Reflection on Decolonizing Daily: Understanding Systems of Power

Reflection on Decolonizing Daily: Understanding Systems of Power

Collectively Written By:

Workshop Participants and TSSU Solidarity and Social Justice Committee (SSJC)

Edited and Assembled by: Stacey Copeland, SSJC Member

Miyo-wîcêhtowin. Waniskâtân wâpahki mîna mâmawohkamâtotân!

(Let us all wake up tomorrow and work together in a good way!)

-Anna Soole,, Workshop Facilitator (www.annasoole.com)

       As SSJC goes forward in thinking about how to build solidarity and support our members in their teaching practices and labour struggle with SFU, as well as other activist groups and unions in the Greater Vancouver area, it has become imperative that we continue to understand our positionalities on unceded Indigenous land.

On a sunny autumn October 4th, 2018, a group of TSSU members joined together in an interactive and experiential workshop with Métis educator Anna Soole to explore the impact of colonialism in Canada and in our day-to-day lives. TSSU’s offices and SFU’s three campuses are on the Unceded Territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh), kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwitwetlem), and Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) peoples. It is on this land that we gathered to plunge into not only the relationship of the university and union to decolonization but our own individual relationships with the colonial systems of power as they manifest in our day-to-day lives.

TSSU members teach, work, live and play on the unceded Indigenous land. But how do we step beyond a symbolic acknowledgement to true solidarity with Indigenous resistance in our daily practices? What does decolonization really mean in our personal lives and teaching practices? These words are a collective reflection and memory archive of workshop participants in TSSU’s 2018 Decolonizing Daily: Understanding Systems of Power with facilitator Anna Soole. We hope these reflections invite you to engage in future Decolonization and Anti-Oppression discussions consider how decolonization and Indigenization can be integrated into your daily life to build relationships with, and supporting Indigenous communities and resistance. Our words stand as a reminder of the continued work ahead for the TSSU and our members in decolonizing our work and building relationships with, and supporting Indigenous communities and resistance. Here’s to 40 years more years of TSSU in solidarity.

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I feel very grateful for the opportunity of taking part of the workshop. Although I usually make territorial acknowledgements and try to be supportive of First Nations causes, the workshop helped me to identify numerous everyday practices I can use to contribute towards decolonization from my positionality as a settler. It also helped me to dimension a bit of the incommensurability this term implies. Additionally, It was very refreshing to see that there is a growing community of academics interested in these topics and I can’t wait to see TSSU coming efforts to continue opening spaces to deepen our knowledge about these matters. – (Natalia Pérez,  She/Her/Hers)

I came out of the workshop with a sense of clarity and motivation to be more committed to decolonization work. I felt the workshop offered actual tools to bring more decolonial practices into different areas of my lives and stepping beyond the mere acknowledgement that my life occur on stolen Indigenous land and that I benefit daily from the continuation of that displacement. I especially appreciate that workshop uses an anti-oppression framework as colonialism intersects deeply with all axises of oppression and that there were many experiential activities to re-connect ourselves into our bodies and the other participants. I feel so honored I was able to witness and be witness by a group of thoughtful and caring folks. – (Yi Chien Jade Ho, She/Her/Hers)

One of the things that struck me about Anna’s workshop was how quickly I took away lessons for my own teaching. For example, they were really intentional about not just what we were doing but why we were doing it, and gave clear decolonial explanations for each element of the workshop.

This semester was the first time I asked my students to introduce themselves along with their pronouns, with the hope that it would normalize this practice and make the tutorial space more welcoming. On the one hand, it was a success and I found a few students who appreciated it. On the other, there were many who were confused by the request, some to the point of being visibly uncomfortable. My mistake was pressing them to provide pronouns when they were clearly having difficulty with what I was asking of them. When we were giving our pronouns in Anna’s workshop, they really emphasized that we did not have to provide answers to any of their questions (including pronouns) and tied this to a way of teaching that does not include force. Making some of my confused and uncomfortable students to state their pronouns reflects a colonial understanding of teaching and the incompatibility of that style with a true empowerment of students as well as a comfortable learning atmosphere. This workshop was valuable and I’m glad to have begun learning these new perspectives as I go forward as a teacher. (Seamus Bright Grayer, He/Him/His)

I wish I could have stayed for the whole thing, but I was really struck by the honesty and willingness to share in that space. I think we all offered up parts of ourselves in the spirit of getting to know each other and ourselves; to really dig deep and substantively address the violence of colonialism that we all participate in and feel. It was amazing to feel that intention in the room, and I am so thankful to have been apart of it! (Lillian Deeb, She/Her/Hers)

Anna’s ability to encourage me to dig deep into my own connections to systems of power and oppression was life giving. Although the workshop was only 4 hours, I left feeling a sort of uniquely full spectrum rejuvenated and inspired exhaustion. A significant moment for me during the workshop was the time taken during the eagle feather talking circle to share everyone’s ancestry. We were reminded to not simply rely on ‘Canadian’ as an identity but rather discuss our ties to ancestral lands. As a third generation white settler, much of my ancestry is lost to me. I say third generation, but that may not even be true as it is unknown what my families roots are going back much further than that. Anna discussed how this erasure of ancestral connection is just one of the many cogs of the colonial project here on Turtle Island. This discussion has inspired a renewed drive in my own life to both research my ancestry and the indigenous lands and people where my family has settled along the way.

The workshop provided a rare space to be vulnerable. To have some fun. And ultimately, to engage with other union members, academics, teachers, students, people, in an honest and open dialogue about systems of power and what decolonization means in work and in life. I look forward to applying some of the teaching methods and discussion into my own teaching practice and daily life. – (Stacey Copeland, She/her/hers)

There are many aspects of Anna’s workshop that I continue to appreciate and find useful. The first was their care and attention to acknowledgment of the land, which was carried over to Anna’s modeling respectful acknowledgement of each person in the room. This rare experience of unhurried time management on campus, coupled with the decolonizing strategies of “cutting a hole in the fence” Anna presented, validates my impulses in the classroom and office hours, to give time to multiple levels of acknowledgement and attention to respect for the landscape and needs of students.  This subverts the colonial “university as business” model to build a safe place to think and study. Outside of the university, I am cutting a subversive hole in the fence by working with a professional group of colleagues to provide free access to training and education at the organizational level. (Janice Dowson, She/her/hers)

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