Introduction Theoretical Framework
In Dwayne Donald’s Pedagogy of the Fort (2009) he draws upon the symbol of the fort to represent the continued presence of our colonial past within contemporary Canada. Forts continue to inhabit the Canadian landscape, and many have become significant museums and tourist attractions. The colonial symbolism of these forts ties in powerfully with the foundational myths of Eurowestern society in which brave and civilized Europeans came to discover and conquer a new, savage land. The fort is a symbol of this power and domination, this exclusion and separation. Europeans congregated and came to rule from within the safety of the forts’ walls while Indigenous peoples were kept at a safe distance outside.
In many ways, schools are the new forts.
In many ways, schools are the new forts. Forts were built on the frontier, at the “borderland between civilization and barbarism” (Donald, 2009, p.178). Schools too exist on this borderland between (presumed) ignorance and Knowledge. Forts sought to extend colonial power into terra nullius, assuming an empty land, assuming a one-way flow of power and influence. Schools similarly assume a terra nullius of sorts when it comes to their students. Students are treated as empty vessels to be filled and moved along. Teachers are given an extensive curriculum to impart to their students. Nowhere in the curriculum does it provide for teachers to learn anything from their students. And schools themselves remain remarkably unchanged by the thousands of students who walk in and out of their doors. This one-way flow of power of influence through schools and schooling is the new fort system.
The value systems enforced and projected by forts are very similar to schools. The forts were a hub for European knowledge and ways of knowing, a cornerstone of the colonial project of nation-building, a way to control and dominate the local population. Schools and schooling follow the same trajectory, enforcing conformity to Eurowestern standards while actively excluding Indigenous peoples from meaningful participation (Donald, 2009; Kerr, 2014, Schick, 2000; St. Denis, 2011). Indigenous peoples, most visibly, have experienced the Canadian education system as colonial violence and domination. However, the colonizing results of our schooling have affected everyone. Donald contends that the “daily operations of schools and classrooms are heavily influenced by colonial frontier logics and often replicate the pedagogy of the fort in troubling ways” (p.21).
Forts, though, were not only sites of exclusion. Forts were also meeting places, sites of trade and relationships between settlers and Indigenous people.
Forts, though, were not only sites of exclusion. Forts were also meeting places, sites of trade and relationships between settlers and Indigenous people. The forts’ walls and fortifications were simultaneously permeable and impermeable. How secure the fortifications were, depended largely on who was manning the gates. How colonial a classroom is, depends largely on who is teaching the class. Schools too are permeable. Lately significant initiatives have been undertaken across Canada to respectfully consider Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, being one example. Indigeneity has begun to permeate the fortress classroom.
I see my classroom walls as permeable, as a colonial space endeavoring to do differently, endeavoring to respectfully consider Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing.
In the process of exploring how to create an ethical and anti-colonial classroom, I will draw from this concept of schools as forts. I see my classroom walls as permeable, as a colonial space endeavoring to do differently, endeavoring to respectfully consider Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing. I hesitate, though, to call this Indigenization.
Linda Tuhiwai Smith identified Indigenization, in her book Decolonizing Methodologies (2012), as one of “Twenty-five Indigenous Projects” (p.238) needed to be undertaken in order to ensure the “survival of peoples, cultures and languages” and to further “the struggle to become self-determining.” Smith identified Indigenization as having two dimensions. First, a “centering in consciousness of the landscapes, images, languages, themes, metaphors and stories of the indigenous world” (p.244). This dimension of Indigenization, Smith contended, could involve non-indigenous activists and intellectuals. The second aspect of Indigenization involves drawing upon Indigenous knowledge, traditions and values and centering a “politics of indigenous identity and indigenous cultural action” (p.245). This dimension, Smith clarified, “is more of an indigenous project.”
First published in 1999, Decolonizing Methodologies, in part, inspired Len Findlay to publish a call to action, “Always Indigenize!: The Radical Humanities in the Postcolonial Canadian University” (2000). Findlay’s article was swiftly anthologized and has since enjoyed a “meteoric institutional embrace” (Braz, 2015, p.89). Now, a little more than a decade later, Indigenization has become a force to be reckoned with, with many universities across Canada requiring all of their students to complete Indigenous studies courses, regardless of students’ specialization. At the University of Regina, Indigenization features prominently in the school’s five-year strategic plan, Peyak Aski Kikawinaw: Together We Are Stronger 2015-2020.
Dr. Shauneen Pete (2015), the University of Regina’s Executive Lead for Indigenization has defined Indigenization as the “re-centering [of] Indigenous epistemes, ontologies and methodologies” (p.65).
This move to “Indigenize” the academy is not without significant opposition, however. Dr. Shauneen Pete (2015), the University of Regina’s Executive Lead for Indigenization has defined Indigenization as the “re-centering [of] Indigenous epistemes, ontologies and methodologies” (p.65). Yet, the very term itself, Indigenization, is problematic due to its lack of specificity, as it appears to “collectivize many distinct populations whose experiences under imperialism have been vastly different” (Smith, 2012, p.38). Which Indigenous epistemes, ontologies and methodologies are we centering? Who decides? Furthermore, can an Indigenous world-view even exist in a university setting, being as it is a colonial space, historically disconnected from the context of the land and language on which Indigenous knowledge depends? “Within appropriate Indigenous frameworks, oral traditions are relevant and rich with meaning; outside of these frameworks, meaning can be lost” (Hill, 2012, p.3). For many Indigenous scholars, locating Indigenous knowledge within Indigenous structures, and grounding Indigenous identities and practices, within Indigenous communities, and not the university, is of ultimate importance (Hill, p.2). Simpson (2004) stated,
When [Indigenous] knowledge is made into a text, it is translated from Indigenous languages into English, locking its interpretation in a cognitive box delineated by the structure of a language that evolved to communicate the worldview of the colonizers. It is also stripped of its dynamism and its fluidity and confined to a singular context. It is void of the spatial relationships created between Elder and youth. It becomes generalized and depersonalized. It is separated from the land, from the worlds of the spirits, from its source and its meaning, and from the methodologies for transmission that provide the rigor that ensures its proper communication. It becomes coerced and manipulated into a form that cannot possibly transform or decolonize. (p.380)
What is the purpose of this drive to Indigenize? Is it to work towards ultimate decolonization, the repatriation of Indigenous land and life, or is it simply to improve the academy, infusing the university and “Western thought with new life (Indigenous life?)”
Setting aside whether Indigenization is even possible then in a university/colonial context, we must wonder if it is even desirable. What is the purpose of this drive to Indigenize? Is it to work towards ultimate decolonization, the repatriation of Indigenous land and life, or is it simply to improve the academy, infusing the university and “Western thought with new life (Indigenous life?)” (Hill, p.2). Is Indigenization about “assisting Indigenous peoples in reclaiming their lands and their (Indigenous) lives” (Hill, p.2, emphasis in original) or is it about making a show of appearing to improve, while in the meantime ensuring settler futurity with “elaborate track-covering” (Tuck, 2013, p. 77). Foucault has argued that the modern state is able to effectively establish and maintain authority precisely “because it takes into account the knowledge and/or understanding of populations as they already exist” (as referenced in Hill, 2012, p.3, emphasis in original). In which case, rather than a move towards decolonization, Indigenization might actually work to strengthen our existing colonial framework.
The logistics of Indigenization are also difficult. Whose job is it to Indigenize? As Indigenous thinkers take up the call to Indigenize universities, they are called away from their own communities and the important work of restoring health to their own institutions. Meanwhile, non-Indigenous academics and educators, like myself, looking to Indigenize their classrooms are equally problematic.
Sherene Razack (1998) has written about the problem with White teachers employing various strategies to “accommodate” their culturally diverse classrooms. White teachers who endeavour to “manage” the diversity in their classrooms by using cross-cultural techniques and pedagogical “tricks” do nothing to deconstruct “the veils and the racial defects that haunt the imagination of both the colonizer and the colonized and that mark the encounter between them, our best intentions notwithstanding” (p.9). Using a variety of instructional strategies, while good pedagogy, does not in itself do anything to problematize our on-going colonialism. Furthermore, as a non-Indigenous person, it would be difficult to approach Indigenization without stumbling, however inadvertently, into the “appropriation and misuse of the cultural practices of subordinant groups” (p.9). Despite my very best intentions, I am not Indigenous and have not been raised knowing Indigenous epistemes, ontologies and methodologies. I am bound to get it wrong, and likely very wrong. In Sheila Cote-Meek’s (2014) book Colonized Classrooms she interviewed Aboriginal professors about the challenges they faced in their classrooms. One professor spoke plainly about the cultural appropriation she saw non-Aboriginal instructors perpetuating. Ultimately she said that “you can’t convert to being a Native person, it doesn’t work that way. They [non-Aboriginal professors] need to go to their own identity, their own family” (p.79).
Fundamentally, I cannot “know” what it is to be Indigenous.
Furthermore, as a White teacher attempting to Indigenize my classroom I run the very real risk of continuing to reify what Razack deemed the “cornerstone of imperialism: [that] the colonized possess a series of knowable characteristics and can be studied, known, and managed accordingly by the colonizers whose own complicity remains masked” (p.10). Who am I to decide what constitutes Indigeneity and how to go about infusing this into my classroom? It is going to take more than “a little practice and the right information” (p.10) for this to be done well. Fundamentally, I cannot “know” what it is to be Indigenous. Any attempt for me to Indigenize, therefore, is highly problematic.
Equally troubling, are Razack’s comments about the hiring ramifications of the cultural differences approach. “Cultural sensitivity, to be acquired and practised by dominant groups, replaces  any concrete attempt to diversify the teacher population. If white teachers can learn the appropriate cultural rules, we need not hire Black [or, in this case, Indigenous] teachers” (p.10). Hill wondered provocatively if “with the right approach in place, Indigenous people are not even necessary for indigenizing?” (2012, p.2, emphasis in original). Even a partial success of Indigenizing my classroom would mask the fundamental need for Indigenous teachers in my school. It would send the completely false message that Indigeneity was learnable and performable by White teachers.
I am therefore confident that I, as a non-Indigenous person, cannot/should not Indigenize my classroom. What word to use then to describe what I want to do? How do I describe that I want to make space for Indigenous voices in my classroom? That I want to take up seriously alternate worldviews? That I want myself and my students to be connected in a real and meaningful way to the land and the legacy of the land? To remember our history of colonialism? To interrogate our present colonialism? To take up a settler awakening?
Ermine argued that Canada now finds itself embroiled in the “sordid and cumulative conditions of sociopolitical entanglement, an irritable bond of communities and trans-cultural confusion” (p.197).
Willie Ermine (2007) has written powerfully about the need for an ethical space of engagement as a framework for relationship building between Western society and Indigenous peoples. He has argued that each entity, both Western and Indigenous, is “moulded from a distinct history, knowledge tradition, philosophy, and social and political reality” (p.194) which creates a schism in understanding between these two groups. The “precarious nature of [our] co-existence” (p.196) has played out in cycles of engagement and disengagement leading to the state we find ourselves in now. Ermine argued that Canada now finds itself embroiled in the “sordid and cumulative conditions of sociopolitical entanglement, an irritable bond of communities and trans-cultural confusion” (p.197).
Barker (2009) has noted that as Indigenous peoples have “proven resistant to being physically or legislatively extinguished, in order to secure the territory of Canada for further imperial imposition, Indigenous peoples are now assaulted on social, cultural, and intellectual levels” (p.326). One of these intellectual assaults is the “brick wall of a deeply embedded belief and practice of Western universality” (Ermine, 2007, p.198) that Indigenous peoples encounter in the West. This notion of universality remains “simmering, unchecked, enfolded as it is, in the subconscious of the masses and recreated from the archives of knowledge and systems, rules and values of colonialism” (p.198). Our schools and my classroom have been no exception, continually centering the Settler experience as the norm, Othering Indigenous experiences and worldviews, and relegating Indigenous discourse to the sidelines, if at all.
Blackfoot scholar, Leroy Little Bear (2000), has described an Indigenous worldview as one where everything is constantly moving and changing, manifested in cyclical patterns, where process is more important than product. In this worldview, everything is animate, where humanity is but one part of a vast network of relations. What has importance is the wholeness and totality of creation rather than the individual. Harmony and balance are key values.
This is anathema to much of Western philosophy and worldview where linear constructions, individuality and objectivity are paramount. Instead of viewing the world as cyclical energy forces to be engaged with harmoniously, Western thought has continued to value dominance and control and this has “tended to take precedence over all other concerns” (Barker, 2009, p.343). One of the problems with colonialism, as noted by Little Bear (2000), is that it tries to “maintain a singular social order by means of force and law, suppressing the diversity of human worldviews” (p.77).
This whiteness appears to be “commonsensical, universal and value-neutral” and represents the “normative practices and discourses upon which everything is measured” (p.75).
Calderón (2006) has named this singular or one-dimensional worldview that is taught in schools, a “flattened epistemology”. She has argued that public education represents one of the most important sites in which one-dimensional ideology is produced. A flattened epistemology is one that is “hierarchical, unidirectional, and reductive” and that assumes a “singular way of knowing that precludes critical intervention” (p.75). Flowing singularly from the Establishment, a flattened epistemology is “predetermined and disseminated to reproduce whiteness” (p.75). This whiteness appears to be “commonsensical, universal and value-neutral” and represents the “normative practices and discourses upon which everything is measured” (p.75).
In contrast, creating an ethical space of engagement, provides a space where we can “step out of our allegiances,  detach from the cages of our mental worlds and assume a position where human-to-human dialogue can occur” (p.202). This ethical space requires “a protracted effort to create a level playing field where notions of universality are replaced by concepts such as the equality of nations… and a cooperative spirit between Indigenous people and Western institutions” (p.202). An ethical space of engagement is “the affirmation of human diversity” (p.202) that recognizes and ensures the freedom of Indigenous peoples to be themselves. An ethical space of engagement can become a “refuge of possibility” that shifts the “status quo of an asymmetrical social order to a partnership model between world communities” (p.203). As a non-Indigenous person, I cannot Indigenize my classroom but I can work to create an ethical space of engagement. I do recognize, however, that the game is rigged and that calling my classroom an ethical space does not automatically make it so. We are not on a level playing field, and both myself and my classroom exist at the nexus of intersecting structures of dominance. Nonetheless, fostering human-to-human dialogue, working to create a refuge of possibility and to dismantle the brick wall of Western universality are worthy goals even though they are not easily or maybe ever fully achievable.
Donald (2009) has argued that decolonization in the Canadian context can “only occur when Aboriginal peoples and Canadians face each other across historic divides, deconstruct their shared past, and engage critically with the realization that their present and future is similarly tied together” (p.5). Creating this ethical space where my students and I can face each other across historic divides is what I want to occur in my classroom. But I won’t go so far as to say that this is decolonization.
Tuck and Yang (2012) have argued, provocatively and compellingly, that decolonization is not a metaphor. “Decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools” (p.1).
It is common to equate the creation of these types of spaces or attempts to Indigenize, with decolonization (Donald, 2009; Pete, 2015; Pete, Schneider & O’Reilly, 2013). However, Tuck and Yang (2012) have argued, provocatively and compellingly, that decolonization is not a metaphor. “Decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools” (p.1). For this reason, I avoid framing my efforts to create an ethical and anti-colonial classroom in terms of decolonization. That said, while repatriation of Indigenous land may be the ultimate goal of decolonization, what this will look like is “not fully in view and can’t be as long as decolonization remains punctuated by metaphor” (p.35). I agree that decolonizing one’s mind seems a small first step. However, I do think there are practical decolonizing acts that can be undertaken on the way to the repatriation of Indigenous land, which may begin to bring full decolonization into view. It seems unlikely for the decolonization of Canada to occur when the population has been educated in Western universality and “divisive civilizational myths” (Donald, 2009, p.2). By creating an ethical space of engagement, my classroom will work to become a place where the structures of colonialism and oppression will become visible, and where students will begin to see themselves within them. This is not decolonization in and of itself, but it is a crucial step towards beginning to engage with these ideas.
Instead of Indigenization and Decolonization then, I aim to frame this work in terms of anti-colonialism. This term seems to better describe an attempt to fight against colonialism rather than the term ‘decolonization’, which I feel Tuck and Yang have successfully claimed in terms of repatriation of Indigenous land and life.
Colonialism is as a form of domination in which settlers from a colonizing power migrate permanently to a colony displacing the original population (Horvath, 1972). This initial displacement is followed by unequal relations between the colonized and the colonizers (Veracini, 2011). These unequal relations manifest in a “lack of reciprocity, disequilibrium of power, the use of force by an outside agent, and the interruption of social, economic, and institutional development” (Pratt, 2004, p.447). Normal relations are based on an equilibrium, a balance of forces and this is what anti-colonialism hopes to attain.
Anti-colonialism is also a “language of resistance for and from the oppressed” in which the dominant must also participate, “as the colonizer is no less colonized than any of his victims” (p.14).
Kempf (2009) has defined anti-colonialism as a resistance-based approach to understanding and countering colonialism. It is a “holistic reading of domination and resistance” (p.14) that raises important issues regarding the intersectionality of oppression. Understanding privilege, and making it visible are key components of anti-colonialism. Anti-colonialism is also a “language of resistance for and from the oppressed” in which the dominant must also participate, “as the colonizer is no less colonized than any of his victims” (p.14). Anti-colonial thought, therefore, involves both resistance as well as dominant accountability. Anti-colonialism differs from post-colonialism by positioning colonialism as transhistorical rather than historical, persisting in both colonized and colonizing nations. “Colonialism is alive and well in our classrooms, curricula, popular press, and popular culture” (Kempf, p.26). Perhaps most importantly, Kempf has defined anti-colonialism as a “strategic approach to decolonization” (p.15), working from the ontological premise that change is possible and oppression can be overcome.