Park People’s first steps in the journey of decolonizing park work: Writing a park-based land acknowledgement
Since writing and sharing of Park People’s land acknowledgement at our recent Heart of the City conference, we have been asked about how we developed the acknowledgement. As part of our own journey, we want to share some insights we generated in developing our land acknowledgement.
As a national city parks organization, we recognize that when we speak of municipal parks and public land, we are obscuring the fact that, in most cases, the land that we are speaking of is traditional Indigenous territory. Our work building community and engaging neighbourhoods are woefully incomplete without recognizing the injustice that dispossessed the First Nations of the land we now refer to as “public land.”
How can we begin to actively address generations of systemic oppression imposed by colonization and settlement? The Vancouver Park Board hired their first-ever reconciliation planner and is in the process of conducting a colonial audit of their board. The City of Quesnel, BC recently restored ownership of Tingley Park to the Lhtako Dene First Nation. There are many inspiring park projects across the country focused on rebuilding trust, sharing knowledge and developing true partnerships between First Nations and settlers. Many are covered in our Canadian City Parks Report.
Since writing and sharing Park People’s land acknowledgement at our recent Heart of the City conference, we have been asked about how we developed the acknowledgement. As part of our own journey, we want to share some insights we generated in developing our land acknowledgement.
It’s essential that your group undertake thoughtful research to learn about Indigenous issues globally, nationally, and in your city or region. Find out which territories your park is situated on and the treaties or covenants that were meant to peaceably govern that land. Use nativeland.ca as a starting point. You may find conflicting accounts of territorial land rights. Reach out to a local band office, municipal Indigenous Affairs Office, an Indigenous Friendship Centre, or an Indigenous university group to understand the history and rights associated with the land in question.
Consider having your group join Pam Palmater’s National Reconciliation Book Club to keep up with the national conversation and commit your group or organization to shared learning about how you can support the decolonization of Turtle Island.
Set aside time for your group to discuss reconciliation goals--at gatherings, lunches or as part of program planning. Share meaningful land acknowledgements you’ve heard at other events, literature you’ve read, news and ideas that will help create a dialogue to shape your groups’ perspective and commitment. These conversations will help you identify champions that can help guide meaningful reconciliation efforts within your park.
Make it unique
Reading a generic land acknowledgement that you don’t understand or feel connected to does little to further the goals of truth and reconciliation. Take the opportunity to have discussions that help your group and its members connect to the land and the process of decolonization. Consider how your land acknowledgement can leave listeners with something provocative to ruminate on, long after your event has finished. Reconciliation is not a comfortable subject and nothing is gained by sugar-coating the issue.
Here is Park People’s current national land acknowledgement that you are welcome to make use of or adapt:
I would like to open this gathering by acknowledging the land we are gathered on and expressing our gratitude for its critical connection to the health of all. We’re also acknowledging the enduring presence and resilience of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people on this land, and recognize their role as caregivers, stewards and storytellers across Turtle Island.
*This is where we add a locally appropriate acknowledgement or personal statement, depending on the location and type of gathering
We are honoured to be able to gather this group of park people here today, as we believe that parks should play a vital role in providing shared spaces for all people and are an important space for reconciliation and decolonization. We welcome you to join us in our commitment to the stewardship of this land as Indigenous peoples have done since time immemorial, and to further understand the history of colonization and how truth and reconciliation can be a part of how we bring people together on common ground.
Once you feel like you have done your research and written a meaningful land acknowledgement, share it with to a respected member of your local Indigenous community to get their feedback. Be respectful of their time, and don’t expect accolades for this preliminary effort. Use the opportunity to express your willingness to engage with the local Indigenous community on the subject of decolonization.
Bring in Indigenous voices
Though a land acknowledgement is appropriately spoken by a settler, you should invite Indigenous people to attend and participate in your group’s events and gatherings whenever appropriate. Plan in advance how to compensate those who participate by sharing their time, expertise and knowledge.
Make a commitment
Writing a land acknowledgement is an opportunity for your group to publicly declare its commitment to working towards allyship and working to dismantle the colonial systems that continue to oppress Indigenous peoples, denying their land-rights and way of life. Add a commitment to the land acknowledgement that articulates how your group is going to put words into action. Find tangible ways your group can impact this complex and ongoing work.
Make use of these great resources in the next steps of your journey towards decolonizing your park work
- Canadian Association of University Teachers Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples & Traditional Territory
- Indigenous Ally Toolkit
- Indian Horse: 150 Days of Reconcili-Action Starts Now
- First Peoples: A Guide for Newcomers
- Truth And Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action
- Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples: A Holistic Approach