What bridging knowledge systems and open collaboration taught us about bringing place-based meaning to digital and broadcast media production

Gabrielle Pyska, Eric Tanner and Ethan Ward are hosts and producers of the Canadian Mountain Podcast, a joint project with the Canadian Mountain Network and Mount Royal University’s Community Podcast Initiative

The preliminary discussions surrounding our land acknowledgement began prior to the production of the Canadian Mountain Podcast’s third season in 2021. 

At a meeting to plan the transition of the podcast into a remote setting during lockdown, our team noticed a troubling gap in our show.

While the podcast — which regularly features Indigenous research — is based in Treaty 7 territory, our work had done little to  reflect that reality.

While uncommon in podcasting, our team started to discuss land acknowledgments as an opportunity to bridge both Indigenous and settler ways of knowing into our podcast, a program that already focuses on knowledge mobilization.

Land acknowledgements are becoming more popular in professional settings such as conferences, organization websites and universities. But they’re a rarity in broadcasting and audio platforms such as radio and podcasting.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its 94 calls to action “in order to redress the legacy of the residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.” In relation to media and broadcasting, call 84 focuses on the federal government’s responsibility to fund the CBC and continue supporting reconciliation and the reflection of diverse cultures, languages and perspectives within news media. No. 86 calls on Canadian journalism programs to provide education for all students on the history of Indigenous communities. 

In alignment with these calls to action, our podcast focused on building a space that included conversations with Indigenous knowledge holders in hopes of educating ourselves and our listeners about the land we share, and sought to decolonize, change and inspire media platforms.

As student hosts and producers for the Canadian Mountain Podcast, a program that connects knowledge systems with a focus on place, we set out to find a way to bring the concept of a land acknowledgement to our show and our reporting, while also, hopefully offering a roadmap for others to do so. 

The podcast was created by the Canadian Mountain Network — a federal nonprofit based at the University of Alberta specializing in the study of mountain ecosystems across diverse regions — to help make its research accessible to the public. The show is produced in collaboration with Mount Royal University Journalism’s Community Podcast Initiative

The podcast engages with CMN researchers ーpromoting conversations surrounding their studies, understanding their unique research methods and emphasizing the impacts this research has on our mountain systems.

The question

In the revamp of the Canadian Mountain Podcast prior to the third season, we decided to have a discussion around what we wanted to change about the podcast’s feel to align it more effectively with the CMN’s work and goals.

In the process of going through what the network valued most 一 collaboration and the  utilization of both Indigenous and settler ways of knowing in our research 一 we realized we were coming up short on the former. “Should we incorporate land acknowledgments into the podcast and if so, what should they sound like for our listeners?” we asked.

Native Land Digital, a not-for-profit organization that helps map out Indigenous nations and lands, says that a territory acknowledgement “is a way that people insert an awareness of Indigenous presence and land rights in everyday life. It can be a subtle way to recognize the history of colonialism and a need for change in settler colonial societies.”

Its website also emphasizes a quote by Chelsea Vowel, a Métis lawyer from the Plains- Cree-speaking community of Lac Ste. Anne, Alta., and author of Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, & Inuit Issues in Canada, who says that if we can think of an acknowledgement as “sites of potential disruption, they can be transformative acts that, to some extent, undo Indigenous erasure.”

The research

One of our biggest struggles was actually finding podcasts with examples of land acknowledgements as a reference. The ones we did find were either made by Indigenous producers or strictly academic, many of which we found sounded dry and monotone. It gave us the feeling that most of these were just being read off a script, with little emotion or thoughtful appreciation of the land. This may give listeners the feeling hosts are simply “checking off a box” rather than taking the time to research and understand what they are actually supposed to be acknowledging. 

For Tieja Medicine Crane (Aohkii’aki), an Indigenous activist from the Kainai Blood Tribe of Treaty 7, hearing these types of acknowledgements helped her embrace her own culture earlier on and pushed her to fight for Indigenous rights.  

“When I was younger, I didn’t hear anything about Indigenous culture, Indigenous activism or anything. So I always felt kind of lost,” Medicine Crane says. “But now that I’m older, I see all these other views and conferences that work so hard to make Indigenous youth heard. It’s nice and makes you feel like an actual person, and that what you’re doing matters and your people matter.”

It isn’t just in podcasts. In a 2019 Canadian Press article, Ovide Mercredi, a former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says land acknowledgments are becoming a habit for many institutions across the country but can be spoken without a commitment to addressing these land claims.

“Reconciliation requires more than just an expression,” Mercredi said.

“Now that you acknowledge this is our territory, what’s the next step? What are you prepared to do for us to become landowners – not landless in our homeland.”

Our peer, Cree producer Sarah Buffalo, who worked on the podcast for several episodes, originally suggested the idea of a land acknowledgement. She stressed the importance of making a land acknowledgement that was personal.

We had initially stuck with a standard format because of the fear of getting it wrong. She noticed our original attempts were too formal and suggested we take an alternative approach.

Buffalo’s reassurances would ultimately make the end result more meaningful.

To avoid an impersonal, bland, overly academic land acknowledgement, we chose to write our own. But, before we could start to write about the land we appreciate, we first had to listen to the people who knew a lot more about it than we did. 

We spoke with Patti Derbyshire, a social innovation professor at Mount Royal University who works in reconciliation, and Spirit River Striped Wolf, an Indigenous student and president of Mount Royal University’s student association. 

In addition to the background and history of this land, we also discussed the importance of moving past the performative mentality of an acknowledgement and creating a deeper understanding of what this land means for us and our guests on the show. To do this, we began asking each guest to provide their own introductions and asking what “home” means to them. 

Following our meeting with Derbyshire and Striped Wolf, we met up once more to reflect on the crew’s feelings and desires for the episode acknowledgement. We wanted to explore how our current perspectives could be further moulded to understand the true meaning behind land appreciation, while remaining concise to suit the needs of the podcast.

After devising our action plan, our four members split up for a couple of days to investigate land acknowledgements in other journalistic and professional media spheres. From here, we noted what stood out to us about these statements, and each attempted to write our own personal version of an acknowledgement.

Then, we met to critique and combine our favourite aspects of the four acknowledgements, repeatedly polishing the paragraph until we deemed it concise, informative and, most importantly, genuine.

After crafting our initial acknowledgement, we realized our statement became too long, unwieldy and disingenuous. Trying to cram as much recognition into one paragraph wasn’t the way to go. Instead, we decided to space out the acknowledgements into three separate sections over the course of the episode, where each had its own identity.

At the beginning of an episode, the first acknowledgement refers to Canada as a whole. At the episode’s conclusion, we made another to recognize the land we worked on, Mount Royal University. This included giving thanks to the Niitsitapi Blackfoot, Stoney Nakoda, Tsuut’ina, Métis Nations and other cultures that we learned from in the creation of this podcast and our own studies.

Pronunciations are provided by Leroy Little Bear from the Calgary Foundation. We also focused our land acknowledgement around Mount Royal specifically, as this place was something so personal to us and our journey into learning about storytelling. 

Those two acknowledgements are repeated each episode. While they were a good first step, we felt we needed a personal acknowledgement for all of the guests who joined us on the show. We wanted to provide a space where all guests can give thanks to the land and cultures they are a part of. 

This was tricky, as our interviewees are spread all across Canada. Each area of the country would require unique recognition and appreciation. We needed to find a way to represent everyone listening and joining the episode, as there is no one place to describe. 

By asking remote guests to provide their own acknowledgements to their respective locations during introductions, we provided a space to talk about the lands that influence our interviewees and their areas of expertise. 

Each introduction can incorporate acknowledgements of a tribe or band, location of their current residence or anywhere they may currently be. These statements are shared by guests at the start of their interviews.

Anecdotes about a guest’s upbringing and home are encouraged, to reflect the cultures participating in the production of this podcast. As we begin interviewing our guests, we ask them to speak about their home, giving us a look into their personal and cultural surroundings. 

In our process developing the two acknowledgments for our podcast, we wanted to emphasize the true historical owners of the land we work, live and communicate with, while realizing the colonialist pedestal and position of privilege much of our crew is part of. 

The final step of our process was reflecting on how these acknowledgements, like  others done in the past, could not just be a way to “check off a box,” but needed to be a meaningful part of our podcast’s production. In saying this, we realized that we wanted to act upon our acknowledgement in a culturally appropriate way.

Our research helped us write an acknowledgement that would be more personal to each of us and force us to confront what we know and what we don’t about this land.

Going forward

In the completion of our land acknowledgment, we examined our process and experiences with writing our statements, as well as what advice we could give to other podcasters aspiring to create their own appreciation of the land in their own words. 

Incorporating a land acknowledgement is not just being done for the recognition of being one of the first in the field to do so, but to foster a change in settler understanding of Indigenous knowledge and practices we so often use in our podcast’s production.

We hoped the inclusion of this acknowledgement would resonate with our Indigenous listeners and make them feel more heard. 

“I think that it’s really important for Indigenous youth, especially because your main audience would be younger people, and people who probably still are struggling with accepting that they’re Indigenous,” says Medicine Crane.

“Even just a little bit of acceptance would just give them more self confidence. The whole point of media is so that people can relate and see themselves in those things. There’s not a whole lot of broad or wide media for Indigenous peoples, so any little bit counts.” 

The entire process was a whirlwind of emotions, from feeling scared and embarrassed of our lack of understanding, to leaving the process hopeful that we are creating a more inclusive space for meaningful work as students and as journalists. 

We found our best writing came from our discussions that focused on what the land meant to us personally, then incorporating those elements into the writing, in addition to researching the acknowledgments and the treaties and events that took place on the land.

In a recent episode of the Canadian Mountain Podcast, we spoke with Eli Enns, the co-founder of the Ha’uukmin Tribal Park in Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

During our discussion on the importance of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, we explored biodiversity, cultural heritage protection and ultimately, what it means to move forward.

“I’m not going to criticize the land acknowledgment, although many people do. I’m going to say, ‘Yes that’s a good first start, now let’s dig a little bit deeper, where are you?’’’ Enns said.

“I think once we know who we are, and we know where we are, then we can have a conversation about where we’re going.”