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Acknowledging How Accountability Heals Wounds

Turtle Island by Patrick Hunter

Canadians do land acknowledgements in most public settings these days, including schools, sporting events, and conferences. They’re defined as “… an act of reconciliation that involves making a statement recognizing the traditional territory of the Indigenous people who called the land home before the arrival of settlers…” Source: CBC

While many support them, I have also heard frustration, resentment, and anger around land acknowledgements. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge these concerns:

  1. I’m an immigrant. I had nothing to do with stealing land from indigenous peoples.
  2. What’s past is past. Let’s forget it and move on already.
  3. What do you want me to do about it?

I understand these concerns, however, I feel they come from a place of misunderstanding. Land acknowledgements are about accountability not responsibility. The clue is found in the word “reconciliation” used in the definition above. Grasping that difference leads to healing, not just for indigenous peoples but for you too.


Acknowledgement means recognizing “what already is.” It’s about accepting the current state. There is no wishing (future state) or pining (past state) in acknowledgement. Acknowledgement happens now, in the present.

Confusion arises around acknowledgement because people quickly jump either to the future or to the past in an effort to avoid the discomfort of the present. While it’s a natural human reaction to sidestep discomfort, I’ve learned the only way out is through.

Accountability vs. Responsibility

Acknowledgement requires accountability. Accountability means “to account for.” In other words, What is my part in this? It’s not about blaming because there’s no fault in accountability.  While some may equate accountability with condoning (usually “bad”) behaviour, it’s not about making excuses or judgements.

Responsibility happens after accountability.

Most associate responsibility with blame. Who’s responsible for what happened? I invite you to consider responsibility differently. Responsibility means, So this happened. What am I going to do about it so I can move forward in my life?

Notice the empowerment in the revised description of responsibility. It puts you at choice in what happens next. In its positive orientation, it shifts you from negative thought patterns to positive ones, from blame to possibility.

The Car Crash

In a car crash, both parties can be accountable (distracted, heavy traffic, different route) but usually one party is assigned responsibility for the accident.

The traditional view of responsibility-as-blame externalizes discomfort, so you feel better. No more knots in your belly! If you blame someone else for the car crash, you feel better because you haven’t assigned yourself responsibility for what happened. In contrast, if you acknowledge you were distracted when the crash happened, you take account for your role in it even if you don’t feel good about it.

Perspective and Choice

The deeper message of this discussion is your perspective because the perspective you choose becomes your reality.

Accountability is a perspective.

What makes you powerful is the choice you make based on the perspective you adopt.

When you choose to accept accountability, you allow healing to begin, not just for those being acknowledged but for yourself as well.


Acknowledgement thus heals wounds. It’s not one-way but reciprocal.

Land acknowledgements are about healing – accountability – not blaming – responsibility.

Resistance rears up in all transitions, including using land acknowledgements, and often manifests as clinging to old ways of doing things, even when they no longer serve the greater good. Notice the resistance in the concerns outlined at the outset of today’s message.

Return to intent, stay present, and let yourself be healed knowing acknowledgement means “acceptance of what is.” It works, for land acknowledgements and most things in life.

Header Image by Patrick Hunter

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