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Why Work to Decolonize?
8 SPRING 2022
  By Allyson Carr, Associate Secretary, Justice Ministries
In conversations about the final re- port of the National Inquiry into Miss- ing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2019, I heard one partici- pant say, “We need to decolonize our hearts, sure. But we also need to de- colonize our institutions and our sys- tems.” Having spent several weeks wading through the entire report with a group of Indigenous and non-Indig- enous people, the sentiment struck me harder than it had before.
But what is decolonization? I (a white settler) won’t attempt to define it once and for all, but from what I have learned, it is the process of un- doing the ways colonialism and colo- nization continue to shape current at- titudes, institutions and society.
The title of the study guide for the National Inquiry’s final report that members of the PCC National Indig- enous Ministries Council and Justice Ministries collaborated on became “Why work to decolonize?” It’s an important question. Why should the church, among other institutions, work to decolonize? The answer becomes clear once we understand
what colonialism and colonization are. They are intensely harmful ide- ologies and practices incompatible with Christian faith that have nev- ertheless significantly shaped the church.
Stated plainly, colonization is the processes by which Indigenous people all over the world, and here in Canada, have been dispossessed of such things as their language, culture, land and resources. To legiti- mate taking people’s land, coloniza- tion works by the ideology of colo- nialism. Colonialism dehumanizes Indigenous people as a group and as individuals. It asserts they have less worth and so should have fewer or no rights. At the same time, it targets those who survive being dehuman- ized and treated as though they have no or less rights for assimilation into a dominant culture. It actively works to erase Indigenous identity and practices.
Colonialism and colonization flow from the Doctrine of Discovery, which originated with the church and worked to increase the wealth and power of the church and European states. (To learn more about the Doc- trine of Discovery, visit presbyterian.
A communal art project created after a reconciliation workshop led by Justice Ministries.
system, the Sixties Scoop and the ongoing disproportionate number of Indigenous children taken into foster care. It’s important to remember too that colonialism was a driving fac- tor in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which produced massive amounts of wealth (in Canada as well). That wealth was concentrated in the hands of those who didn’t have to pay for labour or land and were thus able to turn a more significant profit. Much of the wealth that was created through the trans-Atlantic slave trade and government seizure of Indig- enous lands across North America was invested and still exists.
This article has focused on how colonialism benefits the wealthy and powerful. One of the next steps is learning how colonialism conditions even those who are not wealthy to be “okay” with the exploitation it needs to thrive. Colonialism conditions peo- ple to be okay with racism. It condi- tions non-Indigenous people, and it especially conditions white people, to be blind to benefiting from racism and exploitation. It separates people from each other.
Understanding how colonization and colonialism function through ex- ploitation and have the goal of cre- ating wealth and power for the few, we can see why the church cannot support these ideologies anymore. Jesus flipped the tables on the money changers in the Temple for a reason—and it wasn’t because he was upset with them for not turning enough of a profit. To be a follower of Jesus is (as he said) to love your neighbour, not exploit them. This is a lesson I have learned in large part from Indigenous, Black and other Christians of Colour, and it is a les- son I am deeply grateful for.
This article is just one piece in an ongoing conversation about racism and decolonization. To learn more, see the resource list “Some Ways to Begin and Continue Decoloniz- ing” on the Indigenous Justice page of the PCC’s Social Action Hub:
ca/dod). Based on its investigations and the stories it heard, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls con- cluded that colonization in Canada has amounted to genocide. The federal government accepted those findings, as did the PCC at last year’s General Assembly. For many people, the finding of genocide is confirma- tion of what they already knew. Oth- ers can struggle to come to terms with the strong charge of genocide and what this means in the Canadian context. And there is much for us to think about and do as we collectively process these findings.
While struggling with these emo- tions, we need to understand that colonization and its supporting ide- ology of colonialism are exploitive because they are built on the claim that some people are worth more than others. They teach that it’s “okay,” even “normal” to exploit peo- ple. (The Doctrine of Discovery used the phrase “perpetually enslave”). Colonialism also exploits the land. It sees resources (including land) as a means of building wealth. But that wealth isn’t for everyone. Specifi- cally, it isn’t for the local community; it’s to be sent back, elsewhere. The wealth created is for those in pow- er to hold and give out as suits the purpose of maintaining power and wealth. This contrasts with seeing re- sources or land as responsibilities to be cared for and shared for the good of the local community.
So, colonization and colonialism take resources away from a local community, but they often take peo- ple away too. We see this in Canada with the forced removal of Indig- enous people from their lands. We also see it in the Residential School
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