I was told a story once about a professor trying to get a point across about the silliness of land acknowledgements.
At the beginning of class, he went around the desks and took everyone’s laptop.
He brought them to the front of the room and stated, ‘I have everyone’s laptop.’
There was a look of confusion as if the students were thinking, ‘okay, now what… I need them to write.’
However, the professor kept them, sharing the idea that stating so must be enough justice.
That, folks, is what a land acknowledgement is like.
I’ve got a love-hate relationship with land acknowledgements.
I think it’s a great starter for people to be aware of the land’s history that they are now occupying.
However, it’s so obvious to me when that’s all they’re doing – when they read it like a script and move on to a completely new subject in an awkward, jagged-like way.
Or, even worse, when it’s so obvious they didn’t research what they were saying.
I had a law professor once who, after claiming she worked with a Haudenosaunee community for years, couldn’t even pronounce Haudenosaunee correctly.
I had to cringe.
My problem with land acknowledgements is that people act as if that’s the band-aid fix in achieving justice, like the excellent point the professor was making when he stated he had everyone’s laptops.
I mean, it’s right in the name – it’s just an “‘acknowledgement”.
The students are sitting there thinking, “okay, let’s have them back now” – but not many people are thinking that after a land acknowledgement is said, because land isn’t urgent to them like a laptop is.
They are already comfortably settled on the land – they interpret the acknowledgement as a testament to the land’s history.
Land, however, is not just history for us. It is our urgent future.
It is our sustenance and our livelihood, our spirituality and our family.
So when I hear a scripted land acknowledgement followed by, for example, the location of the washrooms at a conference, I know no one else cares about land like my relations do.
That said, I personally would hate for them to just stop happening, because of their ease in spreading awareness as a starter-conversation among people who haven’t had that kind of conversation before.
The problem with this is, many Canadians have already had this conversation.
So it’s time for the next piece of the puzzle to be placed, and ask yourselves: what are you doing to give the land back?
If you are responsible for giving land acknowledgements, this is a plea by your Indigenous peers to make them meaningful.
Here is a little cheat sheet for doing so: Someone who is a settler should be the one doing the land acknowledgement. Not an Indigenous person.
Research to know how to pronounce the names you are saying.
Don’t leave it as a stand-alone statement or to-do list item, but do your best to work it into the topic you are about to present.
Make it a conversation among your peers.
Do not read off a script. Memorize the treaty and nation names you need to know, and let it organically flow off your tongue.
Follow up and give the land back 🙂