Section 1: Understanding Decolonization, Indigenization, and Reconciliation

Decolonization and Indigenization

If we want to contribute to systemic change, we need to understand the concepts of decolonization, Indigenization, and reconciliation. 

Decolonization

Decolonization is the process of deconstructing colonial ideologies of the superiority and privilege of Western thought and approaches. On the one hand, decolonization involves dismantling structures that perpetuate the status quo and addressing unbalanced power dynamics. On the other hand, decolonization involves valuing and revitalizing Indigenous knowledge and approaches and weeding out settler biases or assumptions that have impacted Indigenous ways of being. For non-Indigenous people, decolonization is the process of examining your beliefs about Indigenous Peoples and culture by learning about yourself in relationship to the communities where you live and the people with whom you interact.

We work in systems that perpetuate colonial ideals and privilege Western ways of doing. For example, many student services use forms and procedures instead of first initiating relationships with students. This is a colonial process that excludes rather than includes. Also, how libraries catalogue knowledge is Western and colonial.

Decolonization is an ongoing process that requires all of us to be collectively involved and responsible. Decolonizing our institutions means we create spaces that are inclusive, respectful, and honour Indigenous Peoples.

The call for decolonizing education and including Indigenous ways of knowing and being in education was first articulated in 1972 in “Indian control of Indian education” [PDF][1] by the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations).

“We want education to give our children the knowledge to understand and be proud of themselves and the knowledge to understand the world around them.” (p. 1)

Indigenization

Indigenization is a collaborative process of naturalizing Indigenous intent, interactions, and processes and making them evident to transform spaces, places, and hearts. In the context of post-secondary education, this involves including Indigenous perspectives and approaches. Indigenization benefits not only Indigenous students but all students, teachers, staff members, and community members involved or impacted by Indigenization.

Indigenization seeks not only relevant programs and support services but also a fundamental shift in the ways that institutions:

  • Include Indigenous perspectives, values, and cultural understandings in policies and daily practices.
  • Position Indigenous ways of knowing at the heart of the institution, which then informs all the work that we do.
  • Include cultural protocols and practices in the operations of our institutions.

Indigenization values sustainable and respectful relationships with First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities, Elders, and organizations. When Indigenization is practiced at an institution, Indigenous people see themselves represented, respected, and valued and all students benefit. Indigenization, like decolonization, is an ongoing process, one that will shape and evolve over time.

Indigenization is not an “Indigenous issue,” and it is not undertaken solely to benefit Indigenous students. Indigenization benefits everyone; we all gain a richer understanding of the world and of our specific location in the world through awareness of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives. Indigenization also contributes to a more just world, creating a shared understanding that opens the way toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. It also counters the impacts of colonization by upending a system of thinking that has typically discounted Indigenous knowledge and history.