Could someone please tell me what ‘decolonisation’ means? Anyone? ANYONE?

The dictionary tells me it’s the process of withdrawing from a former colony, leaving it independent. So if I’m being asked to decolonise my classroom, I’m guessing I – or my professorial ancestors – must have at one time colonised it. And that leaves me wondering what it was like before it was colonised. Cuz if I knew that, I’d have some way of knowing how to decolonise it, and of whether or not I’d succeeded.

For example, I teach analytic philosophy, which I figure is about as colonialist as it gets. I’m guessing – I don’t know for sure because I wasn’t here then – that pre-contact there wasn’t anything of the sort in southern Alberta. So in my case decolonisation must mean my resigning from the university. Dammit! And here I was hoping for my 25 year service plaque!

Or is decolonisation a metaphor for something else? And if so, what?

It’s not that I haven’t asked. I have. And yet every time I’ve asked – and I do mean every time I’ve asked – I get nothing but the same cold stare an Auschwitz survivor would give an ex-SS officer still wearing his uniform. From this I’m inferring that to ask the question is to be a priori opposed to whatever the answer might be. And yet I’m not. True, I may or may not be on board. But how could I know without knowing what I would or would not be on board with?

If anyone could help me out here, I’d be forever in her debt. By this ‘forever’ I don’t mean I’d literally never pay up. I would. $18.37 within 24 hours by e-transfer.

Categories: Humour, Social and Political Philosophy, Why My Colleagues Are Idiots

7 replies

  1. It’s a metaphor. Best I can do:
    -subtitled “History of colonialism and systemic racism looms over Indigenous health disparities”

    This is from “Dialogue”, the house organ of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which is freely available to the public. It’s a news story, written for the College by a lay person, and quotes the opinions of various people speaking as individuals and so is not to be taken as official College policy (yet.) College policies are binding on doctors in the adjudication of complaints and discipline. I recognize that any doctor-patient relationship is different from a university learning environment. Much of the long section of what follows is good advice in any clinical encounter yet is perhaps not relevant to a rigorous learning environment where students are expected to reach outside their comfort level and be told distressing things about their performance. Patients aren’t — we have to meet them where they are. I’m providing this section quoted verbatim just in case you find some of the themes useable. There are some cautions about who is going to be blamed (or in need of re-education) whenever something goes pear-shaped: it’s the one who is perceived to have power or privilege. There are also exhortations to espouse a particular political orientation.

    The individuals quoted are identified in more detail earlier in the story. I can’t accept your payment because the article does not actually use the word “decolonization” but the hints are pretty strong. As I said, it’s the best I can do.

    First, though, perhaps more useful to you in the academic setting is this quote from Dr. Lisa Richardson, Vice-Chair, Culture & Inclusion at the University of Toronto’s Department of Medicine, from the article linked at top.

    “Beyond all the social determinants, consider how health care is conceptualized. Is it always about the mind, body and spirit? Many Indigenous people require wraparound care, partly because of direct or residual trauma, [she] says. [Cast as indirect quotation in original.]

    “ ‘When we don’t provide care in a holistic way, that can disadvantage our people,’ says Dr. Richardson, who is also Strategic Lead in Indigenous Health for Temerty Faculty of Medicine. Along with Dr. Pennington, she worked to develop the Office of Indigenous Medical Education within the MD program.

    “Dr. Richardson notes too how often it’s non-Indigenous leaders who have to approve programs or policies relating to Indigenous people. ‘That’s a classic example of how institutional racism plays out, and undermines self-determination,’ Dr. Richardson says.” That’s the word from an academic administrator.

    OK, now the main extract: (The TL;DR version is contained in the last 3 paragraphs beginning, “If he could wave a magic wand . . .”) Note on quotation: I have put my own double-quote marks at the beginning of each new paragraph in the extract, with one at the very end. Double-quote marks in the original, to indicate direct quotation of a speaker, I have replaced with single quotes. Verbatim otherwise. Any errors are mine. Full text at the link at top.

    “Check your biases
    “In society and the practice of medicine, outright discrimination and explicit bias are easier to identify. But implicit bias has significant impacts too. What assumptions might you make about an Indigenous patient’s lifestyle? How often might you wonder, maybe just fleetingly, if a patient brought a problem on themselves?

    “As another article in this issue describes*, you may not even realize you have these implicit biases. But many, including Dr. Funnell dislike the term. ‘It’s actually racism,’ she says. ‘It’s not excusable in medicine.’

    “The notion of biases being implicit or unconscious can let you off the hook [I’m assuming that’s bad] for certain actions or attitudes, says Dr. Funnell. One remedy: make efforts to know better.

    “Dr. Funnell was among the authors of a fact sheet for the College of Family Physicians of Canada on Indigenous people, health care and systemic racism. It outlined what doctors can do to build solid relationships with Indigenous patients. Ask yourself:

    “-Do you understand culturally safe care, and are you committed to providing it?
    [This term is not defined anywhere in CPSO documents but the Provincial Health Services Authority of British Columbia defines it as “an outcome based on respectful engagement that recognizes and strives to address power imbalances inherent in the healthcare system. It results in an environment free of racism and discrimination, where people feel safe.” They have a 5-page document that goes into (a lot) more detail about the deliverables of culturally safe care. — L.M.]
    -Is the patient’s way of knowing and being respected as valid?
    -Is the patient a partner in the health care decision-making process?
    -Has the patient determined whether the care received is culturally safe?
    -What is the perception of Indigenous peoples where you currently live/work? Where did you get this information?
    -Can you identify potential biases or stereotypes in the source of this information?
    -Have you reached out to local Indigenous organizations to learn more?
    -Have you learned about Indigenous-specific effects of colonial policies, and how they are linked to historic and current medical services for Indigenous people?
    -Have you learned about anti-racism and anti-oppression, health inequities, and the social determinants of health?
    -It’s ultimately your responsibility to fill in the gaps in your education and, more fundamentally, to know your patient.

    “ ‘There are a few instances where you need to make quick decisions using an algorithm. Otherwise, risk factors are important, but it’s more important to understand, in a patient-centred way, someone’s experience, and what it means to them to be well,’ says Dr. Funnell. [This is good advice for any encounter and ought not to be controversial.]

    “At least, remind yourself that the possibility of bias exists, so you can do something about it.

    “ ‘We’ll never be entirely free of internalized racism,’ says Dr. Fiddler. ‘At best, we can hope to achieve a commitment to address bias within ourselves. No matter how progressive and free of the constructs of racism and bias you think you are, there will always be things encoded within you.’

    “What can doctors do?
    “What impact can doctors make on what is a societal problem?

    “At an institutional level, work with your clinic or hospital on initiatives that enhance care experiences, ease barriers to access, and illuminate inequities, biases and stereotypes.

    “And at the provincial or national levels, get involved in efforts that advocate for improvements in health care for Indigenous populations, and all the determinants that support it (like better food security and housing).

    “Dr. Fiddler says that no one person can dramatically change government policy around Indigenous affairs. But you can’t use that as a pretext to wash your hands of the issue.

    “ ‘Doctors need to remain committed to the process of political change and encourage others to do so. Health is inherently a political outcome. Many things aren’t amenable to change through medicine alone,’ says Dr. Fiddler. [Comment: Very few things are. So my advice to any medical students reading this would be to study hard so you can specialize in those few things — as the smart ones do already –, thus avoiding spending your career being blamed for failing to fix problems that the man just said can’t be fixed by medicine anyway. — L.M.]

    “Structural and societal changes aren’t under your immediate control. But something else is. ‘At the individual level, you can become the most culturally safe physician possible,’ says Dr. Funnell.

    “Strive to have the tools to be introspective about your interactions. But be mindful that taking the right course doesn’t make you perfectly, culturally safe.

    “Dr. McMurren says related terms like cultural competency and cultural sensitivity can be problematic. ‘The intention can be positive, but the impact can be dangerous,’ he says.

    “Why? It can lead to false confidence, and generalizations about Indigenous people (or any group) that themselves can be racist. [Note from L.M. This sentence was not in direct quotation marks in the original and is therefore not to be attributed verbatim to Dr. McMurren.]

    “Dr. McMurren prefers the term cultural humility — know that you don’t know. Doctors know a lot about medicine, and maybe something about the challenges that different populations face, but they don’t know it all. And until they probe, they don’t know a thing about the individual patient before them.

    “ ‘It starts with ourselves. An awareness of what we’re ignorant about, and that our view isn’t complete,’ says Dr. McMurren, who is also a medical director and psychotherapist at the Artists’ Health Centre at Toronto Western Hospital. ‘Genuine curiosity goes a long way. We have a duty of curiosity.’

    “A seat at the table
    “What else can affect change? Within medicine, there’s an under-representation and, often, a marginalization of Indigenous doctors. Increased representation would have an impact, in serving the Indigenous community and changing the culture in the system.

    “That’s true for seats at the leadership table in government, health-care facilities and agencies, professional bodies, and regulators like CPSO.

    “ ‘The care, programs, policies and pathways for Indigenous people must be developed by Indigenous communities. That’s much more likely to happen when you have Indigenous leadership within these institutions,’ says Dr. Richardson.

    “ ‘We’re not in for token positions, or to make numbers look good. We’re looking to participate and be equals,’ says Dr. Pennington.

    “ ‘Our medical system is also based on a paternalistic model — the saviour complex,’ he adds. ‘The doctors are the healers, and the Indigenous people are the sick community. That’s not the way we envision ourselves. A better question is what should we do together?’ All the commissions and reports are talking about this new relationship.’ [Because of a missing quotation mark in original, it is not clear if this last sentence is a direct quote from Dr. Pennington.]

    “If he could wave a magic wand, Dr. Pennington would wish that Indigenous patients (and by extension, all patients) have easy access to the type of health care where they feel comfortable, safe and empowered.

    “More than that, he wishes that such care would meet all of their physical, mental, spiritual and emotional needs while trying to recognize, acknowledge and address the social determinants of Indigenous health.

    “The distant determinants: colonialism, racism and loss of self-determination must also be acknowledged. ‘Without addressing these,’ says Dr. Pennington, ‘true health equity will never be attained.’ ”



  2. 1)From the Canada Research Coordinating Committee,

    “Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training in Canada 2019 – 2022”

    “At the same time, it was also widely recognized that decolonization is a highly complex topic with no single definition or interpretation. Research was acknowledged as playing a critical role to furthering a better understanding of decolonization in ways that reflect the distinct experiences among different Indigenous communities. The federal granting agencies’ engagement with Indigenous communities is seen as an important step for ensuring a sustained commitment towards decolonizing historical structures and processes of research funding.”

    2)The following is an abstract from an Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Decolonization speakers series at UNBC.

    “Abstract: As Indigenous peoples in Canada, we begin from a colonized place. Indigenous children are raised in school systems that focus on Euro-Canadian worldviews and ways of knowing. The need to support Indigenous children to not only understand the many Indigenous worldviews, but to actually make that paradigm shift to the worldviews of their people, is paramount. Through the Indigenization of curriculum and school environments, learning our peoples’ ways of knowing and ways of being will support that paradigm shift and the decolonization of our minds.

    However, it is important to differentiate between the terms Indigenization and decolonization. Indigenization is about re-centring Indigenous worldviews and transforming curricula, pedagogy and research. Indigenization of the academy needs to involve post-secondary institutes working with Indigenous communities to maintain and revitalize what colonial educational institutions have tried to destroy. While Indigenization can be seen to be a foundational process of decolonization, actual decolonization is the reclamation of land and languages. We need to be clear at all levels of education what needs to happen in order to decolonize our colonized minds.”

    If “actual decolonization is the reclamation of land and languages”, does this mean Euro-whites/non-indigenous people have to get out?

    And so what is it to “decolonize our colonised minds”? That Euro-white/non-indigenous thought has to get out?

    Some argue that indigenous/white-European thought should co-exist, that the latter should instead make room for the former and the world should be viewed through the best of both lenses. Hence, “two-eyed seeing” as coined by Elder Dr. Albert Marshall.

    But ‘decolonizing’ is a much stronger claim than two-eyed seeing as to decolonize means to move the colonizer out. Hence once decolonized, the colonized is independent of the colonizer. So, decolonizing one’s mind seems to mean to become independent in thought from that of the colonizer.

    Assume colonized thought CAN be moved out of one’s mind. A mind isn’t an empty place, even for those deemed air-heads. So something must be left in there, presumably original pre-colonial thought. But this makes no sense. Babes don’t come pre-packaged with cultural knowledge; they learn. Hence, the push to Indigenize education and put what is taken to be pre-colonial thought into the minds of students. Which sounds like a rather colonial agenda.


  3. Now that was worth $20 at least, Pam. Make sure he pays up.
    I can see why the officials to whom Paul puts the question return a cold stare.


  4. Hello Paul and Leslie,

    “Decolonitzation is Not a Metaphor,” Tuck & Yang 2012, is an oft-cited paper on Canadian university websites. I have read the paper, but not as carefully as I’d like. I plan to do so soon.

    Click to access Tuck%20and%20Yang%202012%20Decolonization%20is%20not%20a%20metaphor.pdf


  5. Ha. I hope I don’t live to see any university, or any institution in North America, being forced to suffer non-metaphorical decolonization. There are a lot of things in settler society with complicated and dangerous moving parts that spin very rapidly and are subject to catastrophic failure if not maintained carefully, not least the nuclear power plants…and philosophy departments. I hope the engineers (and philosophers) are given sufficient time to shut these down safely before being pushed into the sea and the lights go out forever.

    My only question is, Does author Yang really think he is going to be among the saved just because he helped write this paper?


  6. Maybe bringing the cannon to bear will become more important, at least temporarily, than bearing the canon.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: