Updated: Sep 1
Ever since equity, diversity and inclusion have become one of the focuses of the arts field there have been truly admirable and remarkable efforts that have resulted in real change on, usually, an institutional basis: opening doors, breaking down barriers and creating truly welcome environments and opportunity for minorities and women. Sometime though I feel that for every success story there are at least a few half-baked ideas that are implemented with little mind for actually creating equity. In other words, tokenistic gestures inadvertently carried out by well meaning leaders. It has been my experience that the majority of land acknowledgements actually fall into this unfortunate territory.
I would assert that a land acknowledgement in and of itself with no plans of additional action - even as a long-term goal, is essentially tokenism. A land acknowledgement is, at its core, a tool to reverse invisibility. Land acknowledgements made without efforts to open your doors to and provide opportunity for Native people can have the effect of reinforcing the mis-perception that Native Americans (for instance) are a people of the past. In other words if you are not doing additional work to create equity for Native people in addition to the land acknowledgement, perhaps you need to go back to the drawing board and re-think your plans and intentions. Ask yourself the following:
What are your equity goals?
How does a land acknowledgement fit into these goals?
How do you intend to make progress against these goals?
How does this relate to the programming work that you are currently doing?
How well do you understand the context of the Indigenous people whose land this is? Both past and present?
What is the history of the organization you work for within the context of colonialism?
What work have you done to build relationships with and serve the interest of the local Indigenous community?
and finally - Do you have regarding building equity specifically for Indigenous people?
Making a gesture is fine - go ahead and do it. But if it has no real impact on issues like access, opportunity, invisibility or the like - this gesture cannot be said to benefit Native communities. In other words - you are making a gesture (and a well meaning one at that) to make yourself feel better. Which is fine by me. It's not, however, creating equity.
When I work with clients to plan Indigenous programming the community will see Native people tell their stories from stage - places that until recently (and unfortunately also in large part still) excluded Native voices. Does your programming welcome Native stories, theatre, dance or music as appropriate? The audience also invariably includes Native people as well and there is a long term plan to continue and build upon past work for the benefit of the Native community. This is what equity should look like.