Sunday, August 26, 2007

Thoughts on Decolonizing Canada

Check out this document.

It's the text of a paper or speech (in PDF form) called "A Transformative Framework for Decolonizing Canada: A Non-Indigenous Approach" by someone called Paulette Regan, a PhD candidate in the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria. Basically, it is an exploration of the potential role for non-indigenous people in the struggle to decolonize Canada. It is worth a read.

She begins:

This evening I will talk about the impetus behind developing this framework to explore the role and responsibility of non-indigenous people – the Canadian public - in decolonization. I begin by telling you about a conference dialogue, and the writings of two indigenous thinkers and activists.

She goes on to talk about some of her own experiences and observations and to summarize some key ideas from two important indigenous thinkers from within the Canadian state, George Manuel and Taiaiake Alfred.

Here are a few of the paragraphs that were key for me:

To get ‘unstuck’ the non-indigenous - not just in government and legal circles, but more broadly as a society - must focus not, as we have done so often with disastrous results, on the problem of the “other” (that is, Indigenous peoples) but turn our gaze, mirror-like, back upon ourselves, to what Roger Epp calls the “settler problem.” In essence, we must begin to take a more proactive responsibility for decolonizing ourselves.

I am curious as to how these themes of imagination, history and myth, struggle and transformation, might suggest new ways for the non-indigenous to take up our role and responsibility in the work of decolonization. I also found myself thinking about my own experiences of being uncomfortable, working as a non-indigenous woman within indigenous contexts over the years. I realized that my own deepest learning has always come from those times when I was in unfamiliar territory-culturally, intellectually and emotionally.

It seems to me that there is power in this place of ‘not knowing’ that may hold a key to decolonization for non-indigenous people. As members of the dominant culture, we have to be willing to be uncomfortable, to be disquieted at a deep and disturbing level - and to understand our own history, if we are to transform our colonial relationship with Indigenous peoples.

For it is in this space of “not knowing” and working through our own discomfort that we are most open to deep, transformative learning. The kind of experiential learning that engages our whole being – head, heart and spirit.

And she concludes:

The promise of working within a transformative framework is that our dialogue about history – our stories and our myths – beckons us not just to understand our paradoxical past, but to finally take that “genuine leap of imagination” to guide our steps today and into the future. Although the way is not clear and there will be struggle – the “new fork in an old road” is a powerful place of transformation if we are willing to take it. George Manuel knew this in 1974. Taiaiake Alfred, thirty-one years later, invites us again to choose this path. And they are right. We cannot leave this critical task up to governments and the courts. In reality, institutions do not lead social change. The people do. And so it is up to us.

Please read the whole thing.

(Found via this post at Indigenous Solidarity: A Settler's Place.)


Peter N. Jones said...

Thanks for the post, I downloaded the article and will read it later today. It sounds much like my own line of thinking over at Indigenous Issues Today. I also agree, it is up to us, the individuals, to make our world a better place. We can't just hope that someone or some institution will do it for us.

Scott said...

Hi Peter...glad you liked the paper that I linked to, and thanks for the pointer towards your own site. I agree that responsibility for changing the world rests with all of us, though I think it's vital to emphasize that our energies must be directed towards social change and not just individual change -- decolonizing ourselves and decolonizing our societies are necessarily simultaneous processes, I think, not processes that we must choose between.

Michael said...

The idea sounds nice, but I confess to not being quite sure what the author means by "decolonizing." Would that mean the non-aboriginal population packing up and leaving or something less drastic?

Scott said...

Hi michael.

I can't claim to be able to make any decisive or authoritative statements about what decolonizing Canada should or should not mean -- by definition, what it means has to be arrived at in a collective, and probably quite conflictual, process, and it is not for any one person, especially not a settler like me, to presume I can preempt that. That said, I have a sense of what I think it might mean. I think it should mean that indigenous peoples, both as individuals and in their nations, could function healthily, autonomously, in balance with each other and us and nature, with settler boots finally taken off of indigenous necks and with no fear that they might descend once more. I think it should mean that the majority of settlers and our media and meaning producing organizations should no longer propagate the sorts of anti-indigenous ideologies that surround us at the moment. I think it should mean significant proportions of the land come under indigenous control of one sort or another. I think it would require that the settler society come to new understandings of sovereignty and autonomy, and reorganize itself so it does not depend on subordinating its own members and others -- indigenous peoples are obviously of particular relevance here -- for its ongoing functioning.

I could probably come up with more. I guess the point is that probably a decolonized "Canada" would be different from Canada as it currently exists in some significant respects. But in no vision for decolonization I have ever heard -- the occasional wry joke by indigenous people weary at the everyday oppression they face from settlers and our institutions aside -- has it involved shipping settlers "back to Europe" or whatever. What needs to change is the form and content of the relations among us.

If you are interested in learning more about what decolonization could mean, I would suggest seeking out indigenous authors to read. The two mentioned in the piece that I quote from, George Manuel and Taiaiake Alfred, would be good places to start. For a little gender balance, maybe try Patricia Monture-Angus and Andrea Smith. There are many others...many more than I have heard of yet, let alone read. They can provide much better answers than me about what colonization has meant historically and continues to means to the everyday lives of indigenous people and nations in North America today, and what decolonization might look like.

Leyna said...

Hi Scott,

Poignant article. I particularly like the notion of "discomfort" because it challenges the ethnocentrism of Canadian culture.

I think that it is very important for Canadians to experience Aboriginal spaces, both physical and conceptual. This is why I encourage people to attend pow wows, for instance. In such spaces, the Canadian becomes the minority, the "other" exposed to divergent customs and values.

This, in my opinion, is the first step to the valuation of Aboriginal philosophies, ideologies and epistomologies.


Scott said...

Hi Leyna...very good point. Books are great, and because of my own personal tendencies I tend to reflexively jump there before anywhere else in trying to understand things, but actually being in living cultural and political spaces can be a much more powerful path to learning.

Leyna said...

Not that there's anything wrong with books!!