Editorial—Working the Land Acknowledgements

This editorial may anger some initially. That’s not its intention, I’m just trying to work through some of my own concerns with one of the more recent trends to hit various organizations, especially those in public institutions. So keep reading to the end.

I’m speaking about the almost inevitable land acknowledgment that seems to precede most meetings these days.  Wherein the organization gives voice to the idea that the land they operate from, at least here in North America, was originally that of various Indigenous Peoples.

On the face of it, it seems a reasonable thing.  A subtle reminder to understand our history, and to further consider how we currently treat Indigenous Peoples and the justifications we use for that.

At the same time, though, I find I wonder about the hypocrisy of it. In one meeting I went to recently the meeting organizer noted that he was working on the “stolen” lands of various Indigenous Peoples.  I tend to think that when we know things are truly stolen, the correct course of action is to return them to those who originally owned them.

Yet I somehow doubt his organization would be willing to even allow any current member of those groups to simply wander in and set up sleeping quarters and make use of the office space being rented as their own home.  Were that to happen, I’m fairly confident that the organization would be doing whatever they could to remove the person—perhaps to other organizations that could provide assistance and shelter, but I highly doubt they’d concede that the person had any right to remain there.  At what point does a land acknowledgement become simple lip-service, and when does it go from there to simply an excuse people use to avoid actually dealing with the issue and problems involved?

In AUSU’s case, their land acknowledgement notes that “Athabasca University Students’ Union respectfully acknowledges that we are on and work on the traditional lands of the Indigenous Peoples (Inuit, First Nations, Métis) of Canada. We honour the ancestry, heritage and gifts of the Indigenous Peoples and give thanks to them.”  And, on thinking about it, I don’t mind that one.  It doesn’t go so far as to suggest any action that we obviously won’t do, and current actions by this Council, such as creating the Indigenous Circle, indicate that they are taking the idea of honouring the origins seriously.  So, okay, some uses of them can be good, reminding the group to take further steps.

But I’m worried that too often these statements are being used as simply a form of boiler-plate to avoid having to confront the issues any further.  So if your organization has taken to adding these kind of things on, maybe stop and ask yourself, “Are we really doing anything about this?”  And if not, maybe it’s time to ask your bosses why not.

At any rate, our feature is an interview with student Selena Burke, we’ve also got the October council meeting report, and a look at one of the scariest parts of Halloween just past.  Plus events, scholarships, and you know the drill.   Enjoy the read!

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