“Indigenous” is a term to refer to the original inhabitants of any place. There are Indigenous peoples all over the world. In the context of Turtle Island (or what is now ‘Canada’), there are three distinct groups of Indigenous peoples: First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. The best term to use to speak about someone’s Indigenous background is the specific nation that someone is from, for example “Ojibway”, “Oneida”, “Mi'kmaq”, etc. once you get to know them. Amongst Indigenous peoples, it’s very common and polite to ask what nation or community someone is from.
There are three First Nation communities located just 20 minutes outside of London: Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, Oneida Nation of the Thames, and Munsee-Delaware Nation. Southwestern Ontario is home to a very large Indigenous community with several large reserves such as Walpole Island First Nation, Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, and Six Nations. London, Ontario is home to the 6th highest population of Indigenous peoples in Ontario and has a diverse urban Indigenous community with individuals from all over Turtle Island.
Many First Nations, Inuit, and Métis nations have deep relationships with the land, water, plants, and animals from their territories. Each nation has specific traditional teachings and ceremonies to acknowledge the land such as prayer, sunrise ceremonies, full moon ceremonies, fasting, and seasonal ceremonies. As Indigenous peoples, we do not offer formal land acknowledgments but rather continue to practice our traditional ceremonies that exist to acknowledge the land.
For settlers currently occupying Turtle Island (what is now known as ‘Canada’), an emergent trend towards truth and reconciliation has been to offer a formal land acknowledgment as a way of recognizing ongoing settlement. The purpose of settlers offering land acknowledgments is to acknowledge their treaty responsibilities and demonstrate the action steps they are taking to decolonize their minds and institutions. Therefore, it is important that a non-Indigenous person offers the land acknowledgment.
Source and further learning:
Land Acknowledgements (Office of Indigenous Initiatives, Western University)
A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgment (Native Governance Center)
Indigenous peoples and settlers each have different roles within truth and reconciliation. For Indigenous communities, reconciliation is often about healing from the effects of colonial trauma, revitalizing cultural practices, and advocating for decolonization to pave a better tomorrow for future generations. For settler communities, truth and reconciliation begins with pursuing self-education to learn the truth, building authentic and trusting relationships with Indigenous peoples, donating to redistribute wealth and resources, and advocating to your government and leaders for change.
Visit our education section, Truth Comes Before Reconciliation to learn about the history of settler colonialism in Canada.
Visit our Donate page to donate to Indigenous-led healing and reconciliation efforts.
Pow wows are ‘celebrations of life’ gatherings that celebrate the beauty of our cultures as First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples through singing and dancing. There is a military overtone that honours veterans and people who have served for the freedom we all have. Veterans of all nations have the right to lead and carry their Eagle Staff Flags into the circle at the ‘grand entry’ to open the pow wow. There are many different styles of pow wow dancing that vary from nation to nation.
The pow wow MC will let you know of protocols to be aware of as the event unfolds. Protocols vary from nation to nation. Usually during the opening song, honor songs, or ceremonial songs guests are asked to stand if they’re able to, remove headwear, and not to take photos. It is also polite to ask a dancer if you may take their photo before doing so. All guests are invited to dance during intertribal songs however the remainder of the songs may be for dancers in regalia. Generally, at a pow wow you can visit with people, check out the craft vendors and grab some yummy food!
A story telling dance from the Iroquois people that allows for self-expression and celebrating the beauty of who we are. Often men, women, youth, and Elders will dance differently during smoke dance to indicate the roles they are responsible for in their community. Smoke dance is a practice that reminds us to be in good relationships with the land and with each other.
The jingle dress dance came from a dream gifted to the Anishinaabe peoples. There are many different styles of jingle dress that vary depending on the region. Jingle dress dancing is a healing dance used for prayer.
Many Indigenous peoples carry cultural items, often called ‘Bundles’ that they have a sacred responsibility to care for and tend to. These may include drums, tobacco prayer pipes, animal pelts, traditional medicines, medicine pouches, beadwork such as necklace medallions or earrings, shakers, moccasins, regalia, condolence sticks, eagle fans or headdress. We recommend not touching another person’s cultural items unless you’ve been invited to do so. If you must handle cultural items, treat the item with great care. Cultural items are gifted through ceremony and prayer, are often handmade, and have deep meaning to the person who takes care of the item.
From an Indigenous perspective, all the plants that grow on the Earth are medicine and each have a purpose. Plant medicines commonly used in Southwestern Ontario include sage, tobacco, sweetgrass, cedar, bear root, copalt and sweetflag. These medicines may be used in smudging (smoke), as a tea, for prayer or in other ways. They are used to help with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing and wellness. Use of traditional medicines greatly varies according to unique Indigenous nations.
Smudging involves burning dried plant medicines such as sage to create a smoke that is used as a cleansing practice for physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being. Not all Indigenous peoples smudge, however it is common in Indigenous communities in Southwestern Ontario. The most used plant for smudging is sage.
Non-Indigenous people can smudge, especially if invited to do so and shown how to smudge in a respectful way. There are many spiritual teachings and stories about sage and other traditional medicines that have been passed down for generations. If you find smudging to be beneficial to your well-being, we recommend you seek out these teachings from an Indigenous source to inform how you are using them. This will result in the greatest benefit to you! If you are looking for a smudge kit or medicines, we recommend supporting an Indigenous-owned business.
For many First Nations (but not all), tobacco is considered one of the most sacred medicines. It is used for prayer, ceremony and spiritual reciprocity. Tobacco can be put into a prayer pipe or used individually by placing the tobacco in your left hand and offering your personal prayer to a sacred fire or to the Earth. Tobacco can also be placed in a square fabric cloth and tied up with a ribbon, called tobacco ties, that are used in the same ways for prayers, or to make a request of someone.
Depending on the First Nation and their unique cultural practices, it is sometimes appropriate to give someone a tobacco tie when you are asking for their help involving a spiritual ceremony, or teaching. Passing a tobacco tie is a way of voicing your request to the individual and to the spiritual world and is also a gift to thank them for their help. When considering giving someone a tobacco tie, it is important to reflect on the protocols of their Indigenous nation, the nature of your request, what a thoughtful gift might be in addition to tobacco. The intricacies of Indigenous customs such as tobacco ties can only be learned through direct experience working with Indigenous peoples.
A sacred fire is a fire that is used for ceremonial purposes where specific cultural protocols apply according to the nation’s traditions and spiritual teachings. In Southwestern Ontario, sacred fires are often lit using traditional methods such as offering tobacco and using a flint and striker. Sacred fires are often lit for funerals, marriages, sunrise and other seasonal ceremonies. Sacred fires are considered by some local First Nations to be a portal to the spiritual world. Sacred fires are tended to by one or more Firekeepers who watch over the fire and ensure it doesn’t grow too much or go out. It is appropriate to thank the Firekeeper, perhaps give them a small gift to acknowledge their work and follow their directions for any specific protocols.
Before you put anything into a sacred fire, you should check with the Firekeeper. Different items may be put into a sacred fire depending on the nation and the ceremony. In Southwestern Ontario, it is common for people to offer tobacco and cedar to the fire for prayers, and sometimes to offer food to the fire to acknowledge our ancestors.
Events or gatherings will often be opened or closed with a prayer by an Elder or language speaker. The purpose of offering prayers is to ensure that the work we undertake is guided divinely by the spiritual world before all else. While prayer traditions vary amongst Indigenous nations, prayer is generally a way to acknowledge our humble place as human beings in the large, interconnected web of life and to give thanks.