Decolonization – First Steps in a Learning Journey

Over the last several years, along with many of my colleagues in post-secondary education, I have begun to learn about the significance of decolonization. At this point, I feel as though I am only on the very first steps of a journey that will extend much deeper.

I first learned about residential schools in 2013, and was shocked and surprised at my ignorance about this sad chapter in the history of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples. During the next several years, I attended several presentations and workshops where I explored basic concepts related to indigenization and decolonization with colleagues. At that point, however, I knew that knowing the foundational principles was not enough; I needed to embark on a deeper path of decolonizing my educational practice.

At the beginning of my journey, I initially felt anxious. At first, I wasn’t sure what was causing these feelings; other than perhaps uncertainty and a desire to enter a challenging and sensitive space.  As I probed deeper, I became more curious about this anxiety.  I reflected on the fact that in my previous work in Southeast Asia, I often supported Indigenous people in creating curriculum that highlighted their language and culture. When I was in a context outside of my own country, I could easily identify how Indigenous Peoples had been oppressed by the dominant culture. As I returned to living and working in Canada, I could no longer take the position of an outsider. I slowly began to see that the journey of decolonization would require me to first face the reality of my own position as a member of the dominant culture that has caused harm to Indigenous Peoples. In their eye-opening and provocative book, Lowman and Barker (2015) challenge non-Indigenous Canadians to wrestle with the identity of being Settlers on land that is stolen and thus not legitimately theirs, grappling with the ethical implications of this reality. I began to realize that my first challenge in exploring decolonization was to consider my own Settler identity along with its implications.

Many of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 Calls to action are directed to educators. Because of the legacy of the residential school system, decolonizing education is moral imperative in the reconciliation process. The TRC calls educators to integrate Indigenous knowledges and pedagogies into post-secondary classrooms (62.ii).  In response to this challenge, I am beginning to seek opportunities to learn more about Indigenous ways of knowing. Marie Battiste (2013), a Mi’kmaq educator, highlights the groundedness of Indigenous ways of knowing in as interconnections between the land and the community. While common themes between Indigenous knowledges exist, each Indigenous People has their unique epistemology, captured in its language and relationship with a specific land (Battiste 2013; Tanaka 2017).  As Battiste emphasizes, these knowledges and ways of knowing must be included in the curriculum in their own right; Battiste challenges educators to move away from Eurocentric approaches to knowledge.  As I explore the area of Indigenous knowledges, I realize that I am only a beginner in exploring a vast field. I am struck by how little I know about the land on which I live, and wonder how my perceptions of what it means to know might be shaped by Indigenous epistemologies.

Despite the difficulties of moving forward in the journey, I am realizing that learning about Indigenous ways of knowing opens up possibilities for holistic and transformative education. Battiste (2013) highlights the concept of the learning spirit, which includes the self-knowledge that fuels learners on their educational and life path, integrating the physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the person. Cajete (in Tanaka, 2017) emphasizes the learner-centeredness of Indigenous pedagogies, with their focus on activating innate capacities for learning and their transformational approaches to learning. These pedagogies, as Tanaka (2017) notes, have the power to form holistic, transformational learning experiences for all learners.  In my own growth as an educator, I am learning to see the cognitive content as only a small part of the learning process, and am increasingly motivated by seeing learners grow and develop, rather than master content. As I learn about Indigenous pedagogies, I am inspired by how they challenge me to deepen and grow my practice.

As my personal journey of exploring what it means to decolonize my understanding of teaching and learning develops, I look forward to learning together with my colleagues.  One of my next learning steps will be to participate in the Reconciliation through Indigenous Education MOOC offered through UBC beginning on April 1.  Though I have much to learn, my anxiety and uncertainty about decolonizing my teaching practice is being replaced by hopeful excitement about the possibilities for holistic and transformational learning that will foster hospitable learning environments for Indigenous students, and for all learners at KPU.

Special thanks to Andrea Niosi for her feedback and assistance with this post.


Battiste, M. A. (2013). Decolonizing education: nourishing the learning spirit. Saskatoon: Purich Publ. Limited.

Lowman, E. B., & Barker, A. J. (2015). Settler: identity and colonialism in 21st century Canada. Winnipeg, Manitoba Black Point, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing.

Tanaka, M. T. D. (2017). Learning and teaching together: weaving Indigenous ways of knowing into education. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Truth and reconciliation commission of Canada: calls to action. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2012. Retrieved from https://nctr.ca/assets/reports/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf
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Christina supports faculty in their journey of understanding and enriching learning for culturally diverse students, while aiming to facilitate a more joyful intercultural teaching experience. In addition to her work in the Teaching and Learning Commons, her KPU Learning Strategist role allows her to see the learning process from the student side and to integrate her understanding of both faculty and student perspectives. Her educational background includes applied linguistics and educational studies, and her roles have included ESL instructor, literacy consultant, researcher, and adult educator in both Canadian and international contexts. Christina facilitates workshops, connects faculty with relevant resources, and is available for individual consultations.

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