselves accountable though and so invite anyone with feedback about this page to reach out and share any thoughts or suggestions on the content of this page. Although we are open to feedback from anyone, we specifically invite Indigenous readers or those who hold knowledge on Indigenous Peoples specifically to send any and all feedback to communications@equitas.org.