Indigenization Reading Circle Notebook: “Decolonization is not a Metaphor”

The FAUW Indigenization Reading Circle meets monthly to discuss readings relating to Indigenization and reconciliation in the university context.

During the June meeting of the Reading Circle, we considered how land acknowledgements make visible the Indigenous peoples of a region and their histories. The performance of a land acknowledgment expresses a commitment to a reconciled future that is prosperous for settlers and Indigenous peoples. But does reconciliation accept settler colonialism?

In our July article, “Decolonization is not a metaphor” (Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society Vol.1 No.1 2012 pp.1-40), Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang attempt to show that when educators work to ‘decolonize’ thinking, teaching, and universities, they treat decolonization as a metaphor and jeopardize solidarity with Indigenous struggles against settler colonialism. The authors do not argue for decolonization. They show that respect for that framework requires that we refuse to absorb it into other anti-oppression projects.

According to Tuck and Yang, decolonization involves the repatriation of the land and lives of Indigenous peoples. Decolonization represents an emergent process concerned with Indigenous sovereignty and futurity. Discussion in the reading circle focused on the contrast between reconciliation and decolonization. Some felt the imperative to repatriate land was too prescriptive to be reasonable. Others suggested that decolonization as repatriation might be an ideal, distinct from what is actually planned for.

What models do we have for a repatriation process? Some participants described the practice in relation to museum ‘artefacts’ and their reinsertion into the lived experience of Indigenous peoples as ‘belongings’. Understanding the role of land in Indigenous communities would also suggest that a strict ‘private property’ concern would be misplaced: repatriation involves questions of sovereignty and authority. How is this linked to making present the histories of land and Indigenous communities?

What strategies do settlers use to escape guilt arising from the benefits they enjoy from the ‘erasure and assimilation of Indigenous peoples’? Tuck and Yang have observed that settlers make ‘moves to innocence’ that allow them to deny the experience of oppressive power. Claiming Indigenous identity and honorary membership in a community, asserting one’s own oppression by colonialism, substituting consciousness raising for relinquishing land, treating Indigenous people as communities at risk, and absorbing Indigenous land claims into demands for wealth distribution all re-centre settler subjectivity. Reading circle participants worried at the uncritical scholarly moves that similarly ease guilt and recover a settler future thereby foreclosing a process of transformation.

The reading circle next meets on September 27 to discuss the disjuncture between the rhetoric of equal opportunity and the realities of university life for First Nations people. The September reading is “The Four R’s—Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, Responsibility” by Verna Kirkness and Ray Barnhardt.


Ryan George is one of the coordinators of the Indigenization Reading Circle and a lecturer in the Department of Economics.

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