29 September 2016

Acknowledging Indigenous Territory at Universities

Every year in recent memory, the opening of the annual Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA) conference begins with an acknowledgement that the meetings are taking place on Indigenous territory. In the context of Canadian anthropology, which has a long (and fraught) tradition with studying Indigenous peoples, this ritual acknowledgement speaks to both the debates about decolonizing anthropology in Canada and more generally, as well as the ongoing work of truth and reconcilation.

However, as the ever-insightful âpihtawikosisân blog's Chelsea Vowel points out, territorial acknowledgement has become increasingly common as a policy across Canadian universities, with the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) itself releasing a Guide to Acknowledging Traditional Territory.

It is interesting that âpihtawikosisân's post about thinking Beyond territorial acknowledgments (23 September 2016) is set against headlines about the royal visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a Will and Kate) to British Columbia. While many of these headlines have focused on the popularity of the young royals among (settler-) Canadians, and strengthening ties across the Commonwealth, some have focused on the decision of some Indigenous leaders and groups not to attend a planned 'reconciliation ceremony' at the BC legislative assembly (see for example these articles from HuffPost British Columbia and Vice Canada).

In this context, âpihtawikosisân's post offers valuable critical insights and analysis into the purpose and practice of territorial acknowledgement rituals. She writes,
When I think about territorial acknowledgments, a few things come to mind that I’d like to explore. First, what is the purpose of these acknowledgments? Both what those making the territorial acknowledgments say they intend, as well as what Indigenous peoples think may be the purpose. Second, what can we learn about the way these acknowledgments are delivered? Are there best practices? Third, in what spaces do these acknowledgements happen and more importantly, where are they not found? Finally, what can exist beyond territorial acknowledgements?
How can we move beyond just acknowledging territory (even when these acknowledgments can act as "sites of potential disruption, they can be transformative acts that to some extent undo Indigenous erasure") toward "asking hard questions about what needs to be done once we’re ‘aware of Indigenous presence’"?

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