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Decolonization 101

One of the driving principles behind my work in consulting, facilitation, teaching, and curriculum design is the application of de-colonial methods to my practice. While that sounds good in principle it means another thing in practice, entirely. I often find myself expressing decolonization as a practice, not perfection, a journey, not a destination.


What is Decolonization?


While there is no universal definition of what decolonization is, I encourage you to continue to research and discover what this work means for you as an Indigenous person, or what this work means for you as a non-Indigenous person, in your life and within your career. I personally define decolonization as the deconstruction, dismantling, and disrupting of cultural barriers that separate us, suppress us, and often oppress us. Often these barriers manifest into power imbalances in the institutions we work for, cognitive imperialism (viewing one method or knowledge system as superior to others), corporate work cultures, & efficiency and capitalistic methodologies.


Who is Decolonization for?


I think there is a common misconception that de-colonial work is solely for the work of Indigenous people. That is not so in my perspective. De-colonial work is for all human-beings on this planet. Colonial ideology is a driving force behind much of humanity's afflictions: impoverished countries, racial traumas, environmental exploitation, global social injustice, and international war. It is my belief that everyone can benefit from validating and embracing a de-colonial practice and approach to their work and way of life. Who benefits from de-colonial work? Not just us Indigenous peoples, but many marginalized and targeted communities like communities of women, people with disabilities, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Two-Spirit, Black, people of colour, new comers to Canada, people who live in poverty, and people who use substances, to name a few.


Where can de-colonial work take place?


De-colonial work can take place in a multitude of faucets where we carry out our day to day operations: planning, policy development and review, teaching and learning, new employee training, the physical spaces we work, institutional governance, and professional development. There is no place where de-colonial work cannot be implemented. When we adopt a de-colonial practice this helps our institutions and organizations lean into systemic transformation for the greater good of the people and staff it serves.


When can this be done?


There is no time as good as now to begin the work of decolonizing your professional practice, your personal life, your team or your organization. Whatever it is that has led you here to reading this blog post is all you need to continue your own life-long learning and unlearning journey to transform your work and practice. If you are waiting for the perfect time get involved it may never come and the work might not ever get done. De-colonial work is a bit messy and imperfect such as any work in deconstruction and dismantling.


Why decolonize anything?


It is my firm belief that we each develop our own sense of why we show up to the work we do. De-colonial work involves your full-self into the process. It will take your mind, body, emotions, and spirit holistically to do this work. The biggest 'AHA' moments I get from de-colonial approaches is finding solutions to significant issues with a new lens, a fresh perspective that is often rooted in ancient wisdom and real time experience. De-colonial approaches benefit the entirety of human sepia by reflecting social justice work, equity-oriented approaches, diversity and inclusivity in the institutions we work for.


How do we decolonize? (4 steps to get you going)


  1. Step one - admit there is a problem at an institutional level in the places we work for. Whether we work in Canadian health, education, justice, or community organizations (Indigenous governments and organizations included!), we work in a practice and an infrastructure that is rooted in colonial ideology and most often one world view that values literacy, science, one reality, competition, success by material gain, objective lenses, bureaucratic authority, systems of control, and an emphasis on the nuclear family. While this is not a bad approach it can be enhanced by balancing it out with Indigenous knowledge and values like orality, spirituality, multiple realities, cooperation, success by relationships, subjective lenses, relational authority, systems of empowerment, and an emphasis on a community of families.

  2. Step two - recognize that most of modern day business is driven by ideas and actions, ideas and actions, ideas and actions. What we need to do is inject a pause in this collaborative process and make space for other ways of being, doing and knowing. For example, if you find yourself at a planning meeting for an event (as we all do these days), use your voice and position to advocate for an Indigenous perspective to be included in the process. This would help interweave the work with another way of doing business, thus, strengthening the experience of the event for your staff and participants.

  3. Step three - while we are driven by systems of perfection and efficiency, we need to recognize that this work is NOT perfect. in fact it is imperfect and we need to be okay with that. Mistakes are going to happen and that is okay. We can put aside our professional ego and apologize and more importantly, re-commit to the work moving forward and commit to life long learning with humility as a core value.

  4. Step four - develop relationships with folks who know the work. Relationships are an essential Indigenous value and mobilization of knowledge. So my recommendation would be to include Indigenous thought leaders into your social or professional bubble as mentors, peers, Elders, knowledge keepers, friends, and allies in this work. That way de-colonial work becomes not just something you know, it becomes something you live.

With respect and gratitude,


Len Pierre (Pul-ee-qwee-luck)


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