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  • Writer's pictureJen Greenway

5 Steps to Start Your Decolonization Journey

Decolonizing your mind, heart and Spirit is a long journey when colonial institutions have fought hard to ingrain their values and beliefs within not only your conscious mind but within your subconscious mind as well. It can be a daunting task to look at Reconciliation and not know where to start. Whether you’re Indigenous or a Settler, here are 5 Steps to Start Your Decolonization Journey and get you on your way to dismantling colonialism.

Don’t forget to go to the Go Smudge Yourself Podcast later this week for the next 5!


1. Get to know the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action and do what you can to begin fighting for their implementation The TRC has multiple reports to read, and it's a lot of content to work through. I, myself, haven't read it all so if you're intimidated just know that you're not the only one. Start with the 94 Calls to Action because they’re broken up into sections or groupings that make it easier to digest the list, and even easier to reference. The resources are entirely online and FREE, which makes them accessible to most people.

I recommend saving a copy of the 94 Calls to Action or printing it out and referencing it frequently. Trudeau used it as his campaign platform in 2016 and has since only completed 14...We need to hold him and his government accountable, and once you understand what's on that very important list you'll be able to participate in doing just that.

While the 94 Calls to Action list is relatively new in its latest format, the items that make up the Calls to Action themselves are not new at all. If you want to dig into deeper reading, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) done in 1996 was the original document that called for the establishment of the TRC, thus founding the 94 Calls to Action. It expands upon the categories that the Calls to Action address. Click here for a downloadable PDF document of the 94 Calls to Action Click here to read RCAP Volume 3, Gathering Strength

2. Educate yourself on lateral violence Understanding lateral violence, how pervasive it is in Indigenous communities and the fact that it is a direct result of colonial trauma is vital to decolonization. Lateral violence comes in many forms and is the result of oppressed individuals taking out their aggression on those that they feel they can assert power or control over.

However, lateral violence doesn't just come in the form of physical violence against another person. The phrase I like to use that I learned from Cindy Deschenes, an Anishinabeg social worker who hosts trauma and lateral violence workshops, and that phrase is "oppression leads to aggression, regression and depression." What that means is that lateral violence can take many forms as long as it's coming from fear or control-based decision-making mentality. For example, physical violence, gang mentality, bullying, alcoholism and drug problems as well as abuse related to those dependencies, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, ostracization and many other acts of violence fall under the category of lateral violence. The important thing to understand about lateral violence is that it comes from a place of having so many outside forces crushing down and oppressing individuals that they exert that oppressive force outwards towards those around them that they see as equals or weaker than themselves.

Many Indigenous communities face immeasurable amounts of oppression and colonialism at the hands of "Canada," its government and Settlers who benefit substantially from the Land theft, resource dispossession and economic exclusion of Indigenous Peoples. All this, of course, is on top of the racist and assimilationist policies and genocidal attempts to permanently remove Indigenous Peoples completely. The damage and pain caused to Indigenous Peoples and the trauma that is left by what's been done (and continues to be done) puts many Indigenous individuals in positions where they unjustly lack control or feel like they lack control of their own lives. Hence, the fear-based or control-based decision-making mentality that leads many people to take the pain they experience and force it upon others to feel in control of their own lives.

For those who don't understand lateral violence, it can be very easy to write off the struggles Indigenous individuals, communities and Nations are forced to overcome daily as location-based, or person-based. The solutions that many people have been taught, even through implicit bias, are to question why Indigenous Peoples don't just leave the reserve/community or to pin the blame on the community members who are sick and causing trouble. The reality is that the lateral violence occurring within Indigenous communities not only stems from oppression rooted in racism, gender violence or other modern socioeconomic factors that we see in other marginalized groups across "Canada," but it also has deep roots in intergenerational colonial trauma. "Canada's" colonial assimilationist and genocidal policies used to violently remove northern Turtle Island's Land-based Peoples from the Land have left trauma that isn't fixed by moving away from the reserve, or by pointing at one or two sick individuals.

A colonial approach would be to isolate those individuals who are struggling the most with lateral violence and remove them from the community or Nation, but Indigeneity teaches us that the entire community must take responsibility for its members. As you learn about lateral violence, the most important thing that you can do is remember to approach it from an Indigenous healing lens that incorporates holism and nested systems. No traditional Indigenous community would have left its traumatized and sick members to fend for themselves or kicked them out, and our decolonization journeys need to reflect this sentiment as well.

3. Decolonize your bookshelf and your media The publishing world, newsprint companies, Hollywood and now social media are dominated by rich white men. No shocker there. Is there anywhere that the patriarchy hasn't sunk its dirty claws into? The more time I spend decolonizing, the more I start to think, "no, there really isn't." It's bad enough that the dominant culture others each and every group outside itself during everyday existence, but that othering continues into our entertainment, education and escapism. What scares me most, is that most people don't even realize the lack of representation in their lives because Whiteness has been ingrained in us as the default and as what is expected.

We need to change that.

I have an exercise for you. Have a look at your bookshelf and count how many authors are Indigenous, Black or Non-Black People of Colour (POC)? Now, count how many authors are female or 2SLGBTQQIA+?

What about your social media? Who do you follow on Instagram or TikTok? What kinds of faces and accounts are you being exposed to on a daily basis? What kinds of information are you reading about and learning on social media? It's important that we expose ourselves to the faces, experiences and knowledge of Indigenous, Black, POC and other marginalized peoples daily if we're going to decolonize our minds. We've been programmed to think of White men as the default existence and everything else as abnormal or less than.

The amount of people who are shocked or angry when more background characters are changed to Black and POC characters is astounding, and that's just background characters. I didn't even say that Indigenous characters were being included. Though Indigenous programming and indie films are slowly making their way onto our TV screens, if you're a broke millennial like me who doesn't even own a TV then you might not have access to networks like APTN or CBC. If that's the case then you really need to beef up your social media representation and decolonize your bookshelf to get yourself used to seeing and hearing Indigenous Peoples, and other marginalized groups, front and centre.

Don't forget that in spaces like the fantasy and sci-fi worlds, there is ample gatekeeping to prevent Indigenous, Black and POC authors from thriving and telling their stories, especially when the characters aren't white. It's up to everyone to kick down that gate and force space for authors of colour. Our stories are out there, and they're exciting to read!

If you want a list of books to start with, click here to read our Top 10 Indigenous Books to Start With post. We will have more book recommendations coming in the new year.

4. ReMatriate Prior to colonization, patriarchal societies on Turtle Island were very few and very far between. Our Peoples understood the power of women. Our Peoples understood that being trans, non-binary or fluid wasn't deviant, it was powerful. Prior to colonization, our Peoples understood that gender and sexuality weren't binaries and honoured the Spirits of those individuals in their communities and Nations who have come to collectively be known today as Two-Spirit or IndigiQueer.

The majority of Indigenous Nations and cultures across Turtle Island are sophisticated in their understanding and teachings of gender and sexuality as they pertain to societal roles, Rights and responsibilities. However, the transmission of those teachings has suffered setbacks with the infection of Western patriarchy and colonialism. While it's dangerous to generalize, most Indigenous Nations on Turtle Island have traditionally placed the role of Land and Water Guardian or Protector to the women. This role also includes non-binary and fluid folx who have chosen the woman's role despite not identifying as woman, as well as trans women who Indigenous Peoples were sophisticated enough to understand are real women regardless of the body they are born into. Hence, moving forward, the phrase "Indigenous women" will include both trans and cis women, but I will be differentiating non-binary and fluid folx.

With their role of protecting the sacred and protecting life, many important governance roles were held by Indigenous women, non-binary and fluid folx. Decisions made regarding the Land and Water were ultimately left to these Land and Water Guardians who had the final say. During the colonization process, "Canada" and its government intentionally removed these Land and Water Guardians from their positions due to the fact that they were not "men" as the Canadian state demanded leaders be.

The damage that has been done to Indigenous governance systems, as well as the removal of Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ peoples from their positions of power and authority has fractured communities, instilled patriarchal values within Indigenous Nations, and relegated Indigenous women to the most marginalized position in "Canada."

When we speak about ReMatriation, we are speaking about taking power back from the patriarchy and placing it where it belongs: with the women and non-binary/fluid folx who are in charge of the sacred and in charge of protecting life. We are talking about reclaiming positions of power without asking permission because the patriarchy will never willingly give up ground, and if it did then it wouldn't be power-reclaimed; it would be power-allotted.

ReMatriation means putting women back in charge of their families and their communities. It means giving Land and Water Protectors the space and the protection to exercise their sacred duties. When we focus on ReMatriation, we have to understand that egalitarianism and traditionalism never placed Indigenous women at the bottom so that Indigenous Nations could "thrive" because our ancestors were smart enough to know that the women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ folx are powerful Spirits that hold the communities together. Without the health and strength of those members, our Nations would be weak.

"Canada" knew this as well...why do you think they attacked and continue to attack our women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ folx so aggressively?

We have no choice but to ReMatriate, and of course, the patriarchy won't go silently. It won't go without a fight. Even some of our Indigenous men have fallen for it and now promote it, which is why this step is so incredibly important.

Uplift Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ folx. Support them. Show them love. Lend them strength. Force extra space and protection for them to exercise their sacred duties. In order to rebuild sacred roles and Traditional governance, Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ folx must be restored to their original positions of power.

5. Learn the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, then show appreciation to Indigenous creators and artists

I really don't think this one is hard, but sometimes I'm blown away by the amount of back-bending some people will do to avoid seeing the truth. So I thought I would start with some easy comparisons:

Cultural Appreciation = showing respect and interest in a culture and its people.

  • Wanting to study and learn about the culture and the people that are a part of that culture.

  • Learning what level of participation in that culture is respectful for you to demonstrate and respecting that limit even if you wish you could participate more deeply.

  • Does not always involve wearing or owning items from a culture, but when it does those items are appropriate for your level of participation in the culture and you understand their use and symbolism.

Cultural Appropriation = "borrowing," stealing or "adopting" a characteristic, identity, custom, practice, etc. from a culture or People other than your own.

  • Usually for capital or monetary gain, or using an aspect of a culture for your own interest with no regard for its actual use.

  • Usually with no permission.

  • Shows no regard for understanding or crediting that culture, the people who are a part of it, or the practice/custom that's been appropriated.

  • Most often, but not always, involves the dominant culture exploiting a power dynamic that allows them to pick and choose which part of another culture they feel like recognizing.

  • You will continue to participate in a cultural practice, such as wearing a Chief headdress, after being told that it's offensive because it still suits your interests despite the boundaries that have been set up for you and your allotted participation in the culture.

What it comes down to is that the Indigenous cultures of Turtle Island are flipping cool. I know. We have awesome jewelry, amazing fashion, beautiful relationships with the Land, Water, Animals and Plants, and our spiritual practices are incredible too. However, all of these things were forcibly stripped away from us and made illegal for us to participate in, so the very fact that we openly wear our regalia, dance and powwow is a huge symbol of our resilience. To see Settlers wear our regalia, deface our Chief headdresses or Circles and ceremonial pipes, and make a mockery of our culture that we have fought so hard to keep alive is further colonial violence.

Does this mean you cannot wear anything made by Indigenous artists? Absolutely not! That's why cultural appreciation is where you should be focusing your energy. Research and study the art you are looking at. Speak to the artists who are making the pieces you want to wear and see if you can wear them. Is there a story to them? Is there a ceremony? Who is the artist and where are they from? Who are they from? This is cultural appreciation. It's deep heart work that involves getting to know, understand and appreciate the Indigenous artist and the Indigenous pieces that you want to interact with.

Cultural appreciation is about being intentional and building the relationship that our ancestors sought to build at contact but were denied. It's about reciprocity, respect and understanding. Cultural appropriation has none of those things.

My tip to you is to look for "Indigenous Made" (including "First Nation/Metis/Inuit/Native American Made") and if you ever see "Indigenous Inspired" (or any of the other names for Indigenous Peoples) run for the hills.


If you liked this list and you want more tips for how to decolonize, this week's episode of Go Smudge Yourself will feature 5 more tips for how to start your decolonization journey!


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