Honouring the land

This land acknowledgment is a recognition of the peoples of these lands and their ways of life, interrupted by colonial violence. It is also a statement of how I came to be on these lands and the violences that have shaped that journey. 

To learn more about the complexity of land acknowledgments, please see this excellent article by Métis thinker Chelsea Vowel.

I am a settler woman of Ukrainian, Polish, Scottish and English descent who lives as an uninvited intergenerational guest on Ancestral Neutral or Attawandaron lands, and on the treaty lands & territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit. The place where I currently live a is part of the ancestral land of the Chonnonton (‘Keepers of the Deer’), called the Attawandaron by the Huron people, with whom they were allied, and the ‘Neutral confederacy’ by French traders, due to their diplomatic ties amongst the Huron and the Seneca peoples. Their territory stretched along the north shore of Lake Erie from the Niagara peninsula to the Detroit river, perhaps as far north as Toronto. The Chonnonton were a semi-nomadic society who lived in longhouses and shifted their village sites around every 20 years in order to allow ecological regeneration. During the early 1600s, this was the largest Indigenous society in the region, with a population of about 40 000 people. However, after famine and epidemics such as smallpox introduced by Europeans in the 1630s, and a Dutch-sponsored incursion by Seneca warriors 1650s, their population plummeted and many survivors were integrated into Haudenosaunee nations. As a result, there is no distinct modern Chonnonton/Attawandaron/Neutral nation, although their descendents are part of communities such as the Wyandotte and Seneca nations.

This region is also part of the ancestral land of the Missassaugas of the New Credit, an Anishinaabe people whose ancestral territories comprise 3.9 million acres, extending from the Rouge River Valley in the east, to the Thames River in the west, south to Lake Erie and along the coast of Lake Ontario to Niagara. Traditionally, Mississauga communities moved cyclically across the whole of their territory according to changes in the seasons, hunting and social patterns, maintaining ecological, social and political balance. Many Mississaugas moved into these lands after successfully resisting military actions by Haudenosaunee tribes northward into Huron and Mississauga lands.

Parts of the land that I live and work are located within the Haldimand Tract, which consists of 6 miles/10 km on either side of the Grand River. This land was signed over to the Six Nations of the Grand River (including six distinct Haudenosaunee nations) in 1784 in recognition of their alliance with British forces in the American Revolution. After being expelled from their ancestral homelands during that conflict, Mohawk leader Tyendenaga worked to ensure that the land around the Grand River was allocated to his people. After centuries of dispute, including sales of land and impingement by settlers, the Six Nations reserve today comprises only 4.8% of the original land grant.

My family have been uninvited settlers on lands across Turtle Island for more than 150 years. My paternal ancestors, agricultural settlers from the British Isles seeking land grants, have occupied lands spanning from the Miramichi River (Mi’kmaq territory) to Treaty 6 (Niitsitapi, Nakoda and Tusuut’ina) and Treaty 7 (Cree, Saulteaux, Blackfoot, Métis, and Nakota Sioux) territories in Alberta;  the territory of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Métis peoples (Treaty one territory in Manitoba); to unceded Musqueam and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh  territory in British Columbia, where I grew up. A member of that side of my family was amongst the ‘Fathers of Confederation’ who, in 1867, consolidated the Canadian settler state and laid the pathway for the following centuries of centralised genocidal policy. Later generations were were instrumental in operating the CN railroad, a key piece of settler state infrastructure that enabled the oppression of prairie peoples.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, my maternal ancestors from Ukraine and eastern Poland sought safe haven on stolen lands in Treaty one, escaping from poverty and political oppression that would culminate in the Holodomor. Viewed as an ‘inferior race’ by the Canadian settler state, their kin were placed in ethnically-segregated internment camps where their unfree labour was sold to produce, amongst other projects, several of the settler state’s national parks (1914-20). Before and for decades after this period, they were stripped of key civil rights (including suffrage and freedom of association).  Nonetheless, their physical proximity to mainstream norms of whiteness, their strategic adoption of dominant Anglo-Canadian culture and their service in the armed forces allowed my ancestors, in just two generations, to assimilate into the form of white privilege I enjoy today.

Acknowledging these histories is important to understanding my complex relationships with and responsibilities to the peoples of these lands, and to deconstructing the many-layered violences of whiteness and (settler) colonialism. I recognize the violence that shapes my presence in these lands, and those of my ancestors; the responsibility to learn to live within the laws of these lands; the imperative to confront the violence in which I am complicit; and the urgent need to dismantle the structures that perpetuate it.

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