Land Acknowledgements Part One: Your Responsibility to Treaty

 Your Responsibility to Treaty.












Since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released their Final Report in 2015, institutions such as the University of Guelph have started to incorporate land acknowledgements into their practices, such as at the beginning of meetings or presentations. Individuals might include an acknowledgment in their email signature or at the beginning of a class they are teaching. Acknowledging the traditional territory we are on is important and can be a good step in learning about the history of the region. However, land acknowledgements run the risk of being insincere if no action is taken or if people aren’t speaking from an informed place, especially if they don’t acknowledge or do anything about their ongoing contributions towards land theft and erasure.

Treaties are sacred agreements that define a relationship between sovereign nations. There are hundreds of treaties between Canada and Indigenous nations ranging from peace and friendship, to land, commercial ties, and more. Some of them form the moral and constitutional basis of alliance, such as the Royal Proclamation (1763) ratified through the Treaty of Niagara (1764).

The University of Guelph is located on the Between the Lakes Treaty No. 3 (1792) lands, a treaty made between the Crown and the Mississauga originally intended to settle loyalists after the American Revolutionary War. Under the terms of the Royal Proclamation, the Crown had to purchase the land from the Mississauga before settlers could legally occupy it. Some of the purchased land was granted to the Six Nations who settled along the Grand River, in recognition of their immense military efforts during the war as allies to the Crown.

Treaties between the Crown and Mississauga often have their roots traced back to the Covenant Chain established at the Treaty of Niagara in 1764. With France expelled as a colonial power after the Seven Years War, First Peoples around the Great Lakes looked to form new alliances with the British. Mississauga Chief Rev. Peter Jones (1802-1856) explained the alliance encoded in the Covenant Chain wampum belt, “When the French came, they bound their hands together with an iron chain; But that when the English came, they broke asunder that chain, which had already become rusty, and then their great father, the King of England, bound their hands together with a silver chain, which he promised should never rust and never be broken.” The chain has changed from rope, to iron, to silver, demonstrating the continued evolution of alliances during this time. The chain had to be continually polished to prevent it from tarnishing, a metaphor for the continued renewal and maintenance of our relationships.

Despite the relationships encoded in the treaties, Canada has continually tried to reduce them to mere real estate deals and dismiss their sacred nature. The legalistic language found in the written versions of the treaties misunderstand their original spirit and intent. The treaty texts often omit promises made during the oral negotiations and include clauses that were never discussed. For example, Historian Sheldon Krasowski details the problems with the surrender clauses in the Numbered Treaties in his book No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous (2019) through an analysis of eyewitness accounts which claim that the surrender clause was never discussed.

These treaties are still in place today and everyone living in the territory is a “treaty person”. It is our treaty responsibility to ensure that we are polishing our respective links in the chain as the descendants (literally or not) of treaty signatories. In other words, we need to ensure that we are renewing and maintaining our sacred relationships with each other. To give a more sincere land acknowledgement, if you haven’t already done so, learn about the treaty lands that you are on and what your responsibilities are to all of creation, such as to the land, the water, and each other.

Covenant Chain wampum belt

 Learn more about local treaties:

~ Post written by Emma Stelter (MA candidate at the University of Guelph)