We cannot decolonize or indigenize canada or colonial systems.
And it is a lie to believe that we can decolonize and indigenize ourselves as indigenous peoples and our ways of living.
Yet, this belief is so instilled within society and indigenous nations that we have made it our mission to decolonize and indigenize everything possible. It’s like that Oprah Winfrey meme. You know the one. But instead of telling people that they get a car she is saying “you get decolonized!” “you get decolonized!” And “you get decolonized!”
And the people go wild.
Yes, decolonization and indigenization were words coined by indigenous peoples as a form of resistance and reclamation. However, the colonizer has heavily co-opted these terms and made it their own. And the more that I think about these terms, the more I realize that these terms should not even exist in our vernaculars, for they are false words that feed false ideas which in turn creates false hope.
It is called a victory when a university implements mandatory indigenous studies classes for all students.
It is celebrated when all staff at a public school are required to receive “cultural competency training.”
It is proclaimed as a momentous shift when public spaces allow for smudging and prayer.
It is described as a “good first step,” and even glorified, when the federal government creates an “inquiry” meant to bring justice to the thousands of slain Indigenous women on these lands.
It is seen as progress when the federal government gives a community a chunk of money to aid it during the peak of a suicide crisis.
However, none of these things are worth celebrating, nor are they victorious, momentous, a good first step, or even progressive in nature.
The reason? They are all events that claim to play a major role in the processes of decolonization and indigenization within colonial systems. Events that may look like advancements for indigenous peoples within colonial systems but are ultimately inherently for show.
Here is where the lies come into play.
Decolonization and indigenization are both a lie. They are a lie because the process of decolonizing and indigenizing colonial systems does not, and cannot, work. And they do not, and cannot, work because any process that has to do with decolonization and indigenization within colonial systems must ultimately follow colonial rules and behave fundamentally colonial. Meaning all outcomes will still be primarily, colonial. The truth is due to how colonial systems were created, and how they still operate today means that colonial systems cannot and will not change.
Now the other paradigm where we believe decolonization and indigenization can occur is within ourselves as indigenous peoples and within our ways of living. Yet, the grand lie is that indigenous peoples and our ways of living have been colonized enough to have to be decolonized in the first place. If we were colonized, and our ways of living were colonized, then our languages would be fully gone, our prayer life would be dissolved, our kinship practices would be completely extinct.
Indigenous peoples and our ways of life were never colonized, they were simply disrupted.
So to say we need to decolonize and indigenize is simply falling into the colonizer’s constructed belief that we as indigenous peoples, and our ways of life, have been colonized.
I call bullshit.
All it was, and all it ever will be, is a disruption.
When we celebrate, claim victory, call something momentous, a good first step, or a much needed change, we are falling into the colonizer’s traps and unhealthy false idealizations around indigenization and decolonization.
And here’s why:
A mandatory indigenous studies class for all university students at any university automatically places indigenous students in an unnecessary and forced position of advisory within those classrooms. Many non-indigenous professors will utilize, and even abuse, the knowledge of indigenous students in their “Indigenous Studies” classrooms. An unspoken expectation is set whereas those indigenous students MUST add to in-class discussions as they are the automatic experts on all things Indigenous.
Yet, imagine this. You’re an Indigenous student in a class of approximately 150 non-indigenous students. The topic of colonization and genocide comes up. A student quips back “it wasn’t genocide. They didn’t kill THAT many Indians.” The professor looks over at you and nonchalantly asks you “do you know the number?”
You feel your cheeks burn, the rage coursing through your veins and bones, the frustration of having to answer another racist question, without being able to tell the student, and the professor, that the question in itself is very racist. Being young you may not have found the self-power within yourself to say “no, I do not have to answer that, because I am not your token Indian. Where is my pay-cheque if I am going to be a professor and educate the class, just like you Mr. Cunningham?” Instead, you may slide down your chair a bit, all eyes on you, and simply respond with “I don’t know.” Or if you’re feeling braver “I do not know the number, but I do know it was genocide.” And that is just the beginning. Now come the barrage of spiteful and colonial remarks like “how can you not know the number and claim it is genocide?” “What about our tax dollars?” “Who is paying for your education anyways?” “You guys can’t even take care of your homes, dogs, or families, what do you know?” And “fucken dumb Indian.”
And the professor? Most likely he/she will sit in their chair, clear their throat awkwardly, and move on to the next topic, where again you will be asked to clarify or provide evidence on what is being taught.
And we call the shaming, the allowance of racial discrimination in the classroom, and the automatic appointment of volunteer professor decolonization? Indigenization? The academy uses the phraseology as a tool to seem like they’re playing an imperative role in the fake process of decolonization, indigenization, and reconciliation, processes that are ultimately for the benefit of those professors and students within those classrooms.
Staff at a public school are receiving required “cultural competency” training. The training is most likely taught by non-indigenous peoples or indigenous peoples who have become so engrained within colonial systems that they have lost complete sight of who they are and where they come from.
The setting, in the classroom of a mostly white school. A teacher handed out colour-by-number assignment to a grade three class where the children had to colour in a generally racist photo of an “Indian.” The skin colour of the indian had to be red. The only boy in the class with a braid brings the assignment home to show his mother, who then calls the school, who then gets forwarded to to the principal where the racist assignment is then made known. The teacher’s response when questioned? “I didn’t know a picture of a cartoon Indian wearing buckskin was racist.” A standard issued apology is made and all is swept under the rug.
Now the teachers all sit in the library attending their mandatory “cultural competency” training. A training none of them would ever take if they didn’t have to. A training that a quarter of them attempted to opt-out of. And throughout the session? All kinds of snide remarks. “Our hard-earned tax dollars go to them.” “Why don’t we get free education?” “Did you see the lice they bring into our schools?” “All of them are part of the child welfare system anyways.” And the facilitator? Sits in their chair, clears their throat awkwardly, and moves on to the next topic.
And we call the racism, the allowance of words like “squaw” and “savage” in the classroom, and the very surface “cultural competency” training in the public school decolonization? Indigenization? The colonial school system also uses the phraseology as a tool to seem like they’re playing an imperative role in the fake process of decolonization, indigenization, and reconciliation, processes that are ultimately for the benefit of those teachers and white students within those classrooms.
The third example:
The false decolonization and indigenization efforts are seen when the allowance to smudge and pray in colonial spaces is given by the colonizer. Permission to do so is given to the Indigenous person by a settler who sits in the biggest office in the building. However, every rule made by that settler must be followed in order to have the right to pray in those spaces.
An Indigenous woman is organizing an event in a conference room. It is a healing event for Indigenous peoples who have been impacted by residential schools. She decides to open up and close off with a smudge each day. After setting up she goes to the office of the event coordinator and asks if she can smudge. The event coordinator makes a call to the events manager who then makes a call to the conference centre manager. The answer, “she can, but lots of our staff are allergic to it so she can only do it for a short time period and must open all doors and windows after to air the room out.” The message is relayed to the woman. “We just want to make sure you’re not smoking drugs in there,” the event coordinator jokes.
That Indigenous woman does not laugh. Instead she calls the event coordinator out on their racist comment. “I am going to report you to your supervisor.” “Go ahead,” the event coordinator responds. “He’s the one who says that all the time though.” The woman does so anyways. And nothing is done. She is left ignored.
So she smudges the shit out of that room every morning, and every evening, even if the conference centre staff over exaggerate their coughs as they walk by. The event manager calls her a few weeks later, stating that what she did was very disrespectful and she would never be allowed to host an event on their premises again. She laughs and hangs up.
And we call the snide racist remarks, the allowance of ignoring a filed complaint, and the banning of indigenous peoples from colonial spaces decolonization? Indigenization? This colonial system also uses the phraseology as a tool to seem like they’re playing an imperative role in the process of fake decolonization, indigenization, and reconciliation, processes that are ultimately for the benefit of those conference coordinators and managers within those buildings.
The federal government’s creation of the missing and murdered Indigenous women’s inquiry is one of the biggest examples of false efforts of decolonization and indigenization. This one more so falls under false strategies of reconciliation. The inquiry is done by leaders in colonial thinking and indigenous peoples who cater to colonialism in order to achieve life successes.
The inquiry is underway, yet women in our families are being murdered all across these lands. And still, nothing is being done. The inquiry is underway and rather than saving lives and seeking much needed justice for grieving families, the leaders of the inquiry are busy fighting over how to lead and how to communicate to the masses. The inquiry is underway and families are told their scheduled sessions are cancelled, with no real explanation as to why. The inquiry is underway and all that has come out of it is privileged women receiving privileged positions to roll out the inquiry. And no outcomes.
Families are left on the back burner, the budget is dwindling day by day, month by month. Justice for the murder of an indigenous woman can apparently go on summer vacation, as shown by this inquiry process. The people are still left voiceless. And colonialism still receives their paycheques.
And we call the continued murder of indigenous women, and the sweeping of families under the rug decolonization? Indigenization? Reconciliation? The justice system, and Trudeau himself, uses the phraseology as a tool to seem like they’re playing an imperative role in the process of fake decolonization, indigenization, and reconciliation, processes that are ultimately for the benefit of the Prime Minister and the leaders of the inquiry process.
The federal government giving a community a chunk of money to aid it during the peak of a suicide crisis is one of the most shameful examples of decolonization, indigenization, and reconciliation efforts. Colonial systems often believe that money is the answer to everything. And there is also the strange belief that indigenous peoples know how to stretch a dollar out, and we do. But you know why? Because we more often than not, have no other choice.
More lives of indigenous young people could be saved if enough dollars and people came into communities with the appropriate fine-tuned skills in the areas of grief and recovery, and emotional intelligence. Instead, colonialism sends in individuals who charge an obscene amount of money for a week long program with the mentality that they have the power to “save the people.”
Indigenous young people are forced into a band hall, 8 hours a day, with a non-indigenous person who charges anywhere from $5000-$10,000 a day for work originating around the white version of “medicine wheel teachings,” and activities on self esteem. If a young person leaves the program or takes off, they are criticized and even punished rather than allowing for the space to explore why they may have left the program.
And still that non-indigenous person thinks they are “saving” the kids. Their mentality is strewn throughout the program they are running, treating the kids as though they are less important, not as smart as, and inferior to them. And when they leave? Everything remains the same.
And we call the continued suicide of indigenous young people, and the superior mentality of people going into communities “helping” these kids decolonization? Indigenization? Reconciliation? The mental health system uses the phraseology as a tool to seem like they’re playing an imperative role in the fake process of decolonization, indigenization, and reconciliation, processes that are ultimately for the benefit of those white mental health workers.
None of these things are worth celebrating, nor are they victorious, momentous, a good first step, or progress. But you know what is?
When an indigenous student in a mandatory indigenous studies class stands up against the other students and professor, regardless of what impact it will have on their final grade and their reputation, because to that student, self-revolution in indigeneity means honouring the generations before them and after. When the mother and her grade three aged son stand up against the teacher, and the principal of the school, regardless of what impact it will have on that student’s final grade and reputation, because to that mother and child, land-based learning and boycotting racist settings leads to the ultimate form of autonomy and the thousands of years of indigenous self-love. When the indigenous women stands up against the conference centre managers and employees due to their racist rhetoric in regards to smudging and praying in forced colonial spaces regardless of her being able to host her session there now or ever again. Because to her, this session would do much better on the land anyways. And when the indigenous families of women who have been taken from them to soon collectively decide that they must in charge of the process of justice, with or without colonial systems, regardless of how much money the federal government will, or will not, provide them. Because practicing self-healing and models of traditional justice will provide more relief than colonial justice ever could.
As stated previously, the efforts of decolonization and indigenization do not even fit within our own intricately intertwined systems; whether it be on the land, within our kinship practices, or amongst our ways of being. These efforts do not fit in our systems because, as stated previously, indigenous systems were never colonized to begin with. All that colonialism did to indigenous systems, remember, was disrupt them.
Decolonization and indigenization are words used to benefit the colonizer and settler culture in order for them to look good in the eyes of those who are trying to create positive change in communities.
But truthfully, colonial systems can never be decolonized or indigenized. And indigenous systems do not need to be decolonized or indigenized.
So let us stop clamouring, applauding, and putting colonial systems and colonial leaders on pedestals for doing false and imaginary work that is ultimately dangerous and places our young people in more high-risk situations.
The only thing that needs to happen is the resurgence of indigenous systems within indigenous peoples.
Because even an Indigenous prime minister will not create change in colonial systems. But it would look damn good in the colonizer’s game of decolonization and indigenization.
We must lead ourselves.
Ressurect the indigenous love that our ancestors had for the land.
For our children.
And for our grandchildren.