1.J. Humanities at Large Blogpost 9 November 2017 SPECIAL
HUMANITIES AT LARGE
Engaging with the materiality of doing critical academic work on Indigenous land more often than not seems to be foreclosed by the repetitiveness of uttering the same institutionally recommended phrases or the disjuncture between making an acknowledgement and then carrying on with the content of a written lecture. In these moments, it feels like the status of settler scholars is being stabilized rather than intervening in meaningful ways into colonial knowledge and imperialist relations.
Over the course of the past week, several fellows have been talking about this issue. The hollowness of the rote Territorial Acknowledgment (TA) statement is something that many have been struggling with in different ways, and we are all hoping that in a group of scholars like the JHI we will be able to change this into something deeper and more meaningful. We would love it if this were a topic that we could reflect on as a group, but to start, everyone who has yet to do their presentation has been challenged to use the territorial acknowledgement time to reflect instead on the systems of power and oppression that may be present in our research context and also in the local context of settler colonialism on Turtle Island. Because of the theme, we’re all looking at situations of Indelible Violence. What commonalities are there between the violence that we’re studying and the dispossession and genocide of Indigenous communities here? How are narratives of shame and apology being mobilized, and what themes might we draw from those contexts to inform the work of decolonization on this land?
We understand that we are all dealing with a very diverse set of issues, and we do not want to devalue the importance of that work in any way! However, since we are working and living on this territory, as we have heard week after week, we have a responsibility to this land and to the Indigenous communities who are present and displaced from this area. We want to challenge each other to reflect on how our work can contribute to local decolonization efforts and to share a few of those thoughts with the rest of us in place of reading the territorial acknowledgment script. And independent from our specific focus this year at the JHI, we believe scholars in all disciplines should be engaging with the work of Indigenous writers, philosophers, and activists, making an effort to learn from books, podcasts, walking tours, and oral presentations both on the campus and within communities. Otherwise how does a land acknowledgement spoken within the university make sense that is not settler meaning? What is ‘land’? How do Indigenous nations define their relationships to it? How do nations define themselves as distinct from each other, as responsible to each other, and as responsible to the earth? When we acknowledge land, we might therefore think of the creative ways—through excerpts of work by Indigenous writers and orators for example—that we might share resistant forms of signification and decolonial belonging.