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1.J. Humanities at Large Blogpost 9 November 2017 SPECIAL

Jackman Humanities Institute Blog
9 November 2017 -- Special Issue on territorial acknowledgement

This week’s introductions returned with renewed urgency to the indelible violence of settler-colonial forms of land tenure on Turtle Island. Lila initiated the conversation with some postdoctoral (Danielle and Erin) and doctoral (Maya) fellows about interrogating the practice of territorial acknowledgment. These fellows—three settler scholars and an Anishnaabe scholar—expressed their concern that the disruptive and productive potential of acknowledgement seems to dissipate quickly when practiced in the classroom and when presenting research.

As they tend to be practiced across this university, territorial acknowledgements by settler scholars feel a lot like one of the performances of reconciliation that attempts to erase violence under critique in the description of this year’s research theme at the Jackman Humanities Institute: Indelible Violence: Shame, Reconciliation, and the Work of Apology.
Decolonization is not a Metaphor

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.

Some of us have been experimenting with different ways of formulating acknowledgements, but the disjuncture between stating that we are uninvited guests on Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee lands and enacting the responsibilities of our guest-ness in our research and teaching is something that we keep coming back to.

We are spending the year together to think about indelible violence and decolonization in a wide variety of contexts, situated in many different structures and places. But we wonder if reflecting on what it means to be conducting our individual research in this still actively colonized part of Turtle Island is something we could think about and experiment with a bit more directly and substantively in the months ahead.
Dear White People

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.

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