This month, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) released its initial report on Federal Indian Boarding Schools. Indigenous organizations such as the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and Native News Online have been working hard to document people’s experiences in these schools and facilitate healing. Now the DOI, drawing on its own records of the federally-run boarding schools, is contributing a series of investigative reports.
“The Federal Indian boarding school system deployed systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies to attempt to assimilate American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children through education.”
Newland, Brian (2022). Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report, p. 7.
It is striking both to see the similarities between the US boarding schools and residential schools in Canada, and to realize that it has taken until 2022 for a government report on these schools to be conducted. This important work is ongoing.
Reading Deborah McGregor, Jean-Paul Restoule and Rochelle Johnston’s edited book on Indigenous research, I came across this amazing quote about the nature of knowledge:
“Knowledge is bigger than we are, something we can uncover only a part of. It was here before we were: ‘Knowledge is received or gifted from all living things and from the spirit world’ (Wilson & Restoule, 2010, p. 33).”
Johnston, Restoule & McGregor, 2018, p. 7
The authors write that knowledge has its own being; it is its own entity. Knowledge exists independently of humans and can be accessed by humans through deep relationships with place – with particular places on the Earth, including all of the living things within them.
Thinking deeply about Indigenous epistemologies – Indigenous understandings of what knowledge is and where it comes from – is an important part of engaging with Indigenous knowledges, and I am grateful for this book.
Cities around the world are developing Age-Friendly Communities plans, following the World Health Organization’s guidelines. We recently had a conversation with ten older First Nations and Métis women in the city of Prince George, Canada, comparing the expressed needs of these women with two age-friendly action plans: that of the city of Prince George, and that of the Northern Health Authority. Findings indicate four main areas of concern for these women: availability of health care services; accessibility and affordability of programs and services; special roles of Indigenous older people; and experiences of racism and discrimination. There are many areas of synergy between the needs expressed by the women and the two action plans; however, certain key areas are missing from the action plans; in particular, specific strategies for attending to the needs of Indigenous and other older populations that are often marginalized in health care and in age-friendly planning.
In doing research for a class I’m teaching this summer, I realized that the definitions of colonialism that come up in a Google search are somewhat lacking in perspective. I thought I would add a couple more.
“An enduring relationship of domination and mode of dispossession, usually (or at least initially) between an Indigenous (or enslaved) majority and a minority of interlopers (colonizers), who… pursue their own interests, and exercise power through a mixture of coercion, persuasion, conflict and collaboration.” (From the Dictionary of Human Geography, 2009, p. 94)
“Settler colonialism… strives for the dissolution of native societies… it erects a new colonial society on the expropriated land base—as I put it, settler colonizers come to stay: invasion is a structure not an event.” (From Wolfe, 2006, p. 388)
In this study, I was interested in looking at what Indigenous health organizations do in urban communities, above and beyond providing health services. These organizations clearly have a role in providing community support, and I wondered if this support might translate into political representation or link to broader political struggles.
I chose the terminology of rights in order to get at this concept, and asked people in interviews and focus groups,
“Do you feel that your rights are respected in Prince George, in terms of health care services?”
People often said no.
“Indigenous rights” is a colonial term, referencing the Constitution Act and several court decisions over the past forty years.
Focusing on the concept of Indigenous rights has been controversial, with many scholars arguing that “rights” and “recognition” are not actually that useful for Indigenous peoples in Canada. Many of these scholars use the term “resurgence” instead.
Resurgence describes the ways in which Indigenous communities are undertaking political, cultural and legal rebuilding. Resurgence takes place without the intervention of the Canadian state; it is led, supported, and achieved by Indigenous peoples and Indigenous communities.
The role of Indigenous-led health and social service organizations might not be promoting Indigenous rights and recognition through the government – but to provide spaces and mechanisms through which Indigenous community resurgence can be supported in the city.