Decolonization starts with me

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Decolonization starts with me
"Many Europeans and North Americans have begun to realize that all humans suffer from colonialism and all have been shaped negatively by it. We are growingly aware of past evils and the need for reparations and restitution. All must be decolonized and cleansed of social discrimination." Photo: Anna Kucherova/Shutterstock

A learning experience I had recently with a young Indigenous woman has remained with me. It centred on the term “decolonization,” and I want to share with you the progression of my thought on what that means.

We were talking together in a discussion group at a social justice event and—considering myself rather enlightened about cross-cultural relations—I commented that “hopefully, the project we were discussing would be led by an Indigenous person, and not one who was white.”

Her response was shocking. “You are speaking like a colonial person,” she said plainly. I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask her, “What do you mean by that?” Her comment has continued to trouble me, and, being one who seeks clarity, I continue to struggle with what she meant.

The Black Lives Matter movement of recent history has expanded for me the decolonization issue among the races in Canada. I want to expand on this from a personal exchange to include political and economic aspects as well.

I will work with the themes of colonialism, de-colonialism and the need for continuing reparation and restitution. To help me, I refer to a recent New York Times article, “Colonialism Made the Modern World. Let’s Remake It” by Adom Getachew.

Traditionally, colonialism meant regarding European civilization as the apex of human achievement. As Europeans expanded their power and influence to circle the world during the last four centuries, many non-white and Indigenous traditions and knowledge systems were considered backward and uncivilized. They lacked “culture” and were without “history.” European settler colonies intentionally displaced Indigenous institutions, often violently.

Modern movements like Black Lives Matter—at home and globally—have been carrying the decolonization trend into the 21st century. It features a general refusal to model society as defined by imperialist powers.

Many Europeans and North Americans have begun to realize that all humans suffer from colonialism and all have been shaped negatively by it. We are growingly aware of past evils and the need for reparations and restitution. All must be decolonized and cleansed of social discrimination. Those who were part of past dominant, colonial establishments must work together with decolonized people everywhere for a new egalitarian reality—one where healing between the nations can happen.

If colonialism made the modern world, de-colonialism cannot be complete until the world is remade. For Christians, there are numerous biblical models and theological visions to consider.

In future columns, I would like to elaborate on this theme. In the meantime, my First Nations friend, mentioned above, will continue to prod me to think more deeply and struggle more fervently. Whether or not she knew what she was actually saying to me is immaterial. I will not get hung up in the details and was not the enlightened person I thought I was. Colonialism still affects my thinking, whether I realize it or not.

I now know that I was falling into the “good intention-thinking” of my colonial predecessors—even though I thought I had rejected it. The challenge of authentic interpersonal, political and economic de-colonialism starts with me.

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Wayne Holst
Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for 25 years. He taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and co-ordinates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. After reading A Fair Country and, subsequently dozens of books, I was shocked into realizing how very colonized my mind was and how ignorant I was. I still struggle each day to decolonize and decompress my thinking. I try to live with love in my heart and an open mind. Praise God.

  2. My family came to Canada from Ireland in 1828 and from Scotland via the Barnardo scheme on my paternal Grandmother’s side. The families worked hard as farmers and cheesemakers and were good and faithful members of their churches. You have no right to tell me to decolonize myself or anyone else when out families had no involvement in the crimes of which you speak.

    The Anglican Church Hierarchy, Clergy and top officials at the time of the Church Schools as well as Provincial and Federal Governments, are the ones who need to bear the full responibility for the attrocities to the Indigenous Peoples of this country.

    How many times must we apologize as individuals for the actions of a group of misguided and probably mentally unstable clergy and greedy politicians.

    We have been experiencing a decline in the past few years in the number of people attending services in all parishes in this country. The BAS and it’s overzealos proponents caused an exodus from the pews and the new Hymn Book did not help matters. The elderly parishioners who make up the majority of regular worshippers have had their pleas fall on deaf ears while these changes were pushed through yet always a pitch to fill the collection plate and faithfull seniors keep giving.

    By means continue your journey as is your right as you work to find your truth but when you pass by lovely old churches with “For Sale” signs stuck in the lawns, stop and wonder if the reason the people stopped attending and left is because we are tired of being tried, convicted and pusnished for crimes we had no hand in committing.

    • My dear friend in Christ, as someone who immigrated to Canada in my early 20s, it may be tempting for me to agree with you. In speaking to people who are not Christian, there is the temptation for them to say this is not my problem. The challenge to us is that we all live and work and worship on land which was not empty when people arrived from Europe, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. For us to have a home, the British had to remove people who lived there, survey the land and cut it into farms and townships for settlement. The children were taken so that they would not be able to learn the language and culture of their parents. The plan as articulated by our first Prime Minister, was to stop them from hunting and fishing so they could become factory workers. this was the plan used open land in Ireland. It was colonization in Ireland and we have been advantaged by the same plan here. Truth is a painful reality but we must face it and as Christians accept that we are part of it. How would Jesus feel about finding himself in this place in this time, living as neighbours of Indigenous men, women and children in this country that has been so good to us. I send you the Peace of Christ.

    • You and I, along with all non-Indigenous persons in Canada, inherited the colonial power structure and land ownership system that Wayne Holst describes.
      We may not have personally created the situation, but our lifestyles and those of our Indigenous brothers and sisters are wholly dependent upon structures and world views imposed on what is now Canada.
      This isn’t about blame and guilt, it’s about restoring just relationships among all occupants and of this land.

  3. My family came to Canada in 1776 to escape the American Revolution and remain loyal to their king. In return they received a modest plot of land in New Brunswick which they farmed for generations. They were escaping a political environment they feared. I think of them as refugees.

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