To Indigenize or To Not Indigenize?: That is not my question.

I have spent the last three weeks at an anti-oppressive summer institute at the University of Regina, taking two Masters classes about anti-oppressive education and curriculum development. I followed this up with three days at the Public Engagement and the Politics of Evidence Symposium. Throughout all of this I have been struggling with the concept of Indigenization.

Without getting into debates about the concept of Indigenization and whether or not it promotes a homogenized, essentialized, colonial vision of Indigeneity as knowable and doable by non-Indigenous people; Without debating the reformability of universities and whether or not Indigenization is even possible; Without even talking about the irony of “Indigenization” being an English word… I’d like to talk about what it looks like for a non-Indigenous person to work towards Indigenization, to work towards re-centering Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing.

I understand that the burden of dismantling colonialism must not rest solely or even primarily, on Indigenous peoples, that I must shoulder much of this weight, as a non-Indigenous person. I understand the need for recognizing the long history of Aboriginal peoples on this land. I hear the Aboriginal voices that are calling me to listen and to make space for and attend to their stories. I understand the urgent and present call for reconciliation and relationship building between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. I do not dispute any of this.

However, I do feel compelled to tread carefully into this land of Indigenization. And as I have voiced my concerns over the last few days, ruminating openly about how to go about Indigenizing in a good way, as a non-Indigenous person, I have met with active resistance from both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike. Over and over again I have been told to get on with it, enough of this navel gazing, you know what you need to do… Just go do it. When I raise the issue of the possibility of cultural appropriation, I have been immediately and decisively dismissed. “Cultural appropriation” has become the red flag of White resistance, and unwittingly I have found myself raising it.

White people, I am told, will not do the important work of Indigenizing if they are troubled with issues of cultural appropriation. We must not overcomplicate this. Keep it simple. Just do it. Just Indigenize already.

I wonder at this narrative of White people as simplistic bearers of either colonialism or Indigenization, unwitting pawns in greater schemes. I wonder at the quickness with which my (in my mind at least) thoughtful engagement is dismissed as racist resistance.

I know things must change. I know that I will work to bring about this change. But dismissing White soul searching and critical reflection as an impediment to change, not worthy of discussion or debate is a dangerous path.

Co-opting of the Indigenizing movement by well-intentioned White people is a real possibility. The continued reification of colonial structures as we busy ourselves with Indigenous wallpaper is not inconceivable. Shauneen Pete, the Executive Lead for Indigenization at the U of R, spoke today at the symposium. She said, in her address this morning: “You better know what you’re doing, otherwise you trivialize everything.”

Al-Anon has a saying: Don’t just do something, sit there. This reminds me that action is not always the best first response. I’m not saying we don’t need to Indigenize and I’m not saying that I’m not committed to doing it. I am saying that I need some time to think this through. I am asking for some help as I work to figure this out.