The following is an excerpt of a recent paper I wrote for an Aboriginal Social Work Theory that focused on my personal decolonization. I wanted to share it because, my introduction to “decolonization” left me with a lot of grey areas, the untangible, and sometimes down right confused me on what this process may look like. Every journey is different and unique but here is a short snippet of my journey.
The term decolonization denotes the deconstruction or disassembling of colonization. Goulet, Linds, Episkenew, & Schmidt (2011) state that “colonization appropriated resources and, as a system of oppression, imposed a way of being in and thinking about the world. Colonial policies imposed behavioural norms on Indigenous peoples’ bodies while colonial belief systemssought to colonize their minds” (p.90). Colonization isn’t limited to historical events, but is ongoing and heavily present in current education, laws, policies, the media, and almost every aspect of mainstream society (Goulet et al., 2011). The deconstruction of colonization entails the “intelligent, calculated, and active resistance to the forces of colonialism that perpetuate the subjugation and/or exploitation of our minds, bodies, and lands, and it is engaged for the ultimate purpose of overturning the colonial structure and realizing Indigenous liberation” (Wilson & Yellow Bird, 2005, p. 3). In this paper I will discuss my own interpretation of decolonization and how I have applied it to myself, how I will apply it in my future practice as a social worker and the important aspects of this journey. Decolonization is an action packed verb and is not static but is alive, ongoing, and unique for each person; the following is my experience.
I call the process, known as decolonization, the “undoing of my unknowing”. The act of socialization into an assimilated worldview is a process of “unknowing” who I am as a Dane Zaa and Cree woman. I, as well as the majority of colonized Indigenous people, were brought up in environments where the colonizers beliefs, attitudes, norms were not only dominant, but seen as superior, authoritative, and left unquestioned. Thus the “unknowing” is the act of colonization and the “undoing” is the disassembling of colonial bonds while simultaneously coming to “remember” who I am. I chose the term “remember” because I believe that the ancestral knowledge has never left me, but has been forgotten and buried under the amalgamated years of mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional colonization. Therefore, my decolonization journey is a process of remembering who I am mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
One of the first steps in decolonization is to understand the process of colonization and relearning teachings and traditions. Burgess (2000) states that decolonization is a 5 part process, the first stage is “rediscovery and recovery” and is fundamental because it is where one is reintroduced to their “culture, language, identity and so on” (p. 153). My introduction to Indigenous history was approximately four years ago and prior to that, I accepted the circumstances of the Indigenous people I knew and was a part of. I accepted the situation of my people, without asking how they arrived at the conditions I deplored. Embarking on an educational journey is when I first learned about colonial conquest, assimilative policies, and the ramifications of them. I learned this in a colonial post-secondary educational institution in a class that was not mandatory for my Diploma. Nonetheless, this new information spurred an interest in learning more about past and present assimilation and began to relate it to the circumstances of those who also belonged under the umbrella classification term of the Federal Government,“Aboriginal”.
Since learning Indigenous history, I have started to learn more of who I am as a Dane Zaa and Cree woman by spending time with my Asu (Dane Zaa for Grandmother) and gleaning from her stories. I started to learn the Dane Zaa language and have a long way to go before I am semi-fluent but I can say a basic prayer, name most animals, and use land related terms. I chose to focus on Dane Zaa so far in my journey of rediscovery because it is a small tribe (approx. 2000) with a very small percentage of elders and even smaller number of language speakers, while the Cree tribe is very large.
I have become more aware of Pan-Aboriginal practices and have been trying to separate what is mine and what is not. This separation does not stop me from adopting a belief that I believe fits my worldview and makes sense to me, but I do so consciously without accepting it readily as my own tribal practice. Currently, in my practicum placement at Scw’exmex Child and Family Services Society, I am learning a lot about the Nlakapamux culture and it is on my list of tasks to be aware of what beliefs and values are mine and what belongs to the Nlakapamux. Although I am far away from my traditional territory, and unable to approach elders, I am generating specific information that I need to seek out upon my return in the summer. These questions focus on methods of cleansing, female medicine practices, water teachings, and protocols, all which contribute to creating a more solidified world view. I am still in the first stage but I believe that this stage is never ending, always active and run parallel to other parts of my decolonization journey.
There are other significant elements of the decolonization process that I have engaged in and am still actively navigating. The next four stages of decolonization as described by Burgess (2000) are mourning, dreaming, commitment, and action. These stages are not a linear process but are intertwined and can be happening simultaneously. Personally, the stage of rediscovery and recovery ran concurrently with the stage of mourning. As I learned of historical oppressive and assimilative practices of the colonizers I sometimes wept out of frustration or felt my cheeks flushed with rage. I have processed and released my anger but I will always hold a sense of mourning, or rather an unfulfilled longing, for what could have been and what was lost.
I am currently in the stage of dreaming where I am engaging in the “re-evaluation of the political, social, economic, and judicial structures themselves and the development, if appropriate, of new structures that can hold and house the values and aspirations of” my people (Burgess, 2000, p.155). My ability to critically evaluate, question, and reimagine is in a process of strengthening as it has been dulled by mainstream education. The education I received fits Paulo Freire’s (2003) description of “banking education”, a form of education that does not encourage dialogue nor critical thinking but “inhibits creativity” (p. 83). The ability that is required in the dreaming stage has been stifled historically in Indigenous peoples through residential schools where “Indigenous children’s imaginations and actions were suppressed as a component of resocialization” (Burgess, 2000., Goulet et al., 2011, p.29). My child hood years were spent in a Christian home with a strict set of rules and a moral conduct to adhere to. I attended church, went to school, followed routines, and accepted “truth” from authoritative figures (parents, teachers, preachers). I began to revive my ability to question, analyze, and reimagine in the past four years and have not solidified a direction to progress to a further stage.
Educating others on colonization and decolonization is an important part of my future practice as a social worker as well as an integral part of my personal journey. Upon beginning my courses at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology I began an online blog that chronicles my decolonization journey and to share other pertinent relevant information. I heard an elder sayrecently that “teachings are a gift, but they are not for you to keep,” meaning that upon receiving teachings you become responsible for the transmission of them. Doing this on a personal level is evident in my blog but it is also present in conversations and informal knowledge sharing. It is important to do this mindfully and to share, but not force upon others, the knowledge of both colonization and decolonization.
My decolonization journey is and will be an ongoing process that I will actively engage in and reflect upon. I will continue to process my journey by way of writing and further solidify my identity formation through traditional knowledge gathering. I am building upon my ability to critically analyze the world around me, ranging from community based programs to Federal level policies. I addition to a mental effort to decolonize the world around me, I am trying to form what the outcome of action may look like and how to get there. My role as a social worker is to achieve cultural relevancy when working with Indigenous groups, decolonize efforts when applicable, and to help other Indigenous people reclaim their identity. I believe that the decolonization of Indigenous minds, hearts, and spirits is crucial to move forward in a good way that will be effective and have lasting impacts.
Burgess, H. (Poka Laenui) (2000). Process of Decolonization. In Baptiste, M. (Ed.), Reclaiming indigenous voice and vision.(pp.150-160). Vancouver: UBC Press.
Freire, P. (2003). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30 th anniversary ed.). New York: Continuum.
Goulet, L., Linds, W., Episkenew, J., & Schmidt, K. (2011). Creating a Space for Decolonization: Health through theatre with indigenous youth. Native Studies Review, 20(1), 89-116.
Lavalee, L. & Poole, J. (2009). Beyond Recovery: Colonization, health & healing for indigenous people in Canada. International Journal of Mental Health Addictions. 8, 271-281.
Wilson, W. A., & YellowBird, M. (2005). For indigenous eyes only: a decolonization handbook. Santa Fe: School of American Research.