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English Department Land Acknowledgment

The Department of English at the University of Winnipeg acknowledges that we live and work in the territories of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Dakota, Dene, Métis, and Oji-Cree Nations. The University of Winnipeg sits in Treaty 1 territory, the ancestral and traditional homeland of Anishinaabe peoples. Treaty 1, signed in 1871, took this territory from seven local Anishinaabe First Nations in order to make the land available for settler use and ownership.

This land acknowledgment is about being clear and accurate about the Original Peoples of this land as well as other Indigenous communities who lived and continue to live where the University of Winnipeg stands. It is an expression of respect and appreciation for these ancestors, and their present-day relatives, who continue to love and care for the land. We offer this acknowledgment in the belief that doing so will help us to be mindful educators, researchers, and members of the University of Winnipeg community.

Reflecting on our own discipline, English, we are aware of the role of the English language and English as an academic discipline in contributing to the historical and present formations of settler colonialism and imperialism in what is currently called Canada and around the world. In Manitoba, the English language was used strategically to dispossess Indigenous peoples from their lands and territories through the signing and implementation of Treaties 1 to 5. From Indigenous perspectives, as understood by the ancestors who signed the treaties and as passed down through oral traditions, the spirit and intent of the treaties included the peaceful sharing of Indigenous lands with settlers.

In contrast to this oral understanding, the treaties printed in English have enabled the dispossession of Indigenous territories and the theft of natural resources. Following the Manitoba Act of 1870 as well as the 1885 resistance by Métis, Cree, and Assiniboine peoples and continuing into the present day, Indigenous lands and waters, both life-giving and sacred to First Nations and Métis peoples, have been appropriated, intruded upon, irreparably altered, damaged, and polluted through numerous acts of imperialist violence and aggression, including hydroelectric development and flooding. The catastrophic result has been a dislocation from the land and ways of life that has destroyed or threatened the wellbeing of the original occupants of the land and their descendants, and which has threatened the health of the land itself.

We also recognize that the English language was deliberately used as a way of alienating Indigenous peoples from their own languages, cultures, families, and communities through the enforced teaching of English at the nineteen Residential Schools that operated throughout Manitoba. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the English literary canon was taught in schools in Canada and other colonies around the world as a means of attempting to “civilize” and assimilate Indigenous peoples, while reinforcing the place of the written word as the dominant means of cultural and knowledge production and dissemination. English is an academic discipline that continues to perpetuate Eurocentric ideas about who is and is not “civilized,” and contributes to colonial ideologies that value Eurocentric forms, genres, aesthetics, and subjectivities.

The language and academic discipline of English are complicit in Canada’s and Manitoba’s colonial history and ongoing treatment of Indigenous territories and peoples. Today, we witness the continuing legacy of this history in a multitude of injustices, inequities, and violences that threaten the health, wellbeing, and safety of Indigenous peoples throughout our province, particularly women and youth. The English Department strongly encourages all students to learn more about these and other issues shaping the lives of Indigenous peoples, and to cultivate and put into practice skills that will contribute to a decolonized, anti-racist future.

We acknowledge English’s complicity. We also recognize the diverse ways that artists and thinkers from Indigenous, and other similarly colonized, postcolonial, and marginalized communities are reclaiming and revitalizing English to produce vibrant expressive literatures and cultures. Studying oral, written, and visual representations of and by Indigenous peoples, as well as people of colour and marginalized communities, allows us to confront the colonial and imperial histories of our discipline and to engage with the full range of Englishes that energize our research and teaching. The work of those of us who study and teach in these areas is strengthened by a centering of Indigenous and allied perspectives that helps us to challenge power structures, inequality, stereotypes, and racism.

In expressing and enacting our land acknowledgment, we commit to honouring and supporting movements of self-determination and wellbeing led by Indigenous guardians, stewards, and protectors of this land that we share. This responsibility includes engaging with, questioning, and critiquing those practices and structures, within and outside our department and the university, that perpetuate the status quo as it concerns Indigenous lands, waters, and people in Manitoba.

This land acknowledgment was drafted by members of the English Department after conversations and consultations with Elder Calvin Pompana and Elder Chickadee Richard, as well as Elder Dave Courchene and Sabina Ijaz during our retreat at Turtle Lodge, Sagkeeng First Nation, in May 2018. Our land acknowledgment is not fixed but living. It is fluid and open to change as we continue to learn.

Students can learn more, and learn about ways to become actively engaged, by choosing to take courses from the list of courses that satisfy the Indigenous Course Requirement: https://www.uwinnipeg.ca/indigenous/indigenous-course-requirement/index.html