Can you name any of the Indigenous groups who call the southern tip of Vancouver Island home? If not, why might that be?
These questions stuck with me when Alana Sayers, from the Hupacasath and Kipohtakaw First Nations and a graduate student in UVic’s English department gave a guest lecture in my Indigenous Politics class last semester. I’ve lived in Victoria my whole life and could only confidently name the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations before taking that class.
Then I started to hear other non-Indigenous students voice dissatisfaction about the territorial acknowledgments that often and increasingly happen at the beginning of classes, meetings, and presentations on campus.
“It doesn’t change the fact that we’re still on their land,” I’ve heard them say.
At the most recent UVSS Board of Directors meeting on Jan. 7, Native Students’ Union representative Kolin Sutherland-Wilson said, “Territory acknowledgments, while they might sound very equal, in a certain respect, they do very little to uphold the actual authority of the people on those lands,” referencing the RCMP’s recent arrests of 14 individuals protesting the expansion of the TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline on Wet’suwet’en and Gitdimt’en territories.
“So I think a territory acknowledgment is good,” continued Sutherland-Wilson, “but in my mind it’s just one step of many, and in itself it’s only a symbolic gesture.”
Acknowledging that the land we stand on was taken from someone else is not the same as giving it back.
There are a couple of ways non-Indigenous people can deal with the empty-handed feeling that can come from listening to an acknowledgment of Indigenous territories.
How do you understand your relationships with the Indigenous nations on whose territory you are present?
Self location is one way to ground yourself before setting out to find more information about the place you call home. This is because it involves examining the connection that you have with a particular place in a particular time, and your relationships with other people and things in that place.
Here are some examples of self-reflection questions that were taught to me by Rachel George, sessional lecturer and PhD candidate in the Political Science department at UVic:
Where do you and your family come from? How did you come to be on this land? What is your purpose in this place?
Will your presence benefit the land and waters of this place? If so, how? How do you benefit from the displacement of the people that were here before you?
How do you understand your relationships with the Indigenous nations on whose territory you are present? How do you, or how can you practise solidarity and/or resistance to colonization on these territories?
Another option is to look at the territorial acknowledgments as a call to action, a challenge to learn more about the communities being named and the history of the area.
This is where our fill-in-the-map contest comes in, and it takes me back to the first question I asked. Can you name any of the First Nations who traditionally lived and continue to live in what we now call Victoria? Could you point to their territory on a map? If not, why might that be?
If you can’t name any, or can name only a few, you don’t have to feel bad about it. This is an opportunity for you to learn, and it’s an open-book quiz. You probably have the internet at your fingertips right now.
Look up the Indigenous groups of southern Vancouver Island and fill in at least ten of their names on the map.Then take a picture of your filled-in map, post it on Instagram, and tag the Martlet. You will be entered in a draw to win a Martlet prize pack. When you are done, cut out your map and keep it for yourself. The deadline to enter the draw is Jan. 23. Good luck!