Acknowledging the Land We Practice On

This post was co-authored by our studio directors Leena Miller Cressman & Emma Dines, with input from Luane Lentz, Cheryl Maksymyk, and Jaydum Hunt at the Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre.

mohawk residential schoolLast year the Canadian government acknowledged the reality and harm of Residential Schools in the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Canadians were invited to read the text of the Commission to understand the real harm that Indigenous Peoples in Canada endured. Another part of that story started earlier. The past and ongoing reality is that the ancestral land of Indigenous people has been seized, environmentally exploited, and extracted from, and many treaties and agreements between the Crown (which refers to all Canadians) and Indigenous groups were dishonoured.

Yoga means to unite or connect. The purpose of a personal yoga practice might be to listen to, bring together, and acknowledge the various parts of ourselves, including the parts that we might label uncomfortable, unworthy, or imperfect. We might also choose to extend that part of our yoga practice to the world around us, and encourage ourselves to bring together the various parts of our societal reality that might be uncomfortable, vulnerable, or unjust. We might participate in a collective practice that seeks to listen to, acknowledge, and address injustices.

The ongoing story of land in Canada is uncomfortable and hard to acknowledge. It has a complex history with current impacts. What are ways that we might be accountable and responsive to these realities?

One way that people and organizations are practicing accountability and responsiveness around Indigenous land rights is in adopting a practice of acknowledging the land. Land acknowledgements are an Indigenous tradition and are a way to honour the relationship between the land and the various groups that have come to live on it.

This infographic from Wilfrid Laurier University Office of Aboriginal Initiatives gives a great explanation of why land acknowledgement matters.

For the past year I’ve been ending my classes by saying the following: “Honouring ourselves, each other, this land, and all the teachers, cultures, and traditions that inform our practice, Namaste.”

When I say this land, there is a lot of subtext and complexity behind those words. Instead of simply this land, I might say: “As a business and as people living in the Kitchener-Waterloo community, we acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of ‎the Neutral, Anishnawbe, and Haudenosaunee Peoples. Queen Street Yoga is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River.”

Haldimand Tract
In 1784, Britain’s Governor-General granted the Haudenosaunee People of Six Nations the land included in the Haldimand Tract. This was to compensate for the land that was taken from Six Nations in upstate New York, and because they fought with the British during the American Revolution.

You can read a detailed and accessible history of the Haldimand Tract and the Six Nations land rights, which have been dishonoured for generations here.

One tool I find really helpful for me when I become aware of injustice or oppression is to come back to Three Tenets I’ve learned from studying with the Zen Peacemakers. These principles are suggestions for approaching any situation with a more open mind and heart. I find they help me avoid going into “fix-it” mode and help me not shut down when something is emotionally difficult to listen to or learn about:

  1. Not-Knowing is entering a situation without being attached to any opinion, idea, or concept. This means total openness to the situation and deep listening to the situation.
  2. Bearing Witness. Rather than observing the situation, we become the situation. We bear witness to joy and suffering. We become intimate with whatever it is – disease, war, poverty, death. When you bear witness you’re simply there, you don’t flee.
  3. Loving Actions are those actions that arise naturally when we enter a situation in the state of not-knowing and then bear witness to that situation.

As a community at Queen Street Yoga we are seeking ways to learn about and become more accountable to past and current injustices involving Indigenous land rights. One way is by adding a land acknowledgement to our website and framing one on the wall at the studio. Another way we will experiment with is verbally acknowledging the land at the beginning of workshops and events.

We are also organizing a group learning trip in June to the Woodland Cultural Centre near Brantford. The Woodland Cultural Centre was established in October 1972 under the direction of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians upon the closure of the Mohawk Institute Residential School. On the learning trip (tentatively scheduled for Saturday June 4th) we will go on a guided tour of the residential school and listen to a talk about Six Nations land claims. You are welcome to join us for the day. We will begin and end the day with a simple meditation and a sharing circle and we will invite you to try out the Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers to frame your experiences. Please see the website for more details and to save a spot.

We are grateful for consultation on our land acknowledgement text from Luane Lentz, Cheryl Maksymyk, and Jaydum Hunt at the Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre. We were also inspired by the words of a land acknowledgement text at Guelph Community Acupuncture.

We acknowledge that all of this is an ongoing process and that we will make mistakes. We welcome your suggestions, feedback, and critique on our efforts.

More resources and reading:

Learn more about the Six Nations and the Haldimand Tract here.

Alternatives Journal has a great article on what it means to be a “settler.” The article is followed by a great list of books and articles to learn more.

Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre

The Indigenous Student Centre at Laurier


photo (2)

Leena Miller Cressman is the director of Queen Street Yoga. 



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