Disrupting Colonialism through Teaching: An Integrated Seminar Series and Grants Program

In 2018, Episkenew Fellow, Dolores van der Wey, ran a pilot offering of Disrupting Colonialism through Teaching: An Integrated Seminar Series and Grants Program funded by SFU's Aboriginal Strategic Initiative (ASI). Disrupting Colonialism through Teaching was built in response to a growing number of applications to the Teaching and Learning Development Grants program for projects that incorporate Indigenous topics, issues, perspectives or ways of knowing into SFU courses. The program aims to address the concerns expressed by the Aboriginal Reconciliation Council that, “Decolonizing curricula and incorporating Indigenous knowledge may be difficult for non-Indigenous faculty, and well intentioned but misguided efforts may in fact cause harm” (p. 6, ARC executive summary). Through fourteen three-hour seminars, spread over an academic year, participants developed the knowledge and skills necessary to both identify colonialism within their discipline and teaching as well as enact changes to decentre it.

"Without truth, there can be no reconciliation; without truth, there can be no healing; and without a shared narrative of our collective reality (past and present), there is no truth."
- Jo-Ann Episkenew

Pedagogical structure of the program

Encourage participants’ responsibility, agency and independence

The program builds faculty independence and agency around disrupting colonialism through teaching through the development of a critical perspective on colonial culture, systems, structures and assumptions. Some faculty may be looking for set strategies or techniques to “Indigenize” or “decolonize” their teaching. However, as with many aspects of academic life (Becher & Trowler, 2001), the impact of colonization and the ways in which it can be counteracted will vary significantly by discipline. The wide-range of disciplines explored within the university makes the creation of cookbook style lessons related to disrupting colonialism through teaching nearly impossible. Nor is it possible for a single facilitator to address the impact of colonialism across all disciplines. The program’s approach to this fundamental problem provides faculty with sufficient historical and theoretical knowledge to develop critical perspectives on colonial assumptions, practices and ways of knowing. With that perspective and their own deep knowledge of their discipline, they can craft anti-colonial teaching practices that may ameliorate the impact of coloniality (Quijano, 2000).  

Anchor participants’ learning through story telling

During the seminars, the participants grapple deeply with disruptive topics related to settler policies and practices and their implications for Indigenous peoples and Canadian society at large. Story telling forms the core pedagogy of the seminars. Texts in a variety of formats (academic, essay, literature, poetry, video, audio, etc.) are selected for their ability to enable bi-directional interpretation of stories with respect to history, theory, and the current social and political climate. Many of the authors are Indigenous (e.g. Armstrong; 1991; Episkenew, 2009; King, 2003; Smith, Tuck & Yang, 2019) and an exploration of the nature of Indigenous storytelling threads through the seminars. Participants are asked to connect the texts to current events in order to shed light on how colonial processes and institutions continue to structure the activities, relationships, opportunities and lives of settler and Indigenous people today. The Episkenew Fellow chooses the texts both thematically and in response to current events as well as participant interest and growth. The participants use the texts to inform inquiry projects in their courses in which they make changes to teaching and learning practices based on what they have learned. And they share stories of those efforts. Through this experience they develop their capacity for anti-colonial teaching.

Build participants’ capacity for facilitating discussion and student learning

After participating in several of the discussions and observing the facilitation of them, participants brainstorm key features of strong facilitation. In subsequent seminars they take turns facilitating discussions and providing one another feedback. From these discussions they each add techniques and perspectives to their facilitation repertoire.

Enable participants to envision and enact change through designing a project

To make the participants’ learning concrete, each crafts a plan to enact anti-colonial changes in one of the courses they teach based upon what they have learned. They begin their project proposals at the end of the first semester of the program. Many will be able to carry out their projects during the subsequent two semesters and share their experiences and insights with their fellow participants along the way. These projects ensure that participants’ learning is not inert, but rather becomes reified in action.

Support participants’ capacity to reflect and learn through conducting an inquiry

Each project proposal includes a plan for the collection and analysis of data to capture the impact of the changes made on the students within the course. This inquiry provides a structured way for participants to reflect on the experience, consolidate their learning and make choices about how they might revise their courses in the future to improve the learning experience for students (Hutchings & Shulman, 1999).

Support and benefits for Disrupting Colonialism through Teaching participants

  • Gain critical background knowledge related to the process of disrupting colonialism through teaching
  • Craft a project proposal for implementing and evaluating the changes they wish to make to their teaching
  • Receive feedback from fellow seminar participants and facilitators on their designs
  • Receive up to $6000 to support their design and evaluation work
  • Are provided with most of the books and novels associated with the program
  • Receive support finding research assistants to help them with their design and evaluation work
  • Receive on-going administrative, curricular and research support from the Episkenew Fellow and the TILT team throughout the implementation of their projects

Topics covered include, for example:  

  • History of Colonialism in Canada
  • Troubling common Canadian conceptions of multiculturalism
  • Myths and realities of Indigenous Peoples
  • Settler identity and colonialism
  • Indigenous narratives and epistemologies
  • The relationship of Indigenous Peoples to the land, including the impact of displacement
  • The intersection of the above themes with disciplinary knowledge, topics and concerns

Time commitment and workload  

Fall 2019 (6 seminars, 3 hours each)

  • Meetings will be scheduled biweekly
  • Participants will read 2-3 books and between 5-10 papers (one book will need to be read before the first seminar)
  • Participants will draft their proposals

Spring 2020 (4 seminars, 3 hours each)

  • Meetings will be scheduled every 3-4 weeks
  • Participants will read 1-2 short books and 5-10 papers
  • Participants will complete their proposals and may begin their projects

Summer 2020 (4 seminars, 3 hours each)

  • Meetings will be scheduled every 3-4 weeks
  • Participants will read 1-2 books and 5-10 papers
  • Some participants may be conducting their projects while others are working on their data analysis and report writing

Target audience

SFU faculty (lecture or tenure track) with a continuing appointment who:

  • already have some idea of the kinds of changes they want to make in their courses;
  • are willing to engage in critical and often unsettling reading and dialogue about Canada’s colonial past and present; and
  • are willing to engage in critical dialogue about how to accomplish their plans as it relates to their curricular and pedagogical designs.

Facilitation team



Dolores van der Wey    
Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education and Episkenew Fellow for TILT. She is a member of the Haida Nation with expertise in curriculum development and theory and many years of experience teaching courses to in-service and future teachers that address critical issues in education, including Indigenous education. She is well-versed in both the relevant literature as well as experienced at facilitating the efforts of instructors attempting to incorporate Indigenous content, issues, or perspectives into their courses 




Sheri Fabian                  
University Lecturer in Criminology and Director, TILT. With nearly 15 years of experience doing contract research to validate claims for residential school survivors, Sheri brings this unique perspective and understanding into her teaching practice. Her current focus on pedagogical approaches to decolonizing and Indigenizing our classes includes a grant that supports a community-based collaborative action research project to examine the experiences of Indigenous students at SFU.


Laura D’Amico
Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Education and former Research Associate for TILT. With over 20 years of experience in the development and study of systems for supporting and implementing educational improvement and reform, Laura provides faculty with practical advice on how to conduct their project evaluations. She is versed in a wide-range of educational research methods and approaches.

Steven Hall
A former undergraduate student majoring in Psychology and First Nations Studies at SFU, having already achieved an AA in Psychology from Langara College. Steven's aspiration after university is to work in the urban Aboriginal/LGBTQ2+ community to support youth through counseling. An urban Heiltsuk student, Steven finds the concept of decolonizing teachings a necessary process in order to create a safer space for Aboriginal students in the classroom.


Armstrong, J. C. (1991). This is a story. All my relations: An anthology of contemporary native fiction (pp. 129-135). Toronto: McClelland and Stewart,

Becher, T. & Trowler, P. R. (2001).  Academic tribes and territories:  Intellectual enquiry and the culture of disciplines (2nd edition).  Buckingham, England: Open University Press.

Episkenew, J.-A. (2009). Taking back our spirits: Indigenous literature, public policy, and healing. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Hutchings, P., & Shulman, L. S. (1999). The Scholarship of Teaching: New Elaborations, New Developments. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 31(5), 10–15.

King, T. (2003). The truth about stories: a native narrative. Toronto: House of Anansi Press.

Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America. Nepantla: Views from south. Durham, NC: Duke University Press (pp. 533-580.

Smith, L. T., Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2019). Introduction. In L. T. Smith, E. Tuck, & K. W. Yang (Eds.), Indigenous and decolonizing studies in education: Mapping the long view (First edition. ed., pp. 1-23). New York: Routledge.