Restoration, conservation, & decolonization

This blog contains the opinions of intern, Mackenzie Martin, who is not making official statements on behalf of Deep Dirt Institute. Mackenzie is a non-Indigenous white woman from Canada. She herself is a student of these topics and does not claim any professional knowledge of them.

Last summer I learned that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York city hosted an Indigenous American art exhibit – the first ever to have a presence in this iconic space (1). Outside this exhibit was a land acknowledgement. In tiny print, placed a three-minute walk from the exhibit entrance, it was the sole land acknowledgement in the museum. The Met is a colonized space and it seems its leaders want to keep it that way.

Around the same time I learned about the Indigenous American art exhibit at the Met, I also attended the Science on the Sonoita Plains Symposium in Sonoita, Arizona, where experts--all white except one Latina--discussed various conservation projects in Pima County, Arizona. While the presentations were thoughtfully created and enthusiastically presented, the room was a whitewash. Not a single host and none of the presenters began, nor ended, their speech with a land acknowledgement. Even more disheartening was the fact that the three speakers who graciously included a list of acknowledgments in their slides failed to mention the stolen land they work on, or whether any native people assisted in their research.

A land or territory acknowledgement occurs when someone addresses an audience to inform them that the event they are attending or place they are visiting is taking place on, or was formerly occupied by, indigenous people. These acknowledgements have become common in Canada's urban and more progressive centers (1). The academic spaces at the University of Victoria, from which I graduated last year, are replete with land acknowledgements. They greet our ears before dissertation defenses, keynote speeches, movie screenings, guest lectures, and in the introductions to research presentations. We students learned the importance of acknowledgements and we noticed when they were missing. Land acknowledgements can have a variety of purposes, such as recognizing presence as a form of reconciliation, provoking discomfort in settler spaces, or attempting to create a more welcoming environment for indigenous people (2). But can the ubiquity of land acknowledgements lead to apathy among the colonizers who are continuously exposed to them? An acknowledgement should be followed with action, tangible efforts to repair the destructive legacy of white supremacy and ongoing power of white privilege.

As white and white-passing individuals, acknowledging the stolen lands that we call home is important, but takes a different form of importance for those of us whose work is physically connected to the biological environment. Some actions that we need to normalize in the fields of conservation and restoration ecology include:

seeking permission

having conversations with Indigenous communities

using our privilege to create spaces where indigenous voices are heard

admitting ignorance

giving back sovereignty (2)

We are living in a time when public discourse is filled with the language of borders, walls, and division. But those of us working in conservation, restoration, and permaculture know that the land cannot truly be divided. Waters flow, winds blow, human and non-human animals find ways to migrate. The inter-generational effects of our impact on First Peoples is clear evidence that the methods of division by imperialism, capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, etc., are not serving to better our society. So when we omit the knowledge and presence of indigenous people from our work, are we not contributing to the very systems that we claim to resist?

Deep Dirt Institute acknowledges that the land on which we gather and work at the Deep Dirt Campus is within the traditional homelands of the Tohono O'odham Nation, past and present. Consistent with Deep Dirt's commitment to diversity and inclusion, we are working toward decolonizing our practices and hope to build relationships with indigenous communities through partnerships, historical recognition, and involvement in social/food/land justice movements at the local and global levels.

To read the thoughts of indigenous artists on the subject of land acknowledgement, see the Vice article and blog linked below.

If you are on Turtle Island (North America), visit this site to learn whose land we live on:

Works consulted:

  1. Ericka Hart, M. Ed. @ihartericka on Instagram Stories, July 2019.



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