At the recent Faculty Development Day on Decolonizing Higher Education, I offered a land acknowledgment that we also use at the start of our OER and open pedagogy faculty seminars. Some of you may be familiar with land acknowledgments offered in Canada and Australia, where they are more common practice than in the United States. The grassroots organization U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, which is leading a call for land acknowledgments in the U.S., states, “Acknowledgment is a simple, powerful way of showing respect and a step toward correcting the stories and practices that erase Indigenous people’s history and culture and toward inviting and honoring the truth.”
First, I want to also acknowledge the important work of Tuck and Yang, in particular their article “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” that I believe is critical for us to consider and hold as we think about and work toward decolonization. In their article, Tuck and Yang state that:
“Decolonization is not a metaphor. When metaphor invades decolonization, it kills the very possibility of decolonization; it recenters whiteness, it resettles theory, it extends innocence to the settler, it entertains a settler future. Decolonize (a verb) and decolonization (a noun) cannot easily be grafted onto pre-existing discourses/frameworks, even if they are critical, even if they are anti-racist, even if they are justice frameworks. The easy absorption, adoption, and transposing of decolonization is yet another form of settler appropriation.”
I encourage you to consider this critique as you continue the work of decolonizing higher education.
Second, I would like to acknowledge my positionality in this work: I am a monolingual white European settler.
- My paternal grandmother arrived in the U.S. from Nova Scotia, Canada in the 1920s;
- My biological paternal grandfather arrived from County Cork, Ireland in the 1920s;
- The paternal grandfather I grew up with arrived from São Miguel, Azores in the 1920s;
- My maternal grandparents were British, and my mother arrived in the U.S. in 1958.
I am both a British and U.S. citizen, and I recognize that the violent legacies of colonialism and settler colonialism are triply present in my lineage, encompassed by my U.S., U.K., and Portuguese heritages. I invite you to take time to reflect on your own positionality.
Third, it’s important to be clear that land acknowledgments are not decolonization. Rather they are an invitation to engage in the hard, uncomfortable work of decolonization by making the invisible visible. While a land acknowledgment makes visible settler colonialism and indigenous erasure, decolonization will only happen in partnership with indigenous peoples. There must be action and community building beyond the reading of land acknowledgments.
Benjamin Haas, fellow BMCC faculty member, and I had the opportunity to attend a land acknowledgment workshop this past summer led by the Lenape. In the coming year, we will build on this experience, reaching out to the Lenape to establish relationships and start a dialogue about how we can best engage in this work, starting with a land acknowledgment and moving to more concrete actions. We welcome you to join us on this journey.
The land acknowledgement below is from Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgment, U.S. Department of Arts and Culture. We encourage you to explore this document to learn more about land acknowledgments.
“Every community owes its existence and vitality to generations from around the world who contributed their hopes, dreams, and energy to making the history that led to this moment. Some were brought here against their will, some were drawn to leave their distant homes in hope of a better life, and some have lived on this land for more generations than can be counted. Truth and acknowledgment are critical to building mutual respect and connection across all barriers of heritage and difference.
“We begin this effort to acknowledge what has been buried by honoring the truth. We are meeting on the ancestral lands of the Lenape People. We pay respect to their elders past and present. Please take a moment to consider the many legacies of violence, displacement, migration, and settlement that bring us together here today. And please join us in uncovering such truths at any and all public events in which you are involved.”
Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1).