1 Indigenization, Decolonization, and Reconciliation

If we want to contribute to systemic change, we need to understand the concepts Indigenization, decolonization, and reconciliation. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but according to Indigenous scholars and activists (see Alfred, 2009; Alfred & Corntassel, 2005; Pete, 2015), they are separate but interrelated processes.


Indigenization is a process of naturalizing Indigenous knowledge systems and making them evident to transform spaces, places, and hearts. In the context of post-secondary education, this involves bringing Indigenous knowledge and approaches together with Western knowledge systems. This benefits not only Indigenous students but all students, teachers, and community members involved or impacted by Indigenization.

Indigenous knowledge systems  are embedded in relationship to specific lands, culture, and community. Because they are diverse and complex, Indigenization will be a unique process for every post-secondary institution.

It is important to note that Indigenization does not mean changing something Western into something Indigenous. The goal is not to replace Western knowledge with Indigenous knowledge, and the goal is not to merge the two into one. Rather, Indigenization can be understood as weaving or braiding together two distinct knowledge systems so that learners can come to understand and appreciate both. Therefore, we recommend that you use the word Indigenization cautiously and take care not to use it when Indigenous content is simply added to a course or when something Western is replaced with something Indigenous. Rather, it refers to a deliberate coming together of these two ways of knowing.


Decolonization refers to the process of deconstructing colonial ideologies of the superiority and privilege of Western thought and approaches. On the one hand, decolonization involves dismantling structures that perpetuate the status quo, problematizing dominant discourses, and addressing unbalanced power dynamics. On the other hand, decolonization involves valuing and revitalizing Indigenous knowledge and approaches and weeding out settler biases or assumptions that have impacted Indigenous ways of being. Decolonization necessitates shifting our frames of reference with regard to the knowledge we hold; examining how we have arrived at such knowledge; and considering what we need to do to change misconceptions, prejudice, and assumptions about Indigenous Peoples. For individuals of settler identity, decolonization is the process of examining your beliefs about Indigenous Peoples and culture by learning about yourself in relationship to the communities where you live and the people with whom you interact.


Reconciliation is about addressing past wrongs done to Indigenous Peoples, making amends, and improving relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to create a better future for all. Chief Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has stated, “Reconcilliation is not an Aboriginal problem – it involves all of us”

You can think about reconciliation as work to ameliorate a damaged relationship. Imagine that there was an individual who had been abused, lied to, and exploited for years – that person would have a lot of fear, mistrust, and trauma. The abuser would also have negative feelings: shame, guilt, self-blame, and possibly anger toward the victim. The abuser may even blame the victim. Repairing this relationship would mean apologizing, rebuilding trust, hearing each other’s stories, getting to know each other to appreciate each other’s humanity, and taking concrete action to show that the relationship will be different from now on.

With reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, we are not only talking about a relationship between two individuals, but we are also talking about a relationship between multiple groups of people and between many generations over hundreds of years. Clearly, the onus for this action is on the party that perpetrated the harm, which in this case is settler society. You can see from this example that reconciliation necessarily involves intensive emotional work for all parties. For Indigenous people it means revisiting experiences of trauma and becoming open to forgiveness, and for settlers it involves gaining in-depth understanding of one’s own relation to Indigenous Peoples and the impacts of colonization, including recognizing settler privilege and challenging the dominance of Western views and approaches.

Interrelationships between Indigenization, decolonization, and reconciliation

Decolonization is a component of Indigenization, because it means challenging the dominance of Western thought and bringing Indigenous thought to the forefront. Indigenization is part of reconciliation, because it involves creating a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. But these processes have important distinctions. Most notably, reconciliation is primarily a settler responsibility, and decolonization must be led by Indigenous people. In addition, the emotional work of reconciliation is different from that of Indigenization and decolonization, which have less of a focus on making amends for past traumas, and a greater focus on mainstreaming Indigenous thought. Willie Ermine (2007) writes about the ways in which these processes are related, explaining that reconciling Indigenous and Western worldviews: “ … is the fundamental problem of cultural encounters. Shifting our perspectives to recognize that the Indigenous-West encounter is about thought worlds may also remind us that frameworks or paradigms are required to reconcile these solitudes” (p. 201).



Activity 1: Decolonizing Our Practice, Indigenizing Our Teaching 

Time: 60 min

Type: Individual

Read Pete, Schneider, & O’Reilly’s (2013) article Decolonizing Our Practice, Indigenizing Our Teaching  [PDF][1] for a deeper exploration of what these terms entail from the perspective of three female (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) academics.

  • Use the subheadings in their article to document your own position and perception of these topics, constructs, and issues as they relate to your institution, your students, and your colleagues.
  • If possible, engage one or two colleagues in a conversation similar to the authors’ conversation.

  1. Decolonizing Our Practice, Indigenizing Our Teaching: http://www.mfnerc.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Section6_Decolonizing-Our-Practice-Indigenizing-Our-Teaching.pdf


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Pulling Together: A Guide for Curriculum Developers Copyright © 2018 by Asma-na-hi Antoine; Rachel Mason; Roberta Mason; Sophia Palahicky; and Carmen Rodriguez de France is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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