It has become practice over the last 10-15 years, particularly in British Columbia, to open formal and informal gatherings and events with an acknowledgement that we live and work on Indigenous territories, and to thank Indigenous peoples for their hospitality.   Activists, and representatives of governments, corporations, and institutions like universities have adopted this protocol. While offering territorial acknowledgments emerged in response to Indigenous peoples’ struggles for recognition of sovereignty and political rights, as the practice has evolved so too have critical questions about its purpose and effect. Has offering territorial acknowledgments become a token gesture now emptied of its originating political significance? Are there ways to offer acknowledgments that may subvert the depoliticizing effects of repeating standardized gestures?

Please see the links below to access discussions and debates currently underway.

As one of the organizers of “CONVERSATIONS WITH UNUSUAL SUSPECTS,” I am trying to respond to critiques and to participate in the debate by experimenting with “repoliticizing” strategies under discussion. In particular, I want to take up two of the critical directions proposed. First, to accompany acknowledgments by recognizing that the protocol emerged through a long history of Indigenous struggles for recognition as sovereign peoples that have been carried on by generations of people for many centuries, and that these political struggles are ongoing, and unresolved. Second, to work with multiple forms designed to provoke audiences to pay serious attention to the practice of offering territorial acknowledgements, and what responsibilities may be called forth.

At our first session in October, I offered a brief history of the legal/political theory of terra nullius considering the public practice of territorial acknowledgments as marking an Indigenous victory in bringing the Supreme Court of Canada to officially reject the historical legal grounds of British and Canadian colonial settlement. At our next session in November, we will watch and listen to Buffy Ste Marie’s 1966 first performance of her “My Country ‘Tis Of Thy People You’re Dyin’.”   This song that has served as an anthem for Indigenous struggles across the Americas, and for solidarity movements around the world. Today, it is being sung by people at Standing Rock, who are facing arrest and more.

Please consider this an invitation to carry on this discussion on this blog, and elsewhere.