Belonging in Unceded Territory is a project that deeply explores and questions our situation as uninvited guests on the unceded and stolen territories of the Coast Salish peoples. It asks us how we reconcile the fact that we are settling here on a land that is not our ancestral land, and whose people never gave us the permission to settle on this land.  

How do we find a sense of belonging knowing this? What can we do moving forward to live here as respectful guests? This question of belonging is not only for those who moved here from other countries but for those born here and Indigenous people who have migrated to these territories from other areas of Canada. It is not merely a research project that focuses on extracting data to evaluate, but it also involves shifting minds and attitudes along the way.

The project began through partnership and relationship building in 2020. The lead partner is UBC Migration Studies, and the other partners include: Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of BC (AMSSA), Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC), and Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, with Frog Hollow becoming involved in the project in early 2021.

Frog Hollow, as an organization that provides settlement services to newcomers and promotes decolonizing approaches to building community, we were well placed in making the connections needed to bring together different groups of people to explore the topic of belonging. In the first year of the project, the Waacus Salee (Frog Spirit) Team invited Indigenous leaders and activists to attend a series of talking circles that explored questions of connection to these Coast Salish lands and their sense of belonging here. 

In the second year of the project, Frog Hollow’s role was to conduct dialogue circles with two groups of settlers/newcomers to get their perspectives on their sense of belonging in these territories. We recruited the help of our settlement team to arrange for an Arabic-speaking group and a Spanish-speaking group to participate in these dialogue circles. Both groups had the opportunity to meet Chief Chepximiya Siyam’ Janice George of the Squamish Nation, who provided them with some context of the history of her people. The dialogue circles were facilitated by Sussan Yanez who has a wealth of knowledge on protocols and relationship building. She also instigated a host lunch that took place at the start of the second year of the project with the intention to invite members of each host nation to witness the work being done.

The project has been impactful in many ways already. With a Decolonizing Initiative Map, plenary presentation at the AMSAA conference, and now the podcast, this project raised questions that we should all be asking ourselves and has provided tools that we can use in our programs to discuss the questions of belonging and how to live as respectful guests and allies to the Indigenous people. Many inspiring Indigenous leaders were involved in this project including Travis Angus, Jolene Andrew, Kinwa Bluesky, and Leona Brown.

We hope this research project will reach far and wide, and play a role in shifting the narrative that has widely been told about Canada as a welcoming, multicultural society. Besides creating a more truthful narrative, we hope this project affects change in policies around welcoming newcomers to Canada.  Perhaps someday newcomers will ask permission to the Coast Salish Nations to land and live on these territories.

To learn more about the Belonging in Unceded Territory Project, click here.