Decolonization is not a Metaphor

Posted on June 27, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, cultural, Ed890, First Nations, Masters, Race, reflection |

I just finished reading Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s article called Decolonization is not a metaphor. It was a great article that challenged me on how our liberal arts education has started to use the word decolonization to describe any type of activism or social movement that is related to anti-oppressive education.  Some people seem to lump decolonization into being “critically conscious of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and xenophobia” (Tuck & Yang, 2012). Tuck and Yang are clear that this is not what decolonization is, and decolonization should not be used as a metaphor for all of these others things.


Regina’s pride parade. Photo credit and story at

“When metaphor invades decolonization, it kills the very possibility of decolonization; it recenters whiteness, it resettles theory, it extends innocence to the settler, it entertains a settler future. Decolonize (a verb) and decolonization (a noun) cannot easily be grafted onto pre-existing discourses/frameworks, even if they are critical, even if they are anti-racist” (Tuck and Yang, 2012).

Tuck and Yang make it very clear that “decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life” (Tuck and Yang, 2012). Not surprisingly, AGAIN my mind has been opened to thinking about these concepts in a new way. Never before had I thought about decolonization as a term that applies only to Indigenous reconciliation and repatriation. Perhaps this is because I just finished a University class called Introduction to Post Colonial Theories that touched on many different colonial/imperial histories and topics. I was under the impression that decolonization is fighting against colonialism in general… and I was under the impression that colonialism in general was around anything capitalistic, Eurocentric, and “White privilege.” Tuck and Yang were very clear in their article that we are doing more harm than good when we use decolonization as a metaphor for all of these other critical theories. When we do this, we produce a false Settler innocence to try and reconcile Settler guilt and involvement.

save indigenous lands

“Save Indigenous Land” Photo credit: Survival international

I am once again embarrassed to admit how easily I am wrapped up in a colonial way of thinking. As I have been working on this Treaty 4 Reconciliation project,  I actually thought I was taking the initiative and really helping to decolonize our world in the local Aboriginal context. After my Post Colonial class, I felt some pride in being moved to take part in First Nations activism because of my position as teacher here in Saskatchewan, and how I was affected by the TRC’s Calls to Action. After reading this article, it has become very apparent to me that no, decolonization is always about re-centering Indigenous peoples. It’s about accepting and learning how Aboriginal ways of knowing are at the core of decolonization, and this is always in direct relation to the land.  Again, I need to start seeing things differently.


Aboriginal ways of knowing are at the CORE of decolonization; this very idea has been resonating with me a lot.  First Nations ways of knowing are centered around Indigenous spirituality, rituals, and ceremonies.  I cannot take up this work of reconciliation without becoming familiar with Indigenous spirituality, rituals, and ceremonies… AND entering into them.  When I began this work, that wasn’t on my agenda.  In fact, as a White Christian female Settler, I have some tensions there. I can honestly say I don’t know where I fit when it comes to Aboriginal beliefs and customs. I am finding myself consistently battling spiritual and knowledge based tensions. I know that to continue this journey, I need to start having an epistemological, ontological, and cosmological relationship to the land. Tuck and Yang say,

“In order for settlers to make a place their home, they must destroy and disappear the Indigenous peoples that live there. Indigenous peoples are those who have creation stories, not colonization stories, about how they came to be in a particular place – indeed how they came to be a place. Their relationship to land comprise their epistemologies, ontologies, and cosmologies. For the settlers, Indigenous peoples are in the way and, in the destruction of Indigenous peoples, Indigenous communities, and over time through law and policy, Indigenous peoples’ claims to land under settler regimes, land is cast as property and as a resource” (Tuck and Yang, 2012).

For me to move forward with reconciliation, I need to start digging into my understanding and relationship to the land. I need to start becoming familiar with the spiritual side of First Nation’s history. If I re-tell the history of Treaty 4 for my project without acknowledging and entering into the spiritual/cultural significances present at the time of the signing, I am not RE-telling the story of Treaty 4, I am just telling the story of Treaty 4 again.  I know my next step is trying to figure out where I fit as I blend my own spiritual understandings of creation and promise with those of our First Nation’s ancestors. But as you can guess, this is not going to be a mere day long journey…

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