I am a settler on unceded and unsurrendered Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ territory. I moved here from Alberta in 2011, but I didn’t think much of my own status as a non-indigenous person before that, save for a couple classes in post-colonial literature I took as part of my degree. And even after finishing my degree, it wasn’t until this year when I became embedded in the workings of the student’s society that I became aware of the discourses that come with acknowledging settler status, and doing work that pushes against rather than supporting colonialism.
What does it mean to acknowledge your position as a settler on unceded and unsurrendered territory? And what does it mean to lead an organization that makes no explicit acknowledgment of those territories? These are questions that have been on my mind lately, particularly in the leadup to this issue. The Martlet’s lack of any territorial acknowledgment in its policies, mission statement, written values, and masthead became more and more obvious the longer I have thought about it. And it paralyzed me. Acknowledging it now paralyzes me.
Blake Desjarlais told me that territory acknowledgments require that you understand yourself, and in doing so, ask how you relate to the question of your position and status as a settler. And lastly, feeling that it’s important and doing it for you. These are big questions, questions that require a level of sincerity to answer.
So, why are we doing this?
This issue found its genesis last semester in a political climate that vilified First Nations students for speaking up when their voices weren’t heard. We saw an opportunity to amplify and support those voices, and allow them a space to share their experiences on a campus that can be violent towards them. This is the role of a student newspaper: to hold power to account, yes, but also to help those voices that aren’t normally heard be heard. And so, the inspiration for this issue was born.
The editorial process for this issue was a learning process, for myself and our staff. Of all the lessons I’ve learned, the most important is the value of sincerity, and being honest in what we’re trying to accomplish. I’ve also learned not to be so afraid of making mistakes, and to be aware of my own process of learning/unlearning in my role as a settler, especially while holding the position I hold.
There’s still work to be done, however. The Martlet still lacks a formal territorial acknowledgment as part of its mandate; remedying that is the next step. But it’s our job to stand behind that; merely acknowledging our status is the bare minimum. Engaging more First Nations writers, photographers, and artists year-round is another step, and it’s our hope that this issue plants the seeds for further collaboration with the UVic First Nations community.
This paper is their paper, after all. And that’s something worth acknowledging.