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Friday, February 1, 2013

A Position on Decolonization

A Position on Decolonization:
By: Christine McFarlane

Decolonization is a process in which the colonizing society-in this case-(European) and Indigenous peoples of Canada are able to live harmoniously and interact with each other without underlying tension between the two parties. I believe that colonization will take Indigenous people many years to overcome. The colonial process involves many stages and a changed relationship between the colonizing powers and the people under its rule. The stages of decolonization occur in individuals and general society at different times in their lives because not everyone is capable of healing or looking at the issues that put them in their colonized positions in the first place.

In proposing a model of practical decolonization that respectfully incorporates, or is centred in Indigenous knowledge and/or worldviews, there first needs to be a basic understanding of cultural differences between Native and non Native peoples. Without a mutual respect for each other’s differences, a model of decolonization will not work or be possible for people to follow.

Colonialism establishes a framework, a way of life, which has been set in motion by state and government. When a person is under colonial rule, in order for change to happen, they will have to challenge the very authority that defines how they are to live.

Author Roger Spielmann  in “Kitkitchi Adjibonan: Cultural Differences Underlying Tension in Native-White Interaction,” states “there are considerable differences in customs, beliefs, traditions, ideals and aspirations between Natives and non-Natives.” (pg.5). The value differences of non-interference, non-competitiveness, emotional restraint, sharing, the concept of time and Native protocol is what leads to misunderstanding between the non-Native and Native population. These differences also create oppression and discrimination, which is hard to come out from under.

I believe that a decolonization model will have to be inclusive and incorporate training and healing to all members of society. This training will have to involve cross-cultural learning and understanding for each other’s differing worldviews, the ability to interact in both non-Native and Native cultures, learning to address conflict in ways that would heal and restore relationships, instead of in ways where one culture sees themselves as more superior than the other, and allowing each culture to function within their own worldview.

It is when different cultures ignore each other’s philosophies, values and customs that colonialism, oppression and discrimination is able to live on. When under colonial rule, the colonized peoples are denied the very existence of their culture and are not allowed to practice of it without facing denigration, belittlement and insult. Within my own life, I have had to learn to adapt to both the non-native and the native world. I was a part of the 60s Scoop when native children were taken from their biological parents and placed into middle-class white families. Adapting to both worlds has been a long struggle. It was clear from the beginning that I was different than my adoptive family because of my Native ancestry.

According to the reading, “Decolonizing Conflict Resolution: Addressing the Ontological Violence of Westernization,” the author, Polly O. Walker states that “The worldviews that underlie Western and Indigenous cultures are starkly different from one another and worldviews represent the deeper levels of culture, the beliefs and values that shape all behavior.” (pg. 528)

It is within the process of colonization, that as a child I was denied the right to immerse myself into my culture, to know my people and know myself. It was a struggle to live in two worlds. I grew up in the white world, and was expected to act like the perfect little girl. From a young age, I always knew that I had a mother out there, brown skinned like me, who had to give me up, and I always wondered who she was and where she was. I also knew that my adoptive parents never really wanted me. They made that clear, by the abuse they meted out. By leaving my biological family and culture, I entered a more traumatic experience, because my adoptive parents only kept me until I was ten years old, and then gave me back to the care of the Children’s Aid Society. The abuse I experienced, the abandonment I felt is something I am still trying to overcome to this day.

It has only been in the last few years of my adult life that I have been able to divorce myself from the colonial process that my adoptive family put me through. Instead of choosing to continue living within the pain and trauma I experienced from my earlier life, I chose to move myself away from it. That meant relocating geographically and beginning a life that I knew I could be happy with. I looked into my culture by going into the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto and getting to know other Native people in the Toronto community. I returned to school where I could study the history and worldview of my peoples. I built a life of my own that meant learning to understand myself better and allowed myself to become more open to seeing what my people have had to go through to survive, and trying to incorporate those ways into my life. Piimaatsiiwin-The Good Life.

In speaking about decolonization, I have learned that there are five distinct phases of a people’s decolonization. According to author Poka Laenui in the article “Processes of Decolonization,” these include the following:
·      Rediscovery and recovery
·      Mourning
·      Dreaming
·      Commitment, and
·      Action.” (152)

The first phase of decolonization is an important step to go through. It is through rediscovery and recovery that healing begins. In the book, “In the Voices of Elders: Aboriginal Cultures in Transition,” an Odawa Elder, Liza Mosher states that by reaching back into the past and “finding our identity, by going to ceremonies, going to Sweats and going to fasts and sitting with Mother Earth,” we are able to start our healing. I strongly believe that when we know who we are, what our purpose in life is, and what direction we want to take in life, this is the beginning of Indigenous peoples starting to become decolonized. This is evident because we turn away from the harmful behaviors we used to cope with. These harmful behaviours can include alcohol and drug abuse, and in my case self harm, eating disorders and not having enough faith in myself to know that I could live a life that is not filled with debilitating pain.

The second phase, mourning is necessary to continue on in our healing. It is through mourning and looking at your past as the past. “People often immerse themselves totally in the rediscovery of their history, making for an interesting interplay.” (pg. 154) In the mourning stage, things can be difficult for me because I still deal with a lot of inner pain in knowing that unless I make my own family, make my own community, loneliness can make my pain worse. In rebuilding my life though, I have learned to grieve, and that it is up to me to choose happiness and move forward. By letting myself win and continuing to be a survivor, I am telling myself, and generations behind me that it is possible to rise above adversity.

The third and most crucial phase of decolonization is dreaming. This phase can best be explained in the documentary “Onkwa’nistenhsera: Mothers of Our Nations,” and this is where “the full panorama of possibilities are expressed, considered, consulted, where dreams can be built upon other dreams, and can eventually become the flooring for the creation of a new social order.” (pg. 155). This summit encompassed all Indigenous peoples coming together at Six Nations, Ontario, for the “Indigenous Elders Summit of 2004.” The powerful message in this documentary stated “Nationhood is ours to keep, sacred sites and artefacts must be protected, tradition must lead, education is a right and everyone needs access, violence against Indigenous women must cease, and assimilation policies must be stopped.”

 The above statement about nationhood being ours to keep comes from the heart of the youth in the "Onkwa'nistenhsera: Mothers of Our Nations" summit, and  it is our youth who will help make change happen in the years to come. If our youth understand the message of nationhood, than we all need to understand and be open to the possibilities we can create for a better nation. It states in "Processes of Decolonization" that true decolonization is more than simply placing Indigenous or previously colonized people into the positions held by colonizers. Decolonization includes the re-evaluation of the political, social, economic, and judicial structures themselves and the development, if appropriate, of new structures that can hold and house the values and aspirations of the colonized people.” (pg. 155).

Therefore, I believe that when a model of decolonization is going to be implemented, cultural training is an important aspect that needs to be put into action. When people have learnt about themselves, and feel good about themselves, the message of hope is passed on and a feeling of goodwill is present and makes people want to change. The final two stages of decolonization can only happen when the latter three stages are experienced and Indigenous people remove themselves from the role of victimization. By moving forward and looking at wholeness instead of fragmentation, decolonization will start to happen.

In conclusion, I believe that though the colonial process will take many years for Indigenous peoples to overcome, decolonization will not work unless all Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples are willing to work together. We need to have an understanding of each other’s differences, a strong sense of togetherness and the desire to change in order for a model of decolonization to work. Without a desire to change, nothing can happen.

Works Cited:

Battiste. Marie: Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision. Vancouver, Canada. University of British Columbia Press. 2000.

Kulchyski. Peter. McCaskill. Newhouse. David: In the Words of Elders: Aboriginal Cultures in Transition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1999.

Martin-Hill. Dawn. Onkwa’nistenhsera: Mothers of Our Nations. Canada. 48min. Film Documentary. 2006

Speilmann. Roger. Kitkitci Adjibonan: Cultural Differences Underlying Tensions in Native-White Interaction. Sudbury, Ontario. University of Sudbury. 1981.

Walker-O. Polly. Decolonizing Conflict Resolution: Addressing the Ontological Violence of Westernization. American Indian Quarterly. Summer and Fall 2004. Nos. 3&4.

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