Indigenization Reading Circle Notebook: “Rethinking the Practice and Performance of Indigenous Land Acknowledgement”

The FAUW Indigenization Reading Circle meets monthly to discuss readings relating to Indigenization and reconciliation in the university context.

Students, faculty, and staff at the University of Waterloo are familiar with acknowledgements of the Indigenous peoples who have been the traditional or treaty inhabitants–Neutral/Attawandaron, Anishinaabeg, and Haudenosaunee—of the territory on which the University lies. Community members across campus gathered on June 27 as part of the FAUW Indigenization reading circle to discuss “Rethinking the Practice and Performance of Indigenous Land Acknowledgement”, Canadian Theatre Review, vol. 177, Winter 2019, pp.20-30.

The document is an edited transcript of a plenary discussion at the Canadian Association for Theatre Research (May 2018). The contributors were a mix of Indigenous, arrivant, and settler commentators.

Together the statements exhibit the realities of impersonal and passive territorial acknowledgements whose performance re-enacts colonialism and the potential for such statements to disturb settlers’ confidence by highlighting what they do not know about Indigenous ways of being, expressed in their language, relation to land, and their kinship ties. Other interventions offered examples of just relations in covenants of shared stewardship arrived at by the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples (e.g. ‘The Dish with One Spoon‘), and Indigenous protocols for visiting the territories of other peoples.

Many in the reading circle were uncomfortable with delivering the institutionally approved territorial acknowledgement. Some found it tokenistic, others felt uncomfortable because of their self-declared ignorance. The discussion turned to whether formulaic territorial acknowledgements are important as accessible starting points. A commitment to improve the performance of the statement could include paying greater attention to the pronunciation of names and further elaborating on historical details. Others in the circle suggested that the performance could be made more genuine by adding prefatory or concluding comments to the statement. 

The reading circle wrestled with the observation by Dylan Robinson that ‘core curriculum’ is akin to ‘land’ in educational settings. What would giving this ‘land’ back look like? How, as educators, can we accomplish something more than ‘adding-on’ Indigenous content at the margin? Some participants related the experience of rebuilding courses with Indigenous scholars prominently represented, and only then fitting in the ‘old canon.’ The work involved both time and risks for those without secure employment. The discussion then turned to how the classroom can be transformed so that power is shared and participation structured to allow a multiplicity of perspectives to be expressed. There was a clear concern that settlers recognize that they need to do the work of learning about the history of regions and their Indigenous peoples, rather than loading it upon Indigenous scholars.

The reading circle meets again on July 25 to discuss Tuck and Yang’s “Decolonization is not a metaphor.”


Ryan George is one of the coordinators of the Indigenization Reading Circle and a lecturer in the Department of Economics.

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