Territorial Acknowledgment

I’ve been thinking about the territorial acknowledgments they do in Canada. They open events and assemblies, particularly in urban and institutional spaces, with an acknowledgment that the land in that area is the the traditional homeland of the ___ people, and that it was ceded under the ___ treaty (or not ceded). We could use something like that in the United States.

This is in my mind partly because on YouTube I watch Ed Trevors, an Anglican priest who begins each episode with the acknowledgement that his parish is in the unceded lands of the Miꞌkmaq people. Sometimes I feel a twinge of pride that he is doing that; other times a tinge of guilt that I am not.

I’ve known for years the Canadians do these territorial acknowledgements. I’ve often wondered when they will make it to the U.S. Probably not in my lifetime. Americans seem to me to be much more easily triggered on the subject of settler colonialism.

If I were to create an acknowledgment for Denver, Colorado where I live, it would be something like: “I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are in Fort Laramie Treaty territory and that this is the traditional land of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people.”

Social Constructions of Geography

Geography is a social construction. People make the rules, and the rules are often arbitrary. Yet, “social construction” seems to be a difficult concept for many people. I like to have a bit of fun when I hear someone complaining about illegal immigrants, I say, “God didn’t create the border.” It pushes them off-kilter. I’ve never heard a good rejoinder on the the spot, although some folx come back later to argue; typically with a Manifest Destiny or Lebensraum kind of argument, although they rarely recognize it as such.

Every American genealogist knows that place names and political borders have changed over time. A routine part of doing genealogy is figuring out the political geography of the town where your ancestor lived, when they lived there.

But the area also other ways to “bend” geography. Years ago, when I belonged to the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), I lived in “Hawks Hollow“, the medieval fantasy area we usually call the northern suburbs of Denver.

And way before that, when I was in college at Boulder, it was the early days of Chicano liberation. We often heard Colorado re-envisioned as part of la República del Norte or even as Aztlán, the homeland of the Mexica and other tribes that went south ages ago. This one still has a strong pull on my heart. It’s only been a month now that the city of Denver renamed Columbus Park to La Raza Park. I’m not Chicano myself, but I had friends and relatives who would often say their ancestors didn’t come to the U.S. Instead, the border crossed them (in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo).


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