Economic Reconciliation

Decolonization and Indigenization

February 01, 2021

The Centre for Teaching and Learning at Queen’s University states that “there is no clear definition of decolonization or Indigenization; all definitions are complex, multi-faceted, and contested. This resource offers a starting place, but understanding decolonization is a journey that takes a lifetime”

Decolonization is not just a long line of moves to decolonize a syllabus, document, paper, policy, program, class, etc. It must require honest structural and systems changes or it truly isn’t meaningful and it’s just a tokenistic way for non-Indigenous people to feel good about themselves, believing that they took, ‘action’ to decolonize something.  However, real work requires engagement with Indigenous People’s, Communities, Nations, Elders, Youth, etc. and requires not just acknowledgement but awareness, understanding and implementation of Indigenous culture, language, place, space, epistemology, worldview, lens, values, ways of being, spirituality, and so on.  In short, the term “decolonization” can mean many different things, leaving the term's meaning up to the person/people/entity using it. Meaning, it is a practice of shifting paradigms within every entity to which ever area it is required: Health, Education, Business, government, policy, etc.


“…a review of the historical and contemporary record show that policy development and legislation in Canada continue to reflect the inequities that flow from Canada’s colonial relationship with First Nation communities. As Indigenous intellectuals and communities we are faced with several interrelated challenges: first, dealing with the legacies of Canada’s colonial history; second, working towards the decolonization of Canadian legislation and relations with First Nations; and, third, decolonizing the colonial mindset and educational system as well as First Nations identities and communities.”


Many Canadians still idealize the history of Canada and not how it truly is.  The truth of our Nation’s history as it pertains to oppression, assimilation and colonization of the First Peoples on this country is not taught wholly and truthfully in any educational environment.  It has only been on the current generation that part of this history is being shared. However, there is no set curriculum presented in an ‘Indigenous People’s History with Canada’. No one translated the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People’s into meaningful course packs for elementary, middle, high schools nor post-secondary. And it seems reconciliation, generally speaking, can be seen in tokenistic ways for the most part in our everyday personal and professional lives.  Meaningful decolonization, indigenization, reconciliation, and re-culturalization still requires a ton more effort on everyone’s part in Canada to make real paradigm shifts required in our systems.


This is not to say that people, organizations, entities, government bodies, agencies, etc. are not making any efforts.  I see real work being done and I know some of them personally. I bore witness to their work everyday and the commitment to do better each time.  However, I cannot truly say this is the case for many.  Even the education institution I contract with, struggles with this, everyday within the system and is doing what it thinks is its best but many Indigenous persons and entities know, there can be so much more. I do acknowledge, that this takes time, serious commitment at every level, requires funding, engagement, etc. and that the processes have not been truly sorted out and that it is truly a journey. I just hope for the sake of my child and my unborn grandchildren, that the journey is taken ever more seriously and the commitments required are paramount in the minds of the leaders who provide the resources for the endeavor.


I also hope, that I have been a positive, strong, committed advocate on behalf of myself, my son, my family and my people to ensure that I have contributed successfully to this journey. My legacy is not so much my work as instilling the passion behind the work, to lead, share a voice, tell a story and engage meaningfully with those that wanted to participate.


Decolonization is a goal but it is not an endpoint. I like this open-ended beginning because it speaks to two things: that the struggle for decolonization is a journey that is never finished and that, on this journey, uncertainty is not to be feared; Mariolga Reyes Cruz (in our first issue) describes it as: “moving towards a different and tangible place, somewhere out there, where no one has really ever been.” I don’t mean that decolonization is elusive and constantly deferred – an unattainable ‘pipe dream’ – but that it is a series of what Jeff Corntassel calls “everyday acts of resurgence” which regenerate Indigenous knowledges, epistemologies, and ways of life. These Indigenous knowledges are always adapting, always creating, always moving forward – there is no stopping them, no finality. Decolonization is a tangible unknown.
-Eric Ritskes, What is decolonization and why does it matter?