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Indigenization Guide: Decolonization and Reconciliation

An excerpt from Pulling Together: Foundations Guide by Kory Wilson

We know there are no boats waiting in the harbour to take all of the non-Natives back someplace. We know people are not going to get on planes and say, “Oh well, we didn’t get this country so we will go somewhere else.” The non-Natives are all going to be here after negotiations. And so are we. What I want to leave behind is the injustice. I wish that we could start again.


 – Steven Lewis Point (Xwĕ lī qwĕl tĕl, Stó:lō, former lieutenant governor of British Columbia, former provincial court judge, former Chief of the Skowkale First Nation, chair of advisory committee for Missing Women Commission of Inquiry), Foreword to A Stó:lō-Coast Salish Historical Atlas (2001)

Decolonization is every Canadian’s responsibility

A common misunderstanding is that decolonization is an attempt to re-establish the conditions of a pre-colonial North America and would require a mass departure of all non-Indigenous people from the continent. That is not the goal. As Canadians, we can all take part in building a genuine decolonization movement. This movement would respect the land on which we are all living and the people to whom it inherently belongs.

What would decolonization look like?

Decolonization would mark a fundamental change in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. It would bring an end to the settler effects on Indigenous Peoples with respect to their:

  • governments
  • ideologies
  • religions
  • education systems
  • cultures

Decolonization requires an understanding of Indigenous history and acceptance and acknowledgement of the truth and consequences of that history. The process of decolonization must include non-Indigenous people and Indigenous Peoples working toward a future that includes all.

Canadian citizens must acknowledge that the Canada we know today was built on the legacy of colonization and the displacement of Indigenous Peoples. Decolonization must continue until Indigenous Peoples are no longer at the negative end of socio-economic indicators or over-represented in areas such as the criminal justice or child welfare system.

For Indigenous Peoples, decolonization begins with learning about who they are and recovering their culture and self-determination.

Many Indigenous people may have difficulty understanding different aspects of, or perspectives on, Indigenous knowledge. This process can be difficult for all of the reasons we have already discussed, and it will take time to overcome the difficulties. It must occur on many levels: as an individual, a member of a family, a community, and a Nation. It requires perseverance, support, and knowledge of culture.

The process of decolonization is a process of healing and moving away from a place of anger, loss, and grief toward a place where Indigenous Peoples can thrive. This can be overwhelming and seemingly impossible for some. It must be acknowledged that not all Indigenous Peoples are in the same place on this “decolonization journey,” but together Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous peoples can succeed.

Continuous reinforcement and rediscovery of Indigenous language, cultural, and spiritual practices empowers people to move forward in their growth as proud Indigenous citizens.

Reconciliation

Reconciliation is an important part of the process of decolonization. Reconciliation requires that Indigenous people tell their stories and that they are heard. It requires a shared understanding of our common past and a shared vision of the future.

An important step on the road to reconciliation was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), created in 2007 as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The TRC was inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa.

What you can do

People ask, “What can be done?” or “What can I do?” or they are uncertain or uncomfortable about getting involved. It can feel daunting, and both responses are normal. The fact that you have taken the time to finish all of the sections in this guide has made a difference already, and if you can share what you learned with those around you, then you will make a difference. As we saw, many stereotypes and problems occur when people do not know the truth or even any information about Indigenous Peoples. Increasing awareness is very important.

If you would like to learn more, we encourage you to seek out information:

  • Read the “Calls to Action.”
  • Visit a Friendship Centre.
  • Read books by Indigenous authors.
  • Take a course or workshop on Indigenous Peoples history and culture.
  • Form a group within your work team to talk about Indigenous issues.
  • Participate in events such as the Walk for Reconciliation and National Indigenous Day activities.

It is important to note that Indigenous Peoples need allies and not people to tell them what to do, or to direct and benefit from Indigenous issues and challenges. We need to work together and support each other to make a place where all people are valued and included. Reconciliation is a very personal journey and one in which all Canadians must play a part.

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