Stop Working with Indigenous Communities through Colonial Habits, Practice Common Sense
A large part of what I do at Community Impact Consulting is guide conversations on how to meaningfully engage with different cultural communities. Whether I am in educational or community space, the approach remains rooted in the desire to teach what I have learned. Try to activate the part of the human consciousness that moves from how we are programmed to act, to a place where thought is given prior to any interaction and action.
A few months back we got a request from a local arts organization in Toronto to develop a workshop from the perspective of a non-Indigenous collaborator, on how to work more effective with Indigenous communities.
Naturally, a pause was required. For I preach that it is important to value lived experience and learn directly from those who have lived experiences. There is no shortage of brilliant Black, Indigenous and Brown facilitators and educators and I vowed as an educator, never to take space, for the sake of taking space or financial gain.
First Nations Stampede: A Guide to First Nations History at the Calgary Stampede, map by Adrian Stimson; photo by Drew Thomas, currently on display at the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta.
I have been deeply blessed over the past 10 years, to learn and listen to a variety of Indigenous arts and culture leaders, grow close relationships and bonds through listening through the wisdom of such Elders as Dr. Duke Redbird and I don't take that for granted because it has touched me both professionally, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Parul, the person, has a deep appreciation for Indigenous people and their beautiful culture. I am moved and inspired to pass on that which I have learned from my Indigenous relations. So I proceeded to develop this workshop from the perspective I can only provide, as a non-Indigenous person, how to work with Indigenous communities.
Now let me make one thing clear, the very core of my being knows that it is not even think that you would work with one community in just one way. There are more than 630 First Nation communities in Canada, which represent more than 50 Nations and 50 Indigenous languages (1.67 million people). There are also close to 600,000 Métis people and 53 Inuit communities consisting of 65,000 individuals. That is a lot of people, so it would not be a stretch to think that those people have different needs, experiences and lives. I don't think only an expert on community engagement could deduct that.
A couple days ago news came out that Luminato abruptly cancelled presenting one of the most anticipated works on their 2022 program, Um of Water. I am not going to go into the logistics of what happened, or what did not happen. I have linked that article above. However, I feel called to speak up as a non-Indigenous person to reflect on this and what I have learned.
Picture it, Rome 1493. European monarchies realize that there is much more to discovery. So much more out there. And discover they did, indeed. Colonial European history have immortalized this as the Age of Exploration. And explore they did, indeed.
It does not take a professor to decipher that discovery and exploration needs to be replaced with the true word: colonize/colonization.
Audre Lorde knew what's up.
As non-Indigenous people working with Indigenous communities, how about we work on their terms? Yes, Indigenous terms. Before the panic sets in, remind yourself that drafting a contract is not the way to start negotiations. Or maybe the priority is not negotiating, but rather developing a relationship. That's what many Indigenous systems teach. You see, when we work with communities, whether Indigenous or another cultural group, they have no choice on how to funnel the resources they need to serve their communities needs. The nature of the beast of funding, is that we invest on their behalf, they don't invest in themselves. Sounds pretty colonial to me.
If you are going to work with Indigenous communities, decolonize your mind before even thinking of collaborating. The systems are set-up in a way that Indigenous people have to depend on colonial structures for their own self-determination. This is not a choice, it is a legacy of colonization.
So this all to say, before you e-mail that contract to Iskut First Nation, think about how ingrained colonial living is, that we do not recognize that it is the contract which is a lasting agent of colonial self-righteousness. Put down your administrative task and instead listen to the Indigenous person, hear what they need and agree to their terms.
CBC: Keep Calm and Decolonize: Flood