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  • Paige Desjarlais

What It Means To Be Indigenous in Criminology: A Look Into Territorial Land Acknowledgements

My name is Paige Desjarlais, and I am a member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Lac la Biche, Alberta. My grandpa, who has lived with my family for around 10 years, is a survivor of the Sturgeon Lake Residential school and 60’s Scoop. I am so grateful to know and have a relationship with my grandpa as he is a strong man, who has withstood trials I cannot begin to imagine facing. My grandpa had a mother and father that both passed when he was young, meaning he was a victim to extreme assimilation through being raised at residential school. For this reason, I did not grow up surrounded by community members, learning about the traditional cultures and practices that plays a central role in being a Beaver Lake Cree woman. However, I have been on a journey to reclaim my identity through learning and understanding what it means to be Indigenous, and how that resonates with me. Because of this, I would like to acknowledge that I do not speak on behalf of Beaver Lake Cree Nation, nor of all Indigenous Peoples. This post is solely my opinion based on my own experiences and what I have learned thus far. One day, I dream to visit and create relationships with those in the community I belong to in order to gain a deeper connection with my identity. I am also grateful to be a part of the Indigenous Studies program at Simon Fraser University, which is located on the unceded traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples, including the səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations. Studying on these territories is a privilege for me because it is a special place where I have had the chance to learn about Indigenous culture and have met people like me, who are rediscovering their Indigenous heritage. By learning on this land and benefiting from its opportunities, I have been working to give back to the land by educating myself on how to respect the land through Indigenous culture, and furthermore extend that knowledge I have been given to those around me like my friends, other students, and my family members.

The writings above are quite unusual in a criminological context. Rarely in criminology do you read or write papers that involve introducing yourself and contextualizing your position on the land. This is a practice done by many Indigenous groups and is something I’ve learned to include in my writing so that people can understand the perspective that I am coming from. Depending on the topic, I might include other details on how that topic plays a role in my own life, in order to give the reader a better idea of my perspective.

Considering the introduction above, I want to draw attention to the territorial land acknowledgment. This is something most people in Canada are familiar with by now, and many have likely taken part in it. This is something that is relevant in all fields of study and areas of life, but it is also worth noting that it has become tokenizing over the years. We hear or read territorial land acknowledgements but they always sound the same and tend to lack integrity. This is where being Indigenous in criminology can be helpful, as I can work to share the knowledge I have learned to members within criminology to encourage better territorial land acknowledgments, considering you will likely partake in one at some point in your life.

Some helpful things to include while doing your own territorial land acknowledgement is to introduce yourself. That can include your name, where you come from, and any details about yourself that you feel is relevant to the topic. The second thing to include is to acknowledge the territories that you are on and that you benefit from. And the third piece, which is the most important, is to position yourself on this land. Without this step, the territorial land acknowledgement does not hold much meaning because there is no integrity behind it. The way you can do so is to explain how you benefit from the land. What do you do on the land? How can you do it in a way that honours Indigenous Peoples? What are you working on to mobilize Indigenous culture and knowledge? An example of this could be sharing the knowledge you have learned about Indigenous traditions and culture, or educating yourself on Indigenous topics. Whatever you choose, it is important to identify how you benefit from the land, and how you are working to give back as it is a relationship.

Returning to the idea of what it means to be Indigenous in criminology, I think for me it involves working to bridge the two worlds together, by learning from both and sharing that knowledge to help those who need it.

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