Disacknowledging the acknowledgement: Joe Wark, ‘Land acknowledgements in the academy: Refusing the settler myth’, Curriculum Inquiry, 2021


Abstract: Land acknowledgements have become almost ubiquitous in post-secondary education settings in Canada. However, the origins and widespread popularity of these practices has gone largely unexamined. In this article, the literature on land acknowledgement practices in Canada is reviewed, focusing in particular on the growing criticisms of these acknowledgements. While initially understood as culturally based political statements to resist the erasure of Indigenous presence and colonial violence, these practices have been repurposed in settler institutions. Land acknowledgements have now become deeply embedded in state-sponsored “forgive-and-forget” reconciliation efforts that seek to absorb Indigenous peoples into the body politic of “good Canadians”. This shift in acknowledgement practices has been increasingly criticized for devolving into box-ticking exercises, strictly symbolic gestures, moves to settler innocence, and attempts to rewrite Indigenous and settler colonial history. Analysing the literature using a lens of settler colonial theory, I argue that institutionalized land acknowledgements in Canada do not pertain to actual Indigenous peoples. These statements reference a mythical fabrication of Indigenousness that is consistent with settler dreams of benevolence, innocence, and the end of colonization in Canada. This co-optation of Indigeneity has important implications for recent efforts to “Indigenize the academy” through the inclusion of Indigenous knowledges in curriculum. In response to this subversion of Indigenous knowledges, a stance of refusal on the part of Indigenous members of the academy can be a demonstration of agency in institutions in which we are relatively powerless.

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