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
By on October 6, 2020

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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Author

  • Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for twenty-five years; he taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and, for 15 years, he has coordinated adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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