As a majority of classes transition to online learning, there is a notable absence of the territorial acknowledgement that is traditionally delivered on the first day of each course.
While some professors have made the effort to include the acknowledgement at the beginning of the course, most have opted to simply include it on the syllabus. There is concern that students, new and old, are not being made aware of the colonial history of the land that their educational institution stands on.
“Indigenous people have indeed been dispossessed by the settler population, and this dispossession was affected by Western settler systems of knowledge. I think that’s really important to state within a university setting especially,” explained Natasha Simon, the nihkanatpat, or director, of the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre (MWC) at UNB Fredericton.
Simon explained that more is required than just a territorial acknowledgment, but that it is the first step toward acknowledging the injustice of dispossession.
“It can’t just be an acknowledgement. It also has to be a commitment to action. So I think that’s really important to state too, because often the territorial acknowledgement will be [like a] check off, and that’s not okay,” Simon continued, “…I think that it’s really important for people to acknowledge that they also have a role in this… People need to take responsibility for change towards what is good. and we all think that, you know, it’s not okay to dispossess people from their land and their resources.”
The territorial acknowledgement is a way of allowing one’s thinking to change, but it is not enough to simply deliver or receive this acknowledgement. Breana Andrews, Indigenous Student Representative with the UNB Student Union, illuminated some ways that individual action can partner alongside the acknowledgement.
“Whether it’s asking a peer, or asking a professor, or even finding yourself at the MWC – they can always help and they always want to have the conversation,” Andrews explained.
Elder Kenneth Francis is a retired educator and a member of Kopit Lodge. This group, whose mission statement is “Protect the water,” aims to preserve the entire ecosystem through coordination, persistence, and non-violent resistance. When asked about his opinion on territorial acknowledgement, Francis was reminded of an image.
“I remember seeing a cartoon editorial where a colonialist is sitting behind a desk, and there are three or four Aboriginal people standing in front of it. And he is saying, ‘We have come to an agreement, I agree to call this Aboriginal land, and you agree that I will be taking all the resources,’” Francis reflected while laughing.
Cecilia Brooks is a member of St. Mary’s and a contract instructor at UNB in the Forestry and Environmental Management department. Brooks shared the sentiment that the territorial acknowledgement, when unaccompanied by action, is appeasement.
“That is what it is, from an Indigenous perspective. I’ve spoken to many students, as well as community elders and leaders, and the general feeling is that it’s just another form of lip service. It’s disingenuous to make an acknowledgement to the territory when no other action is being made. It is meaningless rhetoric,” Brooks said.
She believes that to combat these empty words, UNB must be doing more as an institution.
“The university needs to step it up. [They must] increase Indigenous faculty members and get people within our communities to come in and teach the history, and teach the perspectives, and begin this process of decolonization.”