What I Learned from Writing a Territorial Acknowledgement

Territorial acknowledgements—paying homage to the traditional homelands where an event takes place or a structure is built—are one small way we can show respect to Indigenous peoples within Canada and around the world. Find out more about what one settler learned from the experience of writing one.
Ellie Manitoulin Island trail

Views of Mnidoo Mnising (Manitoulin Island) from Michigiwadinong, also known as the Cup & Saucer Trail


My name is Ellie Clin. My family heritage includes settlers from France, Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia.

I grew up and still live in what is now called Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. My hometown is part of the Haldimand Tract, an area encompassing ten kilometres along each shore of the Grand River, all the way from its source to where it empties into Lake Erie. This land was promised by decree to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in recognition of their crucial assistance to the British Crown during the American Revolution. Today, the community of Six Nations of the Grand River occupies only about 5% of the promised Haldimand Tract.

My family also spends considerable time on Manitoulin Island, called Mnidoo Mnising (“island of the great spirit”) in the Anishinaabemowin language. There are two treaties governing Manitoulin. Treaty 45 of 1836 promised the island to the Odawa and Chippewa nations and to protect the land “from the encroachment of the whites” if they agreed to relinquish their claims and allow other Indigenous nations to reside there with them. The second, Treaty 94 of 1862, revoked Treaty 45 and allowed for the island’s European settlement. Leaders in the eastern area of Manitoulin (called Wiikwemkoong) refused to sign Treaty 94, and that region remains unceded territory to this day.

My Learning So Far

I didn’t learn the history of broken treaty promises in school. I don’t remember learning about forced relocations, Eskimo Identification Tags, sled dog slaughters, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the Sixties Scoop, or the residential school system, either. Maybe that’s because I was already in eighth grade by the time the last residential school closed; it could hardly be covered in History class.

Not only did my schooling not teach me about these colonial traumas inflicted by my home country—I also didn’t learn about Indigenous brilliance. Not about how animal furs could be sewn the perfect way to make them waterproof in Home Economics. Not about how to pick wild leeks or spruce tips so the plants can naturally replenish themselves in Biology. Not the names of artists who created the breathtaking works I so admired in Visual Arts.

Instead, these are things I’ve strived to learn in my adulthood, in the years just before and since I started working for Adventure Canada. I am still learning—a lot.

Ramah Bay tundra autumn colours

© Dennis Minty

A journey to Torngat Mountains National Park in Nunatsiavut (Labrador) was my first time visiting one of the Inuit homelands within Canada. Travelling to these beautiful regions has inspired me to learn more about the lands I call home.

“I see you” is different from “I am grateful to you”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when my role with Adventure Canada changed from on-board Program Director to a work-from-home creative writer for the company’s Marketing department, I saw an advertisement for a workshop about how to write authentic, personalized territorial acknowledgements. I noticed that, despite our work and partnerships with many Indigenous communities across the country, our company did not yet have such an acknowledgement, and I’d heard some of my colleagues mention this, too. I signed up right away to learn more about how we could develop one.

Of course, I was nervous. I’ve heard criticisms over the years that many acknowledgements are merely hollow sentiments that politicians and institutions stumble over instead of believing the words. This was something I knew would take a lot of research and I really wanted to get right.

But Ta7talíya Michelle Nahanee, our workshop facilitator and the entrepreneur behind Nahanee Creative, taught us to move away from the idea that there is only one so-called “right” way of doing things. Being honest about who we are, our intentions, and where we’re at in our learning are some of the most important messages to include in an acknowledgement, Ta7talíya encouraged. Following a formula or a script does not get to the true purpose of what these messages are supposed to achieve.

Another issue with territorial acknowledgements, I learned, is using the word acknowledgement in the first place. After all, the sentiment behind using the words “I see you,” Ta7talíya pointed out, is very different from saying “I believe you” or “I am grateful to you.”

A Starting Point

I’m happy that Adventure Canada has now published a territorial acknowledgement, and I feel honoured that I played a part in its development. It is just one piece in the larger puzzle of decolonizing our work, but it is a first step. A conversation starter. A place where we can begin and learn more from.

I hope you’ll read it, as well as more information about our regenerative travel practices, and let us know what you think.

Miigwetch, nakurmiik, and thank you.

About the Author

Ellie Clin

Ellie Clin

Program Director

Ellie Clin is an environmental educator by training and an adventurer at heart, having explored all seven continents and both polar regions. She's also a writer, scuba diver, sailor, general professional vagabond, and foodie. As Program Director for Adventure Canada, she loves planning the on-board education program to help guests learn as much as they can about the regions we travel to. Her travel and memoir writing has been featured in the Globe & Mail, Atlas Obscura, and Explore Magazine online, as well as Adventure Canada's own Mindful Explorer platform.