Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Acknowledging the Act: Analyzing Indigenous Land Acknowledgements Through the Lens of Speech Act Theory and Performativity

Acknowledging the Act: Analyzing Indigenous Land Acknowledgements Through the Lens of Speech Act Theory and Performativity

Julia DiLaura

The recent trend of reading Indigenous land acknowledgements before events has led many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to examine its action. By using J.L. Austin’s perspective on speech act theory and studies on performativity, this paper will analyze Indigenous land acknowledgements to understand what speech acts the statements are creating. The land acknowledgements from five Michigan universities and colleges were chosen for linguistic analysis. Additionally, other sources like news articles and paperwork from university organizations were also examined for context and evidence. By reading a land acknowledgement, the institution is performing the act of an apology, but the apology is questioned as to its sincerity and effectiveness. Another act performed is the act of purification of guilt for uncritical non-Indigenous people as they might believe that colonization has ended and can feel comfortable on land that has been taken through coercion or outright stolen. This leads many to question how effective land acknowledgements are for Indigenous recognition and what narratives are being centered.

April 20, 2022 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Sadly, I have noted that these land acknowledgements appear to have become sites of contestation between Indigenous groups, where old grievances are being aired. In the case of Wayne State University, at least, not all the nations that historically occupied the land now occupied by WSU are represented in the statements I have seen thus far. If the acknowledgements are being done in the name of inclusion, there is a certain dissonance in setting barriers within the narrative. Requiring federal recognition withing the State of Michigan, for example, makes a rather paradoxical statement. That excludes the Wyandot, Fox, Sauk, and Mascouten. It seems that the land that is now being contested is no longer physical, but symbolic– who has the right to identify with the situated past? Are these speech acts performed on behalf of all Indigenous peoples, or a specific group? In short, what is the claimed identity of the speaker?

    Comment by Daniel Harrison | April 20, 2022 | Reply

  2. This is a very interesting topic and it would have fit perfectly in Dr. Bray’s indigenous epistemologies seminar this semester. To me it seems like the main goal of the land acknowledgement is to ease the conscience of those that descend from colonial powers. I am looking forward to reading your paper!

    Comment by Casey Carter | April 28, 2022 | Reply

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