The Absurdity of Indigenous Land Acknowledgements

In recent years companies and governments alike have begun to acknowledge that the land upon which they wield their power and make their fortunes once belonged to others. While they will do little beyond starting a meeting with someone reading from a sterile script, it is seen as at worst a fair acknowledgment of why they are able to operate and, at best, a good first step. The only issue is that the entire farce makes no attempt to connect with historical fact or human behaviour and those who engage in it do so in such an anemic way that it calls into question the very reason for its creation.

Acknowledgements artificially create a retroactive camaraderie among various groups and nations that never existed to begin with. They throw together sometimes a dozen various tribes at a time (some of which never enjoyed frigid let alone peaceful relations with one another) and list the land in question as being their “traditional territories.” Depending on the area, it’s possible that these relatively small territories may have housed many tribes and groups cohabitating peacefully. It is far more likely that the very same territory is seen as traditionally held by so many different peoples is because it changed hands repeatedly and violently in the same way that contested territories housing multiple different groups throughout the globe and all of human history have. The land acknowledgement reads like a laundry list of winners and losers of various bloody conflicts without flinching or stopping for a moment to acknowledge those who lost it to those who won it shortly before it was lost again because those listed are seen as one and the same. It is not an accurate depiction of the state of affairs prior to the arrival of European settlers and thieves and serves mainly to promote the racist idea of the noble savage.

The grouping of these diverse and disparate peoples appears only as a stark contrast to European colonizers. It is a response to an outright invasion of foreigners who divvied up the country, murdered the locals, and brutally suppressed the plethora of native cultures wherever they were found. Natives of this land became the collective “Indigenous Peoples” only when faced with an opposing group and even then they remained fragmented, often allying themselves with various warring European groups if it meant an advantage over their brethren in an opposing tribe. Considering the structure of these land acknowledgments and in the interests of consistency, various European groups should also be listed should the country ever be conquered by an Asian or Middle Eastern power.

The urge to label these groups as not only an unbroken collective but a harmonious union that was only rattled by the coming of Europeans is as fantastical as it is dehumanizing. Precolonial groups are no different than any other in that they raise their children and they care for one another and they err and they war. They have past misdeeds that they deeply regret and they have incredible triumphs that fill them with pride. Our society’s rightful guilt over the treatment of the various inhabitants of these lands has led to a mischaracterization of the other in a childish good vs evil dichotomy.

This twisted attempt at reconciliation has seen well meaning yet ignorant people classifying hundreds of culturally and linguistically diverse groups with varying histories and religious practices into one category labeled “Indigenous.” Coincidentally in much the same way and with just as much thought as their forebearers when they first landed on these shores.

The perfectly valid question that follows the acknowledgement of stolen land (“so when are you leaving?”) is conveniently left unanswered. This comes as no surprise given the pageantry of the preceding land acknowledgement. And it is perfectly understandable that people who have had everything taken from them and undergone a cultural genocide will take whatever scraps they can get, even if they are based on false premises and general stupidity. A basic acknowledgement of existence is far more than what has been given up to this point, paltry as it is. There is no other option when fighting for the right to be seen.

Reconciliation is far from complete and requires a great deal of discussion, effort, education, and resources to course correct the peoples whose entire civilizations were destroyed during colonization. Acknowledgements that fail to acknowledge basic truths and refuse to entertain the notion that various groups of people are in fact people make for a poor first step.

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