Honouring National Indigenous Peoples Day: Reflections & Land Acknowledgements 

Headshot of Ruth

The history of National Indigenous People’s Day mirrors the norms of ongoing Indigenous advocacy in Canada. In this blog, Ruth reflects on the meaning of this important day, and explores the original intention behind the federal holiday, and shares her learnings about the importance of land acknowledgements. Ruth suggests best practices to foster engagement with Indigenous people all year round. 

Written by Ruth Rodrigues, Qualitative Data Archivist Team Lead, Master of Education in Social Justice Education

The opening of Ziibiing, an Indigenous landscape project at Hart House Green (Photo Credit: Office of Indigenous Initiatives at the University of Toronto)

With National Indigenous History Month approaching, I wanted to reflect on what it means to be an ally to Indigenous Peoples in Canada.  June 21st is National Indigenous People’s Day (NIPD), which celebrates Indigenous Peoples of Canada and represents Canada’s commitment to their rights and wellbeing. It stood out to me how in 1982, the Assembly of the First Nations originally suggested a day of “National Aboriginal Solidarity” to celebrate and acknowledge the Indigenous peoples of Canada (Government of Canada, 2022). As well as later in 1995, the Sacred Assembly reiterated by emphasizing the need for a federal holiday since there were no days meant to acknowledge the contributions of Indigenous people in Canada. Finally, in 1996 the Governor General of Canada declared June 21st “National Indigenous People’s Day” (Government of Canada, 2022). To me, NIPD was the Canadian government’s way of building rapport with Indigenous communities, asserting their commitment to protecting their rights and improving their quality of life. The day acknowledges the impact of the colonization of Canada on Indigenous Peoples but loses the previous focus on “solidarity” in the process.  

By contrasting the intent of NIPD with the practice of land acknowledgements in institutions like U of T that operate on Indigenous land, I notice that there is a challenge to establish participation and solidarity with Indigenous people instead of merely celebrating or acknowledging them. Seeing this shift away from creating solidarity and towards a focus on acknowledgement mirrored what I often observed about the current trajectory of advocacy for Indigenous people in Canada. I believe it is no coincidence that the change of wording itself denotes less obligation to be participatory in confronting the needs of Indigenous communities. For example, in the rising prevalence of land acknowledgements, there are many lost opportunities to encourage solidarity or advocate for material changes.  These observations implicated me directly as a settler who works and studies in an institution on Indigenous land. This motivated me to think about how I could invite other settlers into these efforts as well. 

NIPD and Land Acknowledgement 

I sought out more information about how settlers could get closer to the desired outcome of solidarity with Indigenous peoples in their community.  One way I did this was attending an Indigenous Learning workshop about the land acknowledgement led by John Croutch, an Indigenous educator here at U of T. I learned more about how the land acknowledgement is a formalized ceremony to literally acknowledge the land we work and live on, based on an Indigenous protocol. Indigenous peoples traditionally used land acknowledgements to show gratitude for land, its resources, and people who reside on it. U of T’s official land acknowledgement was in part created by First Nations House and the Elders Circle, seeking to represent the various groups of people who lived on all the land U of T campuses’ occupy (University of Toronto, 2022). The land acknowledgement has become a common protocol to start off all U of T events, leading to several presentations of this ceremony throughout the year. It has the potential to be a tool that progresses the original goals of NIPD when executed in an engaging manner. Many of us will already be familiar with it: 

2-Spirit Pow Wow event that took place on June 1, 2024 at Downsview Park, Toronto (Photo Credit: Bangishimo Photography)

“I (we) wish to acknowledge this land on which the University of Toronto operates. For thousands of years it has been the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land.”

In my own experience, acknowledging that there are original inhabitants of the land they occupy is the closest that U of T gets to confronting their role in ongoing colonialism as an institution. However, without direct acknowledgement of a specific commitment to improving relations with Indigenous people considering the consequences of colonialism, it falls short of the solidarity originally called for in the early days before NIPD’s foundation. As a result of this, equity and diversity leaders in the U of T community may feel as if the process is incomplete, without any real impact on Indigenous communities, and want to go beyond the land acknowledgement as we know it. 

Land Acknowledgement Ceremony Best Practices 

Three figures with a heart above their head standing in front of a mountain

Although the land acknowledgement can be seen as the first step to building solidarity, there is imperative to seek out best practices to maximize impact and participation. There are still ways staff and students at U of T can engage beyond symbolic acknowledgement. For example, I sought out what key components to conducting a land acknowledgement were, and how to make it most meaningful and inspire further participation. By attending the workshop with John Croutch, I learned that there are some best practices for giving land acknowledgements at U of T to maximize impact. Along with the Leadership Team at the Innovation Hub, we’re thinking about how the following best practices can be taken up in our work.

1. Introduce yourself and the importance and context of Land Acknowledgement. 

Open the ceremony by providing context to the protocol. Introduce yourself and your relation to Canada without drawing attention away from the focus on Indigenous people. Emphasize the significance of the land acknowledgement as it was historically used (University of Toronto, 2022). 

2. State the Land Acknowledgement as it was intended, in full and without modification.

The land acknowledgement does not need to be modified or interrupted as it was written by Indigenous people at U of T to represent all groups original inhabiting the land U of T campuses are on. The intention behind the phrasing is beyond the knowledge of many settlers, who cannot be expected to know enough to alter it from its original form. Announce the statement in full, which includes learning how to pronounce any words you don’t recognize. 

3. Expand on the Land Acknowledgement to maximize impact. 

Storytelling is Indigenous pedagogy and has the power to engage and motivate settlers in the audience. Acknowledging the history of colonialism, especially the lasting impact of the displacement and dispossession of Indigenous people in Canada. In his workshop, Croutch highlights how necessary it is to vocalize this reality and confront the discomfort it may bring settlers. You can similarly discuss ongoing colonialization and the factors that push and pull new settlers to Canada.  

4. Add your own relevant and personal connection to Indigenous land.

Without taking the focus away from Indigenous people, relate back to your own experiences to Indigenous land. For example, briefly discuss your own heritage and personal history as it relates to Canadian colonization. Croutch also emphasizes the need to express gratitude for the land and resources that you benefit from, becoming more comfortable in the discomfort of your privilege. Use resources like nativeland.com to encourage people to learn about Indigenous people in Canada and on the land that they now reside on. 

I realized that while we already do some of these things at the Innovation Hub, there are certainly opportunities for learning and growth. For example, with information learned by attending John Croutch’s workshop, we can expand on the importance of the land acknowledgement when we state it. We also encourage folks to visit https://native-land.ca/ after we read the land acknowledgement to learn more about whose territories our team members live and work on, the treaties set out there, and Indigenous languages spoken, but we could offer more time for team members to do this and discuss with their colleagues. Additionally, we can always add more of our personal connections to the land when we deliver a land acknowledgement.


The land acknowledgement and NIPD both encourage settlers to contemplate the issues impacting Indigenous peoples in Canada. By making a commitment to go beyond acknowledgement, more concrete solidarity can be established within our community. A good land acknowledgement, informed by Indigenous educators at U of T, can accomplish this through a meaningful focus on Indigenous people and their rights to their land. Although the land acknowledgement appears to be passive, U of T staff and students can take their advocacy beyond words by embedding the responsibility settlers have to participate and actively engage with Indigenous activism in their land acknowledgements. I see June and occasions such as NIPD as a time to remind ourselves of this, so we can commit to best practices all year round.  

U of T Resources

  • First Nations House: information, advising, and culturally relevant programming for ALL students at UofT, including non-Indigenous students who want to learn more  

GTA Resources


Bangishimo Photography. (2024, June 11). Photograph of celebrations at a 2-Spirit Pow Wow event at Downsview Park, Toronto [Photograph]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1233385907986385&set=pb.100039449628509.-2207520000&type=3

Croutch, J. (2024, May 27st). Reflecting on Indigenous Land Acknowledgements [workshop]. University of Toronto. https://ulearn.utoronto.ca/ 
Government of Canada; Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada; (2024, May 24). National Indigenous Peoples Day. https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1100100013718/1708446948967 

Office of Indigenous Initiatives at the University of Toronto. (2024, April 26). U of T is marking the official opening of Ziibiing, the Indigenous landscape project at Hart House Green [Photograph]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=415812391207446&set=a.250937061028314

Smith, Jackson & Puckett, Cassandra & Simon, Wendy. (2015). Indigenous allyship: An overview. 

University of Toronto. Indigenous University of Toronto. https://indigenous.utoronto.ca/about/land-acknowledgement/ 

University of Toronto. (2022, September 14). Land Acknowledgement | Indigenous  

Webb, Zhaawnong. “How To Create An Effective and Personal Land Acknowledgement.” YouTube, February 6th, 2023. 

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