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Indigenization is Indigenous

Indigenous students, faculty and staff at Memorial share what is, and isn't, Indigenization

Part of a special feature chronicling the transformation of the academy through the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge, voices, critiques, scholars, students and materials at Memorial.


A lot of people are talking about Indigenization.

We’ve noticed that it has taken on several meanings, some of which contradict one another.

Indigenization means change led by Indigenous people to bring Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing into spaces that are not designed for those ways.

Indigenous way of doing

There is a place for settlers in this.

Some examples of what that might look like can be found here at Memorial, such as the School of Music’s new project in partnership with First Light to host (and pay!) Indigenous musicians and artists to create a new course that will be taught exclusively by (paid!) Indigenous teachers.

Indigenization happens through targeted hires for Indigenous faculty and staff — especially when those positions are not always “Indigenous studies” or “Aboriginal student support” and recognize our world-class engineers, entrepreneurs and editorial managers.

These types of initiatives have a sincere chance of improving experiences of Indigenous students at the university.

Memorial’s Indigenization Strategy, co-ordinated by an Indigenous person in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, has been in its consultation stage for over a year because that is how long it takes to talk to 26 Indigenous communities in the province so that the strategy can be firmly and wholly based on diverse Indigenous priorities, ideas and ways of being.

It is an Indigenous way of doing things, baked into the genesis of the university’s Indigenization Strategy.

Truth and reconciliation ≠ Indigenization

There are also many things that aren’t Indigenization.

When settlers teach Indigenous content in classrooms, especially when it wasn’t there before, it is good and ethical. It is a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. But it is not Indigenization. It is truth and reconciliation.

When settler scholars organize panels on Indigenous topics, and even Indigenization itself, they often (we hope!) come into our inboxes and ask for us to show up and teach. Sometimes they have troubles getting us to respond.

Our silences are a way of teaching — crafting an idea and then inviting us into it after it is formed is not Indigenization.

“We’ve noticed that sometimes, colonialism is being called Indigenization.”

It’s yet another service we provide for settler education. We would rather be Indigenizing.

When settler researchers head north, or west, or into our urban communities to do research when they haven’t been invited by us, it is not Indigenization.

Colonialism is a way to name the assumption that settlers and colonizers are entitled to Indigenous land, social networks, knowledge, students, language, and culture for their own goals, even if those goals are benevolent or well-intentioned. We’ve noticed that sometimes, colonialism is being called Indigenization.

Indigenization is Indigenous

These are not our ideas.

These ideas already exist in a rich discourse that Indigenous people are having around the world. Our diversity is part of what makes these conversations so rich, but there are a few things we all agree on, including that Indigenization is Indigenous.

Here are some entries into that discourse beyond what we’ve already provided here, including writing by settler writers who do the work of teaching and being accountable within their own settler academic communities while showing the way to Indigenous writers and thinkers on the topic:

  • Malinda Smith, Shanne McCaffrey, Kiera Ladner, Dwayne Donald, D’Arcy Vermette, Andrea Bear Nicholas, “Indigenous Knowledge and Indigenizing the Academy,” Needs No Introduction podcast, rabble.ca.
  • Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, education & society1(1).
  • Hill, E. (2012). A critique of the call to “Always Indigenize!”. Peninsula: A journal of relational politics2(1).

These ideas are not ours, but these are our ideas.

There is a reason that the many people who wrote this op-ed are anonymous.

At this university, we are called on to provide Indigenous “voice” and when we give voice, we are mistaken for an individual offering a particular opinion.

We are called opinionated. We are called disruptive. We are called troublemakers.

We are invited in and dismissed as two parts of the same action.

“We are anonymous here so that you can’t quite tell who is writing this, which is also how you should understand voice.”

But one way to understand “voice” is as the translation of the many other people, lands, Elders, teachings, future ancestors, historical events, spiritual knowledge and ways of being and doing that have been gifted to us throughout our lives and the lives that came before us and will come after us.

Not all people with Indigenous blood have the gift and responsibility of voice. And for those of us who do, we are not perfect repositories for these things, but we’re pretty damn good.

We are anonymous here so that you can’t quite tell who is writing this, which is also how you should understand voice, how you should understand Indigenization.

We are trying to teach you that to individualize us is to attempt to gain access in ways it has not been granted, a sign of the colonial impulse. Our voice comes from a rooted place, but it is not individual.

Indigenization, like voice, is not based on good intentions and Indigenous topics.

It comes from Indigenous collectives being Indigenous collectives in spaces where that doesn’t usually happen anymore.

It is our resurgence.


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