Presented on Nov 3, 2016, at the 10th “Decolonizing the Spirit Conference”, UToronto

PHOTO GALLERY & KEYNOTES (Joyce King, Walter Mignolo…)

I’ll start by saying that i will not be doing a standard academic PPt presentation. I’ll only use 2 slides, without explaining each and every item – they will be a parallel discourse, setting the background, with which i’d expect the audience is well acquainted. The first one is a collage [shows onscreen, for most of the presentation], composed from images from TRC’s Report Summary (TRC, 2015) and Alanis Obomsawin’s partly autobiographical (one might say) cinematographic gravure When All the Leaves Are Gone (2011). The second slide will play a role in the conclusion.

Slide 1. Collage: Discursive Explorations. Credits: TRC Report Summary 2015; A. Obomsawin’s “When All the Leaves Are Gone” (2011)

Until we get to the conclusion, i invite you to consider a metaphor from a couple of lines by a 13th century Sufi[1] poet & sage – Rumi, with which i would like to gesture to the historical/cultural heritage that can be related to some of the other presentations:

A pearl goes up for auction. No one has enough, so the pearl buys itself.

On the eve of the 150th anniversary since Confederation (1867) – and thinking specifically about the PEOPLE who have been populating and today inhabit the territory of the 2nd largest country in the world, i keep asking the same overarching question — How DO WE restore and update for the present, and for the future, the mutual sustainability/enrichment aspect of the earliest Indigenous/non-Indigenous interactions, of which there would have been enough for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996)[2] to select “contact and co-operation” as the name for the initial period after the first encounters? If it happened then, why not bring it back again – not that the accumulated histories in between would make the task anywhere near easy or straightforward! Challenges notwithstanding, “reconciliation” must not serve as the final destination any more than “recognition” could, even in its best applicaitons.

Canada was born out of Indigenous/non-Indigenous unambiguously genetic and dynamic cultural/economic integration and hybridization (see John Ralston Saul’s A Fair Country). Influential studies in political science (e.g., Harold Innis) and history (e.g., James Ray I Was Here since the World Began), and the oral histories of Indigenous peoples (Tehanetorens) have presented plentiful evidence that the latter are rightful co-founders of the country, and “the nation”, if not the state, on a par with the French and the British, and indeed, over and above them, given Indigenous custodianship of the land. First peoples[3] were co-participants, and at critical points indispensable as far as basic survival, military action, or the fur trade.

I therefore submit that the Indigenous/non-Indigenous dyad is chronologically primary and ontologically foundational. It was reformulated as a dichotomy when the early power (im)balance started shifting in favour of Europeans and their colonization project. Confederation as per the so-called British North America Act of 1867, a.k.a. Constitution Act, was an agreement between the British and the French sides alone, with clear predominance of the former, and no legal/political agency was granted to Indigenous peoples. I would refer you to law professor Kathleen Mahoney’s (2015) keynote “Canada’s Origin Story”, which stakes precisely the claim that Indigenous peoples are co-founders as much as the British and the French, with the Spanish and the Dutch,[4] sufficiently early on, dropping out of the race for North America.

Solutions to the research question posed above that are considered in the public domain and in the academy tend to be top-down. The discourses feature “the Government”, “policy”, and blame for continuing – and largely unacknowledged – colonialism “the system” and “the state”. What i propose to zoom in on, much more (borrowing Dewey’s turn of phrase) “consciously and purposefully” than we currently do is the mundane little things that are easily overlooked but, when taken together, amount to ubiquitous colonialities that are as persistent as they are elusive. Conversely, it may well be that a critical mass of grassroots intent and action will be (most of) what it takes to decolonize a country in actuality.

In this micro-approach i side with historian Howard Zinn, who has repeatedly argued that the little people have a power not to be ignored by governments – recall his 2007 book A Power Governments Cannot Suppress. In a similar vein, Italian literary scholar and communication theorist Elena Lamberti, just a couple of weeks ago in a keynote talk at the University of Toronto, put it succinctly “Do not blame the system — we are the system!”. Therefore, i’d continue, “we” would be the real, enduring change, and a guarantee that there will be no comeback for the oppressions and exclusions that, once diagnosed, have been cleared away. After all, no printed document or Law can streamline the behaviour of the billions on the planet to the desired extent, unless governments/leaders and, to no lesser degree, the people are sufficiently invested in a social change/equilibrium project. The (non)observance of treaties is a case in point.

Clearly, reforms of the envisioned nature and scope hinge on consistent, attentive adjustments to innumerable occurrences of mundane micro-aggressions/oppressions: racism can be curbed at the point where a grade school student avoids/resents/bullies Indigenous others (cf. Obomsawin 2010). Consider a couple of correlations: had our society reached a level of consciousness that can keep our streets litter-free, we would also have had the capacity to protect the northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat from losing its school to diesel spills (CBCradio 2012; Shannen’s Dream 2011); if children were raised with, e.g., drumming ceremonies, Indigenous legal traditions could have become integral to the Constitution from the very start, and any treaties, to begin with, pre-Confederation or afterwards, would have been, and would be drafted more along the lines of the Great Peace of Montreal, co-signed in 1701 by the leadership of New France and over forty Indigenous nations (see Saul, 2014), and was attended by thirteen hundred delegates. The Indian Act of 1876 would not have happened, and its torturous corrections would not need to be happening now – a waste of human social energy, don’t you think?!

On the conceptual side, i have been imagining and advocating a relational pedagogy, both institutional AND broadly public, which is aligned with, for example, scholarship represented in Bingham & Sidorkin’s (2004) edited volume of the same title, Relational Pedagogy. Furthermore, because experience teaches that curricula and explicit instructions may by far be superseded by modes of human mental life that have been conceptualized as “collective unconscious” (Karl Jung) or “social imaginaries” (Cornelius Castoriadis, ????), i look at both the conscious level of learning and habit forming and below it, to where we seem to really be programmed for action.

To achieve the requisite deep-level social-reflex coding, i look for a passage between the rational/conscious and the subliminal/unconscious, and propose to recruit affect, which manifests as the interface of the two. For the purpose, i draw on theorizations of affect in the Spinoza – Deleuze & Guattari – Massumi lineage. The proposal is to recruit what i term “intersocial affects” for and through a thoroughgoing, life-long and all-round (self-)education. It needs to happen in the proposed directions, and at the proposed layers of humanity, in order to take actual, enduring effect.

All in all, a grassroots consciousness shift and action toward actual equity may well surpass the state’s top-down attempts – think of the power of the Idle No More movement, and the 4Rs, a comparable coalitional approach for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth (see TRC, 2015: ???). My observations to date call for a commitment to the health of the foundational relationship by the day-to-day-&-grassroots “small” to finally turn around Canada’s – and, by analogy perhaps, the Earth’s – “whole” (cf. people power – Zinn 2007). This is because, by the laws of intersectionality no dichotomy rises or falls alone, so colonialism’s successful fall can be expected to take down with it (or, put alternatively, to require the combined transformation of) a good part of all … of the rest of our and the world’s outstanding dichotomies.

So, here’s my hermeneutic Pearl:

Mutual moral support, true caring, and so forth – subsumed under the umbrella of sustainable relationality – constitute a resource that is not only renewable, but it can be inexhaustible, limitless, if the requisite affect is constantly regenerated by interpersonal circulation and habituated effort. Somebody said, love your neighbour as yourself, another said LOVE IS ALL WE NEED – and, if i may, those who agree, WIN. From where i’ve been and searched, and what i’ve seen proven again and again, at this point i’d submit without hesitation that, not only has the potential of the humanity that’s encoded in us not been anywhere near sufficiently tapped into, but it hasn’t even begun to be recognized for what it is and can unfold into.

[1] Sufis constitute a mystical stream within Islam, among whom the Whirling Dervishes, with a strong belief in peace, kindness. Thomas A. Robinson and Hillary Rodrigues, World Religions – A Guide to the Essentials (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, Baker Publishing Group, second ed., 2014): pp. 116-138, passim; 227-313, passim.

[2] The impressively extensive RCAP Report (1996), and at the time a radical rewrite of history since contact, comprises five volumes with some 4,000 pages.

[3] The umbrella term for First Nations, Inuit and Metis.

[4] To the extent that the Spanish, and even more so the Dutch, were ever even sufficiently conspicuous north of the 45th parallel.

Slide 2. The heuristic pearl of Humanity. Image credits: “The People of the Kattawapiskak[1] River”, documentary by Alanis Obomsawin (2012)

The pearl of Humanity, then, which no single “buyer” could afford, saves itself. No other saviour need be on call for our sake, even if back-up options need to be appreciated.

IF — in Rumi’s voice, again, and the way i read him, on behalf of any and all of us – “What was said to the rose to make it open was said to me.” trans Coleman Barks???.


Bingham, Charles & Alexander M. Sidorkin, eds. (2004) No Education without Relation. Foreword by Nel Noddings. New York, NY: Peter Lang Verlag.

CBC Radio (2012) Feature on Attawapiskat. In CBC News in Review, February 2012, DVD. Toronto, ON: CBC Learning, c2012.

Government of Canada (1996) Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Volume I: Looking Forward, Looking Back.

Heartspeak (2011) Shannen’s Dream, DVD. Toronto: Heartspeak, 2011.

Mahoney, Kathleen (2015) “Canada’s Origin Story”. Keynote talk, Royal Society of Canada, November 27, 2015, University of Victoria.

Obomsawin, Alanis (2010) When All the Leaves Are Gone. NFB.

——— (2014) Trick or Treaty. NFB.

Zinn, Howard (2007) A Power Governments Cannot Suppress. San Francisco: City Lights Books.

Wilson, Janet (2011) Shannen and the Dream for a School. Toronto, ON: Second Story Press.


[1] Also known as Attawapiskat. Alanis Obomsawin approximates the Cree pronunciation.