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Indigenous decolonization describes ongoing theoretical and political processes used to contest and reframe narratives about indigenous community histories and the effects of colonial expansion, genocide, and cultural assimilation. Indigenous people engaged in decolonization work adopt a critical stance towards western-centric research practices and discourse and seek to reposition knowledge within indigenous cultural practices. Some indigenous studies scholars have characterized decolonial work that relies on structures of western political thought as paradoxically furthering cultural dispossession and have advocated for the use of independent spiritual, social, and physical rejuvination even if these practices don't translate readily into political recogniction.
Beyond the theoretical dimensions of indigenous decolonization work, direct action campaigns, healing journeys, and embodied social struggles for decolonization are frequently associated with ongoing native resistance struggles and disputes over land rights, ecological extraction, political marginalization, and sovereignty. While native resistance struggles have existed for centuries, there was an upsurge of indigenous activism in the 1960s coinciding with national liberation movements in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Healing Journeys and Personal Decolonization
A contemporary concept in indigenous health and healing studies, decolonization (indigenous) is that of a healing journey that may involve grief, anger, rage, growth and empowerment. It is related to post-traumatic stress syndrome and shares counseling tools that may help with movement on the journey, such as art therapy. There is also an intergenerational component as trauma may have been accumulating in indigenous families over the decades or centuries of intense struggle against assimilation or extinction.
An example of a tool for personal decolonization is the medicine wheel healing concept derived from a Pan-Indian religious symbol, used in more ancient times by nations of the North American Plains. This concept helps people whose will has been damaged by colonization to balance the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of their self. By creating balance in all these areas of the self a person can find movement on the journey of decolonization and healing from intergenerational trauma. This tool links to the sacred medicine wheel circles created by the aboriginal inhabitants of Western North America.
Indigenous decolonization, however, is not merely psychological accommodation to occupation or colonialism. It may also incorporate a realization or consciousness that bondage still exists today. Although a nation-states' political independence from a European state may have played itself out on a limited "battlefield," so-to-speak, true independence from foreign occupation has not yet occurred. Prime examples of this are the settler societies of the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand. Here direct control by British and Iberian nations respectively have ceased, yet the Anglo and Iberian descendants' political, social, moral, economic, and even racist taxonomy still exist and dominates over the true indigenous populations. Indigenous Decolonization in real-time physical terms would also mean either an expulsion or exodus of the continuing forces that occupy the indigenous territory or a complete and total elimination of the bondage that exists.
Thus indigenous decolonization must incorporate physical, psychological, and emotional and spiritual strategies since the body, the mind and the soul are affected directly by colonialism. True decolonization can be achieved only when all of these components have been addressed or met in some way.
Art as decolonization, Canada 150 and The National Art Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada updated their Canadian art gallery and titled it "Canadian and Indigenous Art: 1968-Present". This gallery was updated on May 3, 2017 in time for Canada 150. The gallery expands on the previous galleries theme by including more pieces from the Indigenous perspective. The National Gallery of Canada's website states that the exhibit includes "more than 150 works in all media, including sculpture, painting, video art, installation, drawing and photography. From the feminist art movement of the 1970s to present day Inuit art". The exhibit is planned to be open until April 30, 2018. This new gallery is the first major transformation the National Gallery has made since 1988.
Director and Chief Executive of the new gallery, Marc Mayer made a statement saying: "It coincides with the 150th anniversary of Confederation, but it really announces our way forward here at the National Gallery, in how we're going to be telling the story of Canadian art. The story of Canadian art will always include indigenous art — they're inseparable in my mind". The collection's advisory committee included two Indigenous advisors. Katerina Atanassova mentions that "It is important, especially for the 150th anniversary, to look back, to really consider where we come from in order to move toward the future, and to really realize who we are as a nation".
The gallery is described as a way forward and of recognition for Canada’s growth. Mayer also described the gallery as bringing "a whole new perspective to our idea of art as a window to history. It brings new histories that have been denied and erased in the official versions, and it brings a respect for history as a living thing".
Indigenous artists have been using art as a form of activism for many years. It is mentioned in Jarrett Martineau and Eric Ritskes article titled Fugitive indigeneity: Reclaiming the terrain of decolonial struggle through Indigenous art that art forms are never separate from our political forms and "Indigenous art thus occupies a unique space within settler colonialism: both as a site for articulating Indigenous resistance and resurgence, and also as a creative praxis that often reinscribes indigeneity within aesthetic and commodity forms that circulate in the capitalist art market". Art can be used in political struggle to bring attention to important issues and to better convey the experiences of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous artists attempt to work outside of the binary of colonialism in their art. Martineau and Ritskes describe Indigenous art as "the generative expression of creativity, not the violence of colonial domination, and it is in Indigenous art's resistant motion to disavow the repetition of such violence that it recuperates the spirit of ancestral memory and place, and forges new pathways of re-emergence and return". Indigenous art combines past, present and future.
Though this gallery has a section that will remain permanent to the gallery, members that were a part of the creation of the gallery have mentioned the significance of the Gallery opening for Canada 150. From the large Canada 150 sign that adorned The National Gallery of Canada’s front door to the timely implementation of the new Gallery for Canada 150 the institution is immersed in the celebrations. Many Indigenous artists do not agree with the showcasing of art for Canada 150. Many believe that is a celebration of colonialism. The inclusion of Indigenous art in Canada 150 can be confusing because it indirectly promotes that there has been reconciliation when there hasn’t been.
There are some Indigenous artists that see Canada 150 as a platform to educate. Artist Kent Monkman’s exhibit Shame and Prejudice provides an uncensored look on topics of Canada’s history such as the residential schools and Indigenous sexuality. Monkman sees Canada 150 as an opportunity to be heard and to bring attention to important issues within Canada’s society.
- Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Zed Books.
- Elliott, Michael. "Participatory parity and indigenous decolonization struggles." Constellations (2016): 1-12.
- Hill, Gord. 500 years of Indigenous resistance. PM Press, 2010.
- "New exhibit paints fuller picture of National Gallery's contemporary trove".
- "Canadian and Indigenous Art: 1968 to Present". www.gallery.ca. Retrieved 2017-12-22.
- "New collection of Canadian and indigenous art is National Gallery's largest ever". Ottawa Citizen. 2017-06-07. Retrieved 2017-12-22.
- Martineau, Jarrett; Ritskes, Eric (2014-05-20). "Fugitive indigeneity: Reclaiming the terrain of decolonial struggle through Indigenous art". Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society. 3 (1). ISSN 1929-8692.
- "Tell their stories or opt out? Indigenous artists torn about joining Canada 150 party". CBC News. Retrieved 2017-12-22.