Making space for everyone is a step toward decolonization


An inviting circle to welcome everyone was the set-up of a Dawson College classroom for a Ped Days workshop led by Catherine Richardson Jan. 14.

“How can you be part of a community if you are looking at the backs of fellow students?” Catherine asked.

The workshop was entitled Decolonizing Practices in Education and was one of two workshops offered by the Faculty Hub at Ped Days to support teachers in their decolonization efforts.

Get used to being uncomfortable

“Decolonization is in the air these days,” Catherine said. “Talking about decolonization is a bit like doing comedy. You can bring the room together or divide it. With comedy, tension builds and then is released with laughter.

“With decolonization, there is no resolution. We are stuck in our discomfort. We must get used to being uncomfortable with people who are uncomfortable.”

At the beginning of her talk, Catherine acknowledged that she was on Kanien’kehá:ka Nation territory and expressed gratitude for the day and acknowledged the ancestors. She introduced herself as Métis with Cree, Dene and Gwichin ancestry. A therapist by training, Catherine is the Director of the First Peoples Studies Program and an Associate Professor in the School of Community and Public Affairs at Concordia University.

Whose land are you on?

At her workshop, Catherine passed a feather around the circle and as each person held it, they had the opportunity to introduce themselves.

“Giving space to everyone in a class to settle in and introduce themselves is a great introductory exercise,” Catherine said. “We tend to deliver lectures to the mainstream. But what about the Indigenous students and others who are black or people of colour? A question you can ask the class is: ‘whose land are you living on?’’’

Quebec is home to 11 Indigenous nations and people living in Quebec are living on the territory of one of these nations.

Catherine taught the group that everyone, regardless of who they are, can participate in decolonization efforts. “Indigenization is something that Indigenous people do and allies can create spaces for that,” she explained.

For example, we can figure out how to pay Indigenous guest speakers and elders with cash so they don’t have to wait for three months to receive a cheque. “This is important to honour them and the knowledge they are bringing,” she said.

Be intentional

Catherine also spoke about the need to have intention. Quoting an Amazonian healer, Catherine said that if you want to cut from a plant to use it for medicine, you have to tell the plant what you want to use it for. “This is very wise. We have to have an intention. Without intention, things won’t be meaningful or purposeful. When we are intentional, we are more likely to notice things and come across people who can help us.”

“We are responsible for the people in our tribe. (If I am aware of a member of my community who is being violent or self-destructive), my job is to lean in and say ‘how can I support you to stop doing this?’ You are part of my clan, how can I help you get on track? And if you don’t have a clan, invent new families and adopt people,” she advised.

All about extracting resources

Catherine then explained in brief how colonialism has made up many excuses for violence: “It’s all about resources. These systems destroy communities to be able to extract resources.

“Indigenous people are still considered wards of the state,” she said. The strategy is to make them into dysfunctional adults. “This is why the trauma industry is so big. They have been traumatizing Indigenous people to remove them from their land.”

There are many myths about Canada and there is a myth that Indigenous people are dangerous, she said. “We are more than that. People make commitments not to be violent. A community of care and support makes a person feel safe and respected. A positive social response means we are less likely to commit violence. When no one helps, one can become depressed and isolated.”

Catherine likes to shift the perspective from what happened to a person or a nation to how they responded.


“Indigenous people were here first. There is a tradition of storytelling and we have stories that go back to the ice age.

“There are always people who resist oppression…the people who had land and welcomed the settlers were cast aside,” she said.

Catherine noted that there are many similarities between the rhetoric around sexual violence and Indigenous peoples: “Some seem to think that a person is only resisting if they fight back. Resistance is hard to describe.

“How do you preserve your dignity and stay safe? Even if you just say ‘f*** you’ in your mind, that is resistance. Even if they speak out inside, they are still acting. Wishing you had said something is helping you hone your analysis. We are always resisting even if others can’t see it.”

Examples of quiet resistance

Catherine gave some other examples of resistance as dissociation (leaving your body to not feel pain), physical (sitting near a door to be able to leave), emotional (working through feelings).

Bad things also create cultures and identities, she said. “Who is in power and who is not? Who is likely to be victimized and who will likely get off the hook?” she asked. In this colonialized culture, there are connections between violence against women and violence against the earth.

“When you witness something, you must ask yourself: ‘what is my responsibility now that I’ve been called?’ You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t called to take action.”

Some decolonization ideas:

  • Take the time for your students to introduce themselves
  • Invite your students to research whose land they live on and were born on
  • Find ways to make it easier to pay Indigenous guest speakers and elders
  • Be intentional and invite your students to also be intentional
  • Make space for everyone in your circle
  • Find out more about the Indigenous people in your region
  • Leverage your privilege
  • Build community and relationships
  • Nationally, Catherine invited everyone to advocate for:
    • a National Decolonization Day and
    • free tuition for Indigenous children.

Additional decolonization resources*:

  • Lowman, Emma Battell & Adam J. Barker. Settler Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada. Fernwood Publishing, 2015.
  • Simpson, Leanne. “Land as Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg Intelligence and Rebellious Transformation.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society, vol. 3, iss. 3, 2014, pp. 1-25.
  • Simpson, Leanne. “Nishnaabeg Resurgence: Stories from Within.” In Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back. Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2012.
  • Tuck, Eve. “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities.” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 79, iss. 3, 2009, 409-27.
  • Tuck, Eve & K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society, vol. 1, iss. 1, 2012, pp. 1-40.

*Recommended by Mark Beauchamp, who is coordinating Dawson’s new Certificate of Decolonization and Indigenization Studies

Last Modified: January 28, 2020