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Land Acknowledgement

by kschoen 0 Comments

I presently make my home on Treaty 6 territory, land which has been occupied by many indigenous peoples for thousands of years.

As the descendant of refugees and the daughter of a military family that lived in many different places all over the world, I do not have a deep connection to this place that goes back many generations. I am grateful for the environment here that has allowed my roots to grow and create a secure space for making art and relationships. My work here will continue to reflect the principles of tatawaw*, and make a place for others the same way that a place was opened for me. 

My first approach to the concept of land acknowledgement was through the study of music history and the performance of early music on period instruments. The field of early music performance is very focused on European culture, and I began to wonder what early music would look like from a Canadian perspective. This led to much research in history, and I realized that any performance of period music from the land now known as Canada would have to include the music of the people who resided here before European contact. 

This led to experimental compositions and arrangements which presented Métis fiddle tunes beside the Indigenous, French, and Scots music that influenced them. 

I developed a concept of an “archaeological” approach to creating site specific musical performances. This would begin with the natural sounds of the land itself, and then add layers of music and sound that would reflect the subsequent waves of human activity in the area. With the Schoen Duo, we received a grant from the Edmonton Heritage and Edmonton Arts Councils to create a performance based on the heritage of the River Crossing are of Edmonton, where the original Fort Edmonton was located. 

While developing this project, we had the opportunity to collaborate with the Mountain Soul Singers. They provided traditional drum song for the River Crossing Soundscape project, and shared drum teachings with us.

After the River Crossing Soundscape was completed, I had an opportunity to present at the Open Recorder Days teacher’s conference in Amsterdam. It was very interesting to return to Europe (I had lived in Germany as a child) after doing all this work thinking about relationships to the land. I experimented with the idea of doing a land acknowledgment before my presentation, since I had by this point become very used to doing this before important events. This led me into thinking deeply about family history (my ancestors were anabaptist refugees from religious prosecution in Holland in the 16th C) and the concept of indigeneity (my audience in Holland was indigenous to the land on which the event was taking place – this is not the case with my usual North American white settler audience). 

At this point, we were all confronted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure of our usual performance venues made me realize that the concept of site-specific performances that incorporate the sounds of the land on that site could translate equally well into outdoor performances and online performance as music videos. My creative work pivoted in this direction. 

More recently, I had the pleasure of participating in a Land Acknowledgement development workshop with Jocelyn and Hunter Cardinal of naheyawin. Their workshop emphasized exploring your personal relationship to the land, so that you could have a personal land acknowledgement alongside the land acknowledgment of your organization. I am grateful to them for the tatawaw teaching, and their emphasis on how developing your personal land acknowledgment is an ongoing process. They also inspired me with stories of other performing artists who incorporated the land acknowledgement into their art form. 

This made me realize that these recent projects, working with the natural sounds of the environment and the subsequent layers of sound from human activity, were representing my own quest to understand my relationship to the land.

I expect this quest will continue. 

*tatawaw ᑕᑕᐊᐧᐤ

 a Nêhiyawak (Cree) word, often translated as “welcome”, but literally meaning “there is room”.