In the last three decades, Canadian universities have made some progress
towards making post-secondary education accessible to Aboriginal peoples.
However, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples asserts that these
efforts have not achieved the needed breakthrough. The Commissions
comprehensive Report (1996) unravels the destructive colonial and Eurocentric
legacy and documents the educational reform required to achieve an equitable,
respectful liberation for Aboriginal peoples in their knowledges and heritages.
Its assessment of Canadas universities and their disciplines identifies
massive changes needed to decolonize our universities. Because of the
changes required, the Report recommends the creation of a national university
to meet Aboriginal peoples needs or establishment of Aboriginal
colleges within existing universities.
The Canadian academy has regularly acknowledged the formidable challenge
it faces in self-education as it reframes institutions to be inclusive.
Yet, the Report charges that universities have largely held onto their
Eurocentrism and sapped the creative potential of Aboriginal faculty,
students, and communities at immense human cost. Some modification in
education to date has attempted to reconceal, minimize, sanitize, or even
affirm colonial practices radically at variance with Canada's professed
sense of itself, domestically and internationally. The consequence of
academic affirmation of colonialism-currently undertaken in the name of
excellence- diminishes the value and potential relevance of Indigenous
knowledges to education, and therefore to economic prosperity and social
justice in Canada. The Report concludes that the Canadian academy must
decolonize some of its traditional presumptions, curricula, research,
and teaching practices in order to live up to its obligations, its mission
statements, and alleged priorities for Aboriginal peoples.
The decolonization of existing Eurocentric thought is already under way
in the works of many scholars. However, the experiences of Indigenous
peoples engage decolonization in a distinct manner. Maori educator and
scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith, one of the leading theorists of decolonization
of the Maori in New Zealand, clarifies the nature of the task when she
writes: Decolonization is about centring our concerns and world
views and then coming to know and understand theory and research from
our own perspectives and for our own purposes (1999, 39). Thus understood,
this task of decolonizing education requires the centring of an Indigenous
renaissance and its empowering intercultural diplomacy.
But how can scholars develop, record, and most effectively share successful decolonizing practices across disciplines, institutions, and regions? This is the question at the heart of this program of research. The work to be done is shared interdisclipinary work that foregrounds the value of diversity and creativity. We-a Mi'kmaw specialist in Indigenous education, a visual historian, and a literary scholar-are already at work where we think we can make most headway: in education, visual culture, and the humanities. We are pursuing the project via archival and applied research, discourse analysis, community dialogue, pedagogical innovation, and policy formation. We recognize that the early efforts in a protracted process must be collaborative, interdisciplinary, and intercultural in method and diverse in their research outcomes: in curriculum design, teaching education, capacity building, cultural theory, and modes of dissemination. Our collaboration builds on our current researching and testing of decolonizing practices whose benefits will be broadly felt across Canada and beyond.
To build Canadian capacity for valuing and learning from the knowledges
and educational practices of diverse Aboriginal peoples;
To develop and refine strategies for identifying and overcoming anti-Aboriginal,
racist resistance in academic teaching, research, and community service;
To develop education, humanities, and visual culture as decolonizing
sites within Canadian universities for a subsequent, broader investigation
and improvement of Indigenizing across disciplines, across Canada, and
To develop non-appropriative, collaborative protocols and practices for
ethical research, learning, and teaching, especially where such research
and learning involve Aboriginal knowledges, languages, and
To support and enrich Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal graduate students,
and future faculty, in understanding their commitment to decolonizing
education in the university.
Displacing systemic discrimination against Indigenous peoples
created and legitimized by the cognitive frameworks of imperialism and
colonialism remains the single most crucial cultural challenge facing
humanity. Meeting this responsibility is not just a problem for the colonized
and the oppressed, but rather the defining challenge for all peoples.
It is the path to a shared and sustainable future for all peoples
Dr.-Mrs. Erica Irene Daes, United Nations Working Group on Indigenous
Peoples at the UNESCO Conference on Education, July 1999.
Imagine that for hundreds of years your peoples most formative
achievements and traumas, their daily suffering and pain, the abuse they
live through, the terror they live with, are ignored and silenced by the
educational system. Their stories, cast in romance novel stereotypes,
are occasionally brought forward, used to sanction some programmatic innovation
or support some theory of opposition and resistance, then re-positioned
in the margins of canonical knowledge within the educational system.
Consider that for more than a century, Aboriginal students have been
part of an assimilation plan, their heritage and knowledge ridiculed,
rejected, suppressed, and ignored by the education system that defines
its success as their loss, inferiority and silence. After
more than a century of this education, the Auditor General of Canada has
found only one in five Aboriginal children are in school and only 37%
of these ever get through high school (Auditor General Report 1999).
Of those who do go to school, they are immersed in provincial curricula
that ignore Aboriginal traditions and knowledge, their rich ecological
understandings, and their history- except where they intersect with Canadian
Unraveling the effects of generations of exploitation, violence, marginalization,
powerlessness, and enforced cultural imperialism on Aboriginal knowledges
and peoples was the task assigned to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal
Peoples (RCAP). It was a massive mobilization of Canadian scholars and
public servants, for its conclusions and recommendations reflect a broad
consensus of the most distinguished 150 Canadian and Aboriginal scholars
and the deliberations of fourteen policy teams composed of senior officials
and diverse specialists in government and politics (vol. 5; 296-305).
These understandings and recommendations are the result of interdisciplinary
research methods and policy analysis and represent the largest research
project ever undertaken in Canada. This Report and its recommendations
are foundational to this projects undertaking, as they offer the
most current understanding of the nature of the colonial problem, a repository
of comprehensive historical records of educational solutions and their
effects on Aboriginal peoples, and represents largely the voices and perspectives
of Aboriginal peoples themselves.
The Report officially ends the neglect and avoidance of the on-going
colonization of Aboriginal peoples in Canadian society. In 76,000 pages
of transcripts, 356 research studies, and five volumes of its final Report
(1996), its over-four hundred recommendations create a postcolonial
agenda for transforming the traumatic relationship between Aboriginal
peoples and Canadians and proposing solutions to stubborn problems.
In seeking to unravel Canadas colonial legacy, the Commission cited
education most frequently as the transforming agent for undoing and superceding
the colonial myths. The Reports historical analysis demonstrates
that Canada was developed on a foundation of false premises
or living lies (Vol. 1:247-53; Vol. 2:1). It stresses that
the power-hungry colonists, mostly of British heritage, viewed the continent
as unoccupied land; the indigenous inhabitants as wild, untutored, and
ignorant people living at a primitive level of evolutionary development
and given to strange customs and ungodly practices; and these inhabitants
would in time come to appreciate the superior civilization of the settler-colonizers
and adopt their ways; or, alternatively, the inhabitants would be left
behind in the march of progress and survive only as an anthropological
footnote (Vol. 2(1):1).
The Report notes how the false assumption of settler-invader superiority
positioned Aboriginal students as inherently inferior, contaminating residential
schools objectives, and systematically suppressing Aboriginal knowledges,
languages, and cultures (Vol. 1:251, 331-409). It argues that these ethnocentric
and demeaning attitudes linger in policies that purport to work on behalf
of Aboriginal people. It notes that while these false assumptions are
no longer formally acknowledged, this does not lessen their contemporary
influence and their capacity to generate modern variants (Vol. 1:249,
252-53). It proposes that the way of the future necessarily requires Canada
to dispense with of all notions of assimilation and subordination and
to develop a new relationship based on sharing, mutual recognition, respect,
The Report concludes that the painful legacy of our colonial history
bears heavily upon Aboriginal people in the form of cultural stress and
that the time has come to correct false assumptions in all their manifestations,
especially in education. Education is the key to escaping poverty (Ross,
Scott, and Smith, 2000), and is seen by the Commission as a significant
and strategy essential for change (Vol.2 (2):958-69). However, the Report
concludes that educational reform is not achieving the needed breakthrough.
It states only 3% of the few students entering university (8.6%) complete
their degree program (Vol. 3:440). Neither the assimilative nor the integrative
approaches in universities has succeeded in nurturing Aboriginal students;
furthermore, the schooling experience erodes their identities and self-worth
and their Indigenous knowledges. Those who continue in Canadas formal
education system encounter racism, racism expressed not only in interpersonal
exchanges but also through the denial of Aboriginal values, perspectives,
and cultures in the curriculum and the life of the institution.
The Report notes that despite such painful experiences Aboriginal
peoples still see education as the hope for the future, and they are determined
to see education fulfil its promise (Vol. 3:433-34). Like others, Aboriginal
peoples expect education to serve as a vehicle for cultural and economic
renewal. The Report maintains that since educational institutions have
a pivotal responsibility in transforming relations between Aboriginal
peoples and Canadian society, they should respect Aboriginal knowledges
and heritages as core responsibilities rather than a special project undertaken
after other obligations are met (Vol.3:515). However, it emphasizes that
nothing will happen without critical changes in processes and systems
of education. It recommends a proposal to implement lifelong, holistic,
culturally- appropriate education, and stresses the need to develop Aboriginal-controlled
education systems, including post-secondary educational institutions controlled
by Aboriginal people to protect by means of innovative curricula the integrity
of Aboriginal cultures and languages (Vol.5:220, 226-227).
The Reports central recommendation is that Aboriginal control
be established to promote Aboriginal knowledges, to pursue applied research,
and to disseminate information essential to achieving broad Aboriginal
development goals (Vol.3:517-520, 529-38). It recommends that universities
act to establish an Aboriginal college to serve as the focal point for
the academic, residential, social, and cultural lives of Aboriginal students
on their campuses, and to promote Aboriginal scholarship (Vol. 3:512-17).
Also, it recommends that existing public post-secondary institutions increase
the participation, retention, and graduation of Aboriginal students by
introducing, encouraging, or enhancing initiatives and programs, especially
in bachelors and masters level studies, professional training
(Vol.3:551-55), and comprehensive Aboriginal teacher education programs
(Vol.3:490-500). In the teacher education programs, it recommended certifying
those teaching Aboriginal specific subject matter ( Vol.3:498-500); incorporating
Aboriginal content and pedagogy into all programs, as well as Aboriginal
support, participation, and evaluation for the program (Vol.3:490-3);
and adopting multiple strategies to increase substantially the number
of Aboriginal secondary school teachers (Vol.3:493-98). Among the comprehensive
recommendations for the university was creating a welcoming environment
for Aboriginal students; ensuring Aboriginal content and perspectives
in course offerings across disciplines; developing Aboriginal studies
and cross-cultural sensitivity training for faculty and staff; and treating
Aboriginal languages as equivalent to European languages (Vol.3:512-17).
In all these undertakings, the Report emphasizes the value of elders
knowledge, and traditional Aboriginal arts (Vol. 3:525-29). Also, the
fs24 Report stresses the importance of correcting existing stereotypes
and self-portrayal in media and visual arts (Vol. 3:616-28), reviewing
all aspects of grants for visual arts to include aboriginal art and artists,
and supporting and promoting the revitalization of visual and performing
arts through training and facilities (Vol3:642-45).
The Report consistently views education as the key matrix of all
disciplinary and professional knowledge. Education and literacy have not
been benign, however, for cognitive imperialism licensed by dominant European
languages has tragically diminishes Aboriginal languages and knowledges
and contributes to the discontinuity and trauma Aboriginal peoples continue
to experience (Battiste, 1986, 1998, 2000). Unfortunately, Canadian universities,
their faculties, and disciplines have responded inadequately, failing
to correct historical prejudices and relegating Aboriginal knowledge and
heritage to the margins of university life, particularly to Departments
of Native Studies. Little effort has been made to develop new interdisciplinary
methodologies to integrate European and Aboriginal knowledge on a basis
of respect and equality.
To think beyond the university as a sanctuary unfettered in governing
its own affairs and unsullied by the world (Smith 1988, p. 10) is
an interdisciplinary research project. A truly postcolonial university
will result only from an aspirational practice whereby Aboriginal peoples
imagine and achieve new forms of education and society (Battiste, 2000).
Despite the massive outpouring recently of creative and scholarly work
dealing with or claiming to exemplify a version of the post-colonial (see
e.g., Spivak, Prakash, Noel, Ahmad, Williams and Chrisman, Rahnema and
Bawtree, and Willinsky), universities have not featured prominently as
an object of anti-colonial or actively decolonizing inquiry (cf. in the
case of India, e.g., Symonds, Viswanathan, and Majeed). Indeed, even the
important , recent SSHRC-sponsored conference at the University of Manitoba
(September 2000) addressing the question Is Canada Postcolonial?
paid little attention to the role of universities and colleges in reproducing
and rewarding colonial assumptions, methods of inquiry, and teaching.
The University of Saskatchewan where our research team is located has
been recognized for achievements in educating Aboriginal teachers and
training Native lawyers. However, its experience has also revealed deeper
assumptions and practices which, in effect, reaffirm Eurocentric and colonial
encounters in the name of excellence, integration, and modernity. Aboriginal
peoples achievements, knowledges, histories, and perspectives have
been ignored, rejected, suppressed, marginalized, or under-utilized. This
project seeks to animate change in postsecondary education using the Report
as its postcolonial foundation.
In this three-year project, our research methodologies will be collaborative,
interdisciplinary, and intercultural. They also are built upon principles
of Indigenous methodologies that emerge as we experience a piece
of the heart in the body of Indigenous research (Weber-Pillwax,
1999:31). Our research will adhere to RCAP Ethical Guidelines for Research
and SSHRC's Guidelines for Research Involving Aboriginal Peoples and will
avoid being appropriative in some glibly pan-Indian way. Rather we are
sensitive to the responsibilities and complexities involved in framing
and animating new sensibilities, preliminary processes, and tentative
We seek to secure acceptance of RCAPs recommendations in the educational
research practices of ourselves and those with whom we interact. Our primary
focus will be scholarship of teaching and education (Smith1991)-understood
as a fundamentally interdisciplinary site reshaped continuously by cultural
theories, directive curricula and teaching, institutional self-understandings
and practices, and training needs. In each of these four areas, we will
use the research data, testimony and recommendations of RCAP as standards
for evaluation of Canadian university education by analyzing responses
to RCAP since 1996 in its administrative efforts, curricula, visual imagery,
and mission statements.
Our evaluations of humanities, visual culture, and education will be
based on the decolonizing methodologies articulated by Linda Smith (1999:especially
142-161). We are particularly inspired by her complex yet transformative
notion of Indigenizing, which involves "non-indigenous activists
and intellectuals" while "centr[ing] a politics of [variegated]
indigenous identity and [concerted] indigenous cultural action".
Our analysis will rely on Aboriginal knowledges and heritages as understood
by the Elders; the medicine wheel pedagogy (Toulouse 1998); the decolonizing
methodologies of Indigenous scholars Alfred (1999), Henderson (2000);
on the interdisciplinary, Indigenous research networks developed by Battiste
via our International Summer Institute of 1996 and 1998; and non-Indigenous
scholarship such as the contextual analysis of Unger (1987), the intercultural
analysis of Tully (*), discourse analysis of Spivak, (1999); and the Indigenous
research insights of Battiste (1998) and Weber-Pillwaz (1999). Our reliance
on postcolonial and feminists theorists and practitioners will be secondary
to Indigenous protocols and practices.
Our interpretation and application of RCAP will include mapping new and
necessary capacities for postcolonial research, teaching, training, and
public education. We will draw on our experience of working together in
a variety of combinations, formats, and for Aboriginal talking circles,
participation action research (PAR), interdisciplinary dialogues developed
by Bohm (1996) and Isaacs (1999), and collaborative archival projects.
Consistent with the notion of Indigenizing are the processes of "animation",
which reflect an Indigenous emphasis on processes and understandings,
and are intended to position our activities within inclusive animism characteristic
of Indigenous knowledge and the role of dialogues as the basis of effective
Indigenous knowledges and teachings. These processes have proved effective
in generate successful results from difficult conversations (Isaacs, 1999).
Such animating dialogues will be generated from a variety of sources: the research teams weekly sharing of information in electronic journals; monthly teaching circles of assigned readings from RCAPs documents and reports; travel, archival, and analytical research tasks examined for durable best principles; and best practices, ideas, and analogues worth archiving and pursuing further. Moreover, a postcolonial graduate course and curriculum will be jointly developed and facilitated in the second term of each of the first two years. This mode of proceeding will provide the impetus and focus for a series of Indigenizing colloquia, exhibitions, and performances which will bring different academic and non-academic communities together in respectful, non-appropriative ways. Another site of animation will be a web-site where we will archive primary and secondary sources, models of effectively decolonizing critique and practice, and suggestive commentary on institutional and pedagogical change.