3 The Need to Indigenize
Exclusion and misrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples
Academic curricula have primarily been developed in ways that privilege the dominant, Euro-Western culture through the content, approaches to teaching and learning, and values about knowledge. The experiences, worldviews, and histories of Indigenous Peoples have been excluded in education systems, because they were seen as less valuable or relevant. Perceptions of Indigenous Peoples were often misrepresentative and perpetuated stereotypes. This exclusion and misrepresentation was one of the most damaging impacts of colonialism and one of the strongest tools of assimilation. As Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2012) writes, “Imperialism has been perpetuated through the ways in which knowledge about indigenous peoples was collected, classified and then represented in various ways back to the West, and then, through the eyes of the West, back to those who have been colonized” (p. 1).
Indigenization is not multiculturalism
When talking about Indigenization, it is important to keep in mind that this process and approach to working in post-secondary institutions is different from approaches that place multiculturalism at the centre. While multiculturalism approaches are also necessary and relevant, they differ from Indigenization at a philosophical, political, and systemic level. A question we often hear when trying to include Indigenous perspectives into the curriculum is: “Why are we not including other ethnic groups if Canada is a culturally diverse country?” In response to this question, it is important to remember the following:
- Indigenization does not require abandoning multiculturalism; both can be practiced side-by-side.
- While multiculturalism as a law and as policy also recognizes Indigenous Peoples, it does not address the social injustices and racist policies to which Indigenous Peoples have been subjected. The history and current situation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada differs in significant ways from immigrants and minority settlers. These differences must be acknowledged to form respectful relationships.
- We all live on Indigenous lands, many of which were never ceded but were stolen by settler governments. Those of us who are settlers are considered to be visitors in the lands of Indigenous Peoples. Out of respect, we must come to know, understand, and value Indigenous culture. This means learning about local cultures, languages, and protocols.
Unfortunately, there is sometimes greater cultural acceptance for multiculturalism than Indigenization, and we still have a long way to go when it comes to respecting and valuing Indigenous worldviews. Jim Silver (2006) illustrates this point: “Canada takes pride for example, in being the destination for many runaway African-American slaves who were fleeing their captors by taking the ‘underground railway’ in search of freedom. Yet Canada’s police force relentlessly hunted down Aboriginal children who had escaped captivity in a residential school” (p. 24).
While multiculturalism presents a valuable approach to honouring diversity, Indigenization is a distinct process that needs to be practiced in its own right, and the two should not be merged together in policy or practice.
The benefits of Indigenization
Indigenization is not an “Indigenous issue,” and it is not undertaken solely to benefit Indigenous students. Indigenization benefits everyone; we all gain a richer understanding of the world and of our specific location in the world through awareness of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives. Indigenization also contributes to a more just world, creating a shared understanding that opens the way toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. It also counters the impacts of colonization by upending a system of thinking that has typically discounted Indigenous knowledge and history.
Mi’kmaq educator Marie Battiste (2002) emphasizes that we should view Indigenous and Western knowledge systems not as oppositional binaries, but rather as concepts that complement each other, with Indigenous knowledge as a source to fill the gaps within Eurocentric models of teaching, learning, research, and education processes. Similarly, Elder Albert Marshall from the Eskasoni Mi’kmaq First Nation (2012) describes Etuaptmumk, the approach of two-eyed seeing, as a way to learn to appreciate both Indigenous and Western knowledges and ways of knowing, and he says that using these two perspectives can be to our benefit. He contends that by fostering an active engagement with both ways of seeing, we are providing all students with support systems to move toward a decolonized academy.
Activity 1: Two-Eyed Seeing
Time: 20 min
Two-Eyed Seeing – Elder Albert Marshall’s guiding principle for inter-cultural collaboration [PDF] offers a comprehensive view of the two-eyed seeing approach to understanding Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledges. After you have read it, reflect on the ways in which this approach appreciates Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives and sees them as necessary for personal advancement and development.
Activity 2: Aboriginal Perspectives in Education
Time: 5 min
View the video Aboriginal Worldviews and Perspectives in the Classroom: Moving Forward. Although it was created for the K–12 system, think about what you can learn from this video about the need for Indigenization for all students.