We have been discussing controversies over “land acknowledgement” statements at universities, including recently at the University of Washington. A new such controversy has arisen at George Brown College in Toronto where, in order to join a Zoom call, both faculty and students were required to agree to a statement that included an acknowledgement that they benefited from colonization.
“It has been the site of human activity since time immemorial. This land is the territory of the Huron-Wendat, Mississaugas, Anishinaabe and the Haudenosaunee.
The territory is the subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Confederacy of the Anishinabek and Allied Nations to peaceably care for and share the resources around the Great Lakes.
We also acknowledge all Treaty peoples – including those who came here as settlers – as migrants either in this generation or in generations past – and those of us who came here involuntarily, particularly forcibly displanted Africans, brough here as a result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery.
As settlers or the displanted, we benefit from the colonization and genocide of the Indigenous peoples of this land. In order to engage in resistance and solidarity against the past and present injustices inflicted on the Indigenous peoples of this land, it is imperative we constantly engage in acts of awareness and decolonization.
**By selecting ‘I agree,’ you are indicating your acknowledgment of this statement. Our intent is not to impose agreeance, but to inform through acknowledgment. This acknowledgment is to generate awareness and offer opportunities for personal reflection.**”
George Brown recently announced a new and extensive “Anti-Racism Action Plan.”
The school states that at each and every event at the school there must be a land acknowledgement statement:
The Indigenous land acknowledgment is a statement made at the beginning of George Brown College events to recognize the traditional territory upon which we are situated. The current wording for our territorial acknowledgment is:
George Brown College is located on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and other Indigenous peoples who have lived here over time. We are grateful to share this land as treaty people who learn, work and live in the community with each other.
The first speaker at an event delivers the land acknowledgment, before longer welcoming or introductory remarks. Most Indigenous groups prefer the land acknowledgment precede the singing of or the playing of O Canada to recognize the historical order.
That would appear to make it mandatory for any groups to recite these words in order to hold an event on campus even if they or some participants oppose either the substance of the statement or the element of compelled speech.
The University of Colorado (Denver) recently encouraged students and faculty to “read the following together with your students from your syllabus”:
“Acknowledging that we reside in the homelands of Indigenous Peoples is an important step in recognizing the history and the original stewards of these lands. Land acknowledgements must extend far beyond words. The United States has worked hard to erase the narratives of Indigenous Peoples over time. Land acknowledgement statements can help to remind us of the history, the contributions and the sacrifices Native peoples have made.
“We honor and acknowledge that we are on the traditional territories and ancestral homelands of the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Ute nations. This area, specifically the confluence of the Platte and Cherry Creek Rivers was the epicenter for trade, information sharing, planning for the future, community, family and ally building, as well as conducting healing ceremonies for over 45 Indigenous Nations, including the Lakota, Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, Shoshone, Paiute, Zuni, Hopi among others.
“We must recognize Indigenous peoples as the original inhabitants, stewards and relatives of this land. As these words of acknowledgment are spoken and heard, remember the ties these nations still have to their traditional homelands. Let us acknowledge the painful history of genocide and forced removal from this territory and pay our respect to the diverse Indigenous peoples still connected to this land. Let us also give thanks to all Tribal Nations and the ancestors of this place.”
These acknowledgements are usually voluntary, though we saw at the University of Washington that the decision to supply your own such statement can result in a negative response from the Administration.
It is not clear how an untenured faculty member would fare if the professor declined such invitations or suggestions. It is certainly precarious for an untenured person to openly disagree with such policies. Even if you prevail, you may find yourself unemployed when your contract is not renewed. We recently discussed that concern where a St. John’s professor prevailed in a fight over his questioning reparations, but was later denied the renewal of his contract. The termination sent a chilling message to all faculty members.
We previously discussed how an acting Northwestern Law Dean declared publicly “I am James Speta and I am a racist.” He was followed by Emily Mullin, executive director of major gifts, who announced, “I am a racist and a gatekeeper of white supremacy. I will work to be better.” I have no problem with a dean making such statements based on his own convictions and would defend his right to do so under free speech and academic freedom principles. However, there is also a concern that such decanal statements create pressure on others (particularly untenured members) to begin remarks with such confessional statements.
There are various reasons why faculty or students may disagree with the statement supplied by George Brown College, including a resistance to pressure to conform to public expressions or recitations. The question is whether the college’s push to “demystify” and “decolonize” the campus will tolerate such dissent or bar access to programs or opportunities for dissenters.