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Land Acknowledgement

Written by Dr. Sunita Nigam and edited by the students of Sociology 245: Racialization and Ethnic Diversity

The course that led to the creation of this online resource about initiatives that are working to combat systemic racism in Canada was an online course about Racialization and Ethnic Diversity given in the Sociology Department at Bishop’s University. Bishop’s University is a colonial institution located on the ancestral and unceded Ndakina territory (Eastern Townships) of the W8banaki (Abenaki) in the province of Québec, Turtle Island/Canada. The discipline of Sociology itself, as we studied in our course, was created at the height of European imperialism and was shaped by colonial perspectives about race and colonization in ways that require conscious undoing in the present day. In some ways, the conversations we had throughout our course functioned as a kind of ongoing land acknowledgement, as we dwelled on the colonial legacies of our educational institutions and disciplines, and the invention of race (as we understand the concept today) as a justification for European colonialism and its violent theft and exploitation of the lands, labour, bodies, and resources of more than 80% of the entire globe. Over the course of our semester together, we talked about what it means to us to be living, thinking, and working from the disparate places we are located (including Korea, Antigua, Mexico, Canada, and the US), all of which have distinct colonial histories. Frequently, we connected our readings to the on-the-ground realities of the places where we live and work. We read about the practice of writing land acknowledgements and worried about how they can be mobilized as performative scripts empty of larger political commitments, how they are used to brand institutions as much more equitable and inclusive than they are in fact, and the harm that this reproduces when this happens. We talked about the drive of public institutions and corporations to celebrate diversity without addressing the inequality that is being sustained within their walls and all the people who are being kept out of these walls in the first place

We thought about what writing a meaningful land acknowledgement would look like for this resource.  I want to share here some of what the students had to say:

  1. Land acknowledgements are never enough. They must be connected to other reconciliACTIONs like formally recognizing and addressing ongoing colonialism and systemic racism. 

  2. As students, we know that we need to keep educating ourselves about the histories of the lands on which we live and work.

  3.  In its ongoing operations as a colonial state, Canada is still involved in the cultural and physical genocide of Indigenous people, but (as many of the texts included in this resource reflect) Indigenous people are surviving and are resilient/resistant. 

  4. We see that we can contribute to the erasure of the harm that has been inflicted on Indigenous peoples across the globe and we want to work against that and to reflect critically on the assumptions that we hold and the relationships that we have. 

During our course, we also talked about the unequal distribution of collective grievability, about whose lives are counted within our public spheres as lives worth living and worth grieving and whose lives are not. I want, here, to mark the Indigenous lives that have been lost and harmed through colonization as losses that are worth grieving. I also want to mark what Gerald Vizenor (White Earth Anishinaabe) calls the “survivance” (the survival+resistance) of Indigenous life all over the globe, including Bishop’s University and Ndakina. There is a possible future in which Indigenous life flourishes and new and old Indigenous knowledge about our worlds will be nurtured for future generations. The future isn’t over, yet. And each of us has a role to play. In the texts included in this resource, you will find some pathways towards actualizing more just and equitable futures.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact us:

Name: Dr. Sunita Nigam • Email:

Address of Bishop's University: 2600 Rue College, Sherbrooke, QC J1M-1Z7 

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