Making Thanks for a ‘Gift’ Unwillingly Given

I am thankful for my life, and the health and happiness of my family, but I know that the high quality of our lives is currently dependent upon the low quality of life for Indigenous residents of Turtle Island, for whom displacement is ongoing, and colonization is an unending reality. I accept that as an uninvited “guest”— an unwanted settler descendent from unwanted settlers—it is morally imperative that my “thanks” be active and unsettled in implication….

While saying “thanks” is one small way to make space every day for thinking about the operation of settler colonialism, the purpose of this short piece is to explain why “thank you” is, ultimately, an inadequate response. The “gift” of living on colonized territory demands a recognition of the ways that every settler of Turtle Island is morally obligated to think about the politics of living a settler life on occupied territory as a beneficiary of colonialism. I believe that, more often than not, the impetus to “thank” Indigenous peoples for the spoils of colonization already comes from a place of deep discomfort and recognition of the impossibly unjust story of our shared lives on Turtle Island. I believe that from that uncomfortable place settlers can come to recognize “thank you” as never enough. Nonetheless, and though never enough, I still speak the words—Niá:wen, Hay’sxw’qa, and Migwetch (for access to the land upon which I was born, raised, and educated.) It will never be enough. I hope, though, that the “thanks” I gesture to exceeds the conventional meanings of “thanks,” and is evocative of relational concepts like gratefulness, reciprocity and, possibly, retribution. Talk can grow legs, and talking openly might move us towards decolonization in unprecedented ways.


by Karen E. McCallum

Sitting yesterday at the University of Victoria (an institution built on what was once a Lekwungen village), I got to thinking about the acknowledgements section of my Master’s Thesis, which I’m due to finish for August 2013. I’m not sure what to write exactly (whom do I privilege there to be thankfully acknowledged?), so I did a bit of research: I found acknowledgements sections where people thank each family member, roommate, and neighbour by name. I also read one in which the student thanked members of her thesis writing group, thanking them for their “commiseration and companionship”.

I chose to begin with territory acknowledgements and that is where this story really begins—I decided it would be right that I thank members of all the nations who had tolerated and hosted me on their territories. I chose to thank only those nations whose land I had remained…

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