The importance of land acknowledgements and the Attawandaron

The importance of land acknowledgements and the Attawandaron


Understanding a history often neglected due to colonization 

“We would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Attawandaron (Neutral) [People]. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties,” reads a statement by The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

In 2011, the on-campus Aboriginal Advisory Council decided to draft language for territorial acknowledgements. The language echoes similar land acknowledgements spoken on University campuses across Canada, said Cara Wehkamp in an interview with the Guelph Mercury. Wehkamp is the manager of the Office of Intercultural Affairs at the University of Guelph.

Today the majority of events around the U of G campus begin with a territorial acknowledgement recognizing the Attawandaron People, as well as Métis, Haudenosaunee, and Anishinaabe nations.

The CAUT released a guide to acknowledging traditional territories across Canada.

To understand the diversity of Indigenous peoples and deepen our study of colonization… we need to expand our recognition from a few sentences to a centuries-old understanding of local history.

“Acknowledging territory shows recognition of and respect for Aboriginal Peoples,” the preface of the guide reads. “It is a recognition of their presence both in the past and present.”

The goal was to take necessary steps towards mending and building “healthy and reciprocal relations” that demonstrated a commitment to the process of reconciliation.

The CAUT adds that acknowledging territory is “only the beginning” of improving and creating strong relationships with the First Peoples of Canada.

To understand the diversity of Indigenous peoples and deepen our study of colonization — particularly important as we celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial this year — we need to expand our recognition from a few sentences to a centuries-old understanding of local history.

We must ask, who were the Attawandaron, and what is their history?

The Attawandaron, much like other Iroquoian nations, were a hunter-gatherer society who lived in longhouses that sheltered multiple families. Their territory was established between Lake Ontario and the Grand River, which stretches between Kitchener and Toronto.

They were an Iroquoian-speaking peoples that differed in dialect from their northern neighbours the Huron, who designated them the “Attawandaron,” which roughly translates to “people with a slightly different language,” as stated on the Museum of Ontario Archaeology’s website.

The Attawandaron referred to themselves as the Chonnonton — “the people of the deer,” or more accurately, “keepers of the deer” — referring to their practice of herding deer into pens, according to William C. Noble in “The Neutral Confederacy.”

After years of relative peace among the Iroquoian-speaking nations, war, disease, and famine quickly became a constant threat for the Attawandaron Nation following the emergence of European-Indigenous relations.

The name used most frequently in the historical literature is “the Neutral,” a name that was given to them by the French for their neutral alliance between the Hurons of the north and the Seneca of the south.

Mary Jackes, an anthropologist and researcher from the University of Waterloo, notes that their “geographical position between the Huron and the Seneca with regard to trade was a significant factor in this neutrality,” which “functioned to provide a type of sanctuary.”

This sanctuary allowed safe travel for Huron and Seneca warriors and traders as they would travel to trade corn, tobacco, black squirrel furs, and flint that was used for arrowheads, which were vital for hunting and war parties.

After years of relative peace among the Iroquoian-speaking nations, war, disease, and famine quickly became a constant threat for the Attawandaron Nation following the emergence of European-Indigenous relations.

With reference to the research of Jackes and the reports of French explorers and Jesuits, here is a brief timeline of the Attawandaron nation and their collapse in the 17th century.

Frances Esenwa | The Ontarion