Today, September 30th, 2021, is Orange Shirt Day, a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project, envisioned in 2013 by Esketemc (Alkali Lake) Chief Fred Robbins. This day serves to commemorate the residential school experience, to honour the survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation. As of this year, the day has been declared as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
In honour of this day, alongside the programming organized by the university and other departments, we, as geographers and planners, offer a reflection on truth and reconciliation specific to our field:
Land and place are central to the study of geography and planning.
Land and place are central to reconciliation.
As geographers and planners, we must contend with the reality that our disciplines have their roots in colonialism; that the acts of mapping, surveying, dividing land, and defining place were all used, and continue to be used, as tools of violence against Indigenous people. Still, Indigenous geographies have and always will exist, in refusal and resistance to these colonial practices. Furthermore these tools can be dismantled and better methods and approaches can bring to light the geographies that sought to be hidden (see, for example the native land mapping project).
To reflect on this – to act to reconcile, repair, and return what was taken – is not something that can be done in one day, but rather must become a part of everyday knowledge and practice. This is ongoing work. To encourage it, we share the following writing by Indigenous scholars (some in collaboration with settler scholars) who expose colonial violence and center Indigenous geographies:
- In Awawanenitakik: The Spatial politics of recognition and relational geographies of Indigenous self-determination, Michelle Daigle offers important perspectives on how we think about land, place, and responsibility. In examining Omushkegowuk Cree place-based practices through the law of awawanenitakik, she shows how Indigenous peoples think about and live self-determination in contrast to state-led recognition initiatives that further reproduce colonial relations.
- In Settler City Limits: Indigenous Resurgence and Colonial Violence in the Urban Prairie West Heather Dorries, Robert Henry, David Hugill, Tyler McCreary, and Julie Tomiak show how Indigenous people in urban centres create space for themselves, framing cities as Indigenous places, both historically and in “ongoing struggles for land, life, and self determination”.
- In (En)Gendering Shoreline Law: Nishnaabeg Relational Politics Along the Trent Severn Waterway, Madeline Whetung examines the colonization of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg territory and how the construction of a canal system by settlers disrupted practices of Nishnaabeg law including the “place-based relationships that Mississaugas hold with water and land and other beings with which they share territory”.
- In Unsettling decolonizing geographies, Sarah de Leeuw and Sarah Hunt argue that “colonization continues to structure the field of geography”. By placing themselves in their specific intersectional relationship to Indigenous geographies and colonial violence, they show how this very act of placement can be a starting point for discussing how geographers can engage with decolonization.
- In Every Bus Stop a Tomb: Decolonial Cartographic Readings against Literary, Visual, and Virtual Colonial Claims to Space Dallas Hunt shows how mapping techniques, including “counter-mapping” can contribute to colonization and reinforce Indigenous erasure.
- In Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations, Mishuana Goeman analyzes Native women’s literature, showing colonialism as a form of gendered spatial violence that continues today. She argues to “refocus the efforts of Native Nations beyond replicating settler models of territory, jurisdiction, and race.”