Indigenous Knowledges & Ways of Knowing
What is Decolonization?
Broadly defined by Linda Tuhiwai Smith, “decolonization is a process which engages imperialism and colonialism at multiple levels” (21).
Decolonization within the university context needs to be an ongoing process built on collaboration and meaningful partnerships with Indigenous knowledge holders. Since “decolonizing education entails … working to unsettle colonial structures, systems, and dynamics in educational contexts” (Poitras et al, 2018, p.1), it is a project that requires Indigenous leadership and non-Indigenous faculty and teaching staff commitment.
Bringing Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, respectfully and considerately, into the academy is one way of advancing educational decolonization. It is a shift that calls for educators to be trauma-informed and understanding of the ways that colonial histories and present colonial impacts affect student wellness and often, student success.
Decolonizing one’s pedagogy requires moving teaching and learning from a top-down knowledge dissemination approach to a more non-hierarchical, holistic approach that considers the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of all students.
What might decolonial teaching praxis look like?
Citing Indigenous scholars. When discussing Indigenous topics, privilege Indigenous academic and community voices and intentionally include the perspectives of Mi’kmaq peoples, Indigenous women, and 2Spirit peoples.
Reflecting on course policies. For example, mandating students to attend every lecture in-person does not consider the impacts of trauma or prioritize student well-being. For classes that require in-person attendance, consider allowing students to miss a certain number of classes without having to provide any sort of explanation.
Respecting students’ privacy and autonomy. Students have the right to self-identify as Indigenous on their own (publicly or privately) when and if they feel comfortable doing so.
Considering your colonial blind-spots. Question the assumptions that you unintentionally adhere to. How do you react, or would you react from related student critiques? Do you display an openness to learning from the perspectives and lived experiences of others? How do you demonstrate this within your teaching?
What is Indigenization?
“Generally, scholars see indigenization as a decolonial process … There is also significant consensus globally that the universities have not decolonized; curriculum is pre-dominantly Eurocentric, ‘rooted in colonial, apartheid, and Western world views and epistemological traditions’ and therefore ‘continues to reinforce white and western dominance and privilege’ (Heleta, 2016)” (Gaudry & Lorenz, 2018, p.224).
Decolonial Indigenization efforts aim to foster ethical and reciprocal relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge systems but as Gaudry & Lorenz warn, “the increased presence and engagement with Indigenous knowledges cannot result in an intellectual free-for-all.” (ibid, p.224)
The exclusion of Indigenous topics from course curriculums is often (re)traumatizing for Indigenous students but it can be equally (re)traumatizing (or even more-so) when course curriculums only include issues of Indigenous loss. Faculty and teaching staff must find a balance between carefully and critically engaging colonial histories and recognizing Indigenous strengths, success, and resiliency. To quote the Electronic Powwow drum group, A Tribe Called Red (2016), “we are not a conquered people” (The Virus ft. Saul Williams & Chippewa Travellers); individual and collective Indigenous resistance efforts to ongoing forms of colonial violence are widespread and prolific and need to be recognized as such.
Keeping these guiding principles of decolonization and Indigenization in mind, I invite you to connect with me by booking a consultation. Recognizing Mi’kmaq peoples and territory in the form of a land-acknowledgement and engaging in localized treaty-education (see the resources below) are necessary steps in forming one’s decolonial consciousness. However, the ways that epistemic violence operates, through the adherence to colonial meta-narratives and academic norms, needs to be further interrogated and reflected on. An epistemological shift is what is needed to create spaces of learning that are equitable, inclusive, and accessible!
A Tribe Called Red. (2016). The Virus ft. Saul Williams & Chippewa Travellers. We are the Halluci Nation. Radicalized Records. [Link: The Halluci Nation - The Virus Ft. Saul Williams, Chippewa Travellers (Official Video)]
Gaudry Adam and Danielle Lorenz. (2018). Indigenization as inclusion, reconciliation, and decolonization: navigating the different visions for indigenizing the Canadian Academy. Altern Native: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples. 14(3), 218-227.
Pratt, Y. P., Louie, D. W., Hanson, A. J., & Ottmann, J. (2018). Indigenous education and decolonization. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education.
Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. (2012). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (2nd Ed.). Zen Books.
The Dalhousie University Senate acknowledges that we are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People and pays respect to the Indigenous knowledges held by the Mi’kmaq People, and to the wisdom of their Elders past and present. The Mi'kmaq People signed Peace and Friendship Treaties with the Crown, and section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and Treaty rights. We are all Treaty people.
The Dalhousie University Senate also acknowledges the histories, contributions, and legacies of African Nova Scotians, who have been here for over 400 years.
Creating a Meaningful Land Acknowledgement
- Start with your Greeting (if you speak another language feel free to share), place yourself on the land (your roots, your privilege, etc.)
- Who you are? What do you do? And why are you doing this right now?
- Why is it important to centre the land?
- What reasons are YOU thankful for being on this land, in this moment? – keep in mind: the history of the people, also the physical land: the plants, trees, insects, animals, fish, and water that sustain ALL life)
- Can you acknowledge the agreements of the land you stand on? What do they mean to you?
- Is there anything you can teach the people or encourage those listening to you right now about what you know, what actions can you encourage?
- If you haven’t already, can you name the Nations (and pronounce them!) that cared for and lived on these lands, what do those names Nations mean?
- Are there any connections or learning you can share around those Nations while you name them?
Thank you in the language of the land, thank you in your language
This list was developed by Diane Obed.
Finding Your Personal Land Acknowledgement
The Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning, at the University of Saskatchewan, developed a series of 5 video blogs, to assist you in Finding Your Personal Land Acknowledgement. The goal is to help you to build your own awareness about the Indigenous philosophy of wahkotowin (all our relations) and how you can honour it when you engage these elements and create your own land acknowledgement.
Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples & Traditional Territory
The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) developed a Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples & Traditional Territory. The goal of the guide is to encourage all academic staff association representatives and members to acknowledge the First Peoples on whose traditional territories we live and work.
Territorial Acknowledgements: Going Beyond the Script
This territorial acknowledgement video offers seven tips for creating your own acknowledgement. Please see the Indigenizing and Decolonizing Teaching and Learning section on the University of Alberta's Centre for Learning and Teaching website for more information.
Learn more about Treaty Education Nova Scotia.
If you are interested in undertaking any of the initiatives above, please contact Rachelle McKay, Educational Developer (Indigenous Knowledges and Ways of Knowing) at Rachelle.McKay@dal.ca. We look forward to supporting your work.