Performativity, Possibility, and Land Acknowledgments in Academia: Community-Engaged Work as Decolonial Praxis in the COVID-19 Context


  • Sammy Roth University of California, Los Angeles
  • Tria Blu Wakpa University of California, Los Angeles


At the intersection of dance, performance, and Indigenous studies, this essay reflects on how an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles—with the support of a graduate student researcher—has aimed to put an Indigenous land acknowledgment into praxis through community-engaged work. In academic settings, land acknowledgments are often given prior to an event and may circulate on written materials, such as event programs, syllabi, letterhead, departmental and research centre websites, and email signatures. Based on Indigenous protocols, these statements typically identify the original Indigenous peoples whose land the university currently occupies; they should also be created in collaboration with Indigenous leaders from the tribe(s). Indigenous land acknowledgments can be important because they directly combat the injustice of settler-capitalist, mainstream discourses that often obscure Indigenous peoples and practices or relegate them to the historical past. Yet, Indigenous people and Indigenous studies scholars have critiqued non-Native land acknowledgments as “performative.” Without direct material benefits to Indigenous peoples, land acknowledgments can serve as empty gestures that “perform” university commitments to anti-racism, equity, diversity, and inclusion. In contrast to the “performative” as an empty gesture, the fields of performance and dance studies frequently theorize “performativity” as a material action that can function both hegemonically and subversively. This essay argues that community-engaged research, teaching, and service—which the authors view holistically—are key ways to begin or further the process of putting a university’s land acknowledgment into action.

Author Biographies

Sammy Roth, University of California, Los Angeles

Sammy Roth is a dance artist, scholar, administrator, and educator currently pursuing a PhD in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA.

Tria Blu Wakpa, University of California, Los Angeles

Tria Blu Wakpa is assistant professor of dance studies in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA.