Marie Battiste on overcoming dissonance

Marie Battiste presented her lecture, “Decolonizing and Indigenizing the Academy: Toward Cognitive Justice,” as part of the President’s Speakers Series on Monday. Battiste, a Mi’kmaq scholar and professor at the University of Saskatchewan, called for a systematic approach to ending what she called “cognitive imperialism.”

The lecture drew on personal experiences, family history and a wealth of scholarship. Battiste formed a complex but accessible narrative of how colonialism takes place in the education system.

“[Colonialism is] seen in Aboriginal peoples’ languages lost, in their being viewed as having no contemporary significance whatsoever for education,” she said, “[and] in the discourses and texts which represent dominance, obscuring what is erased and ignoring the current racism.

​“The curriculum is silent on Aboriginal knowledge,” Battiste said. “It’s a shield of domination.”    

The only model of scholarly success in a Eurocentric education, according to Battiste, is that of assimilation.

As a result of this, said Battiste, Indigenous students experience dissonance. They are forced into an educational experience where they must try to survive in a Eurocentric world while still grappling with a lack of connection to their indigeneity.

Battiste outlined how this educational model is a manifestation of intergenerational and ongoing forms of marginalization, translating to “a deficit in education for First Nations peoples.”

​She went on to say that this dissonance can only be overcome by an ambidextrous epistemology, an approach to knowledge which accepts both Western and Indigenous sciences. Battiste said that the provincial and federal governments, in consultation with Indigenous communities, are required to educate students on Treaty rights and Indigenous issues.

“The Supreme Court of Canada has said that wherever there is a substantive Aboriginal and Treaty right, there is also imbedded in that right the incidental constitutional right to teach that right. Educational institutions need to teach it,” she said. “Provincial and federal laws have to be consistent with Aboriginal and Treaty rights; that creates Indigenous knowledge as a constitutionally protected right, and that is the supreme law of Canada.”

Mount Allison courses must be decolonized. Savannah Harris/Argosy
Mount Allison courses must be decolonized. Savannah Harris/Argosy

Citing both the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal peoples, she explained how everyone must be involved in the process of indigenization.

“Even if you cannot see yourself or your family as having benefitted from this past, being part of these school systems, these governance systems, [the TRC] asks you today to understand where you are exactly today is where you need to begin to think about your role and complicity in the future of Indigenous peoples.

“All of us have become implicated in the subjugation of Indigenous peoples,” Battiste said. She also said that this is not necessarily a negative thing, however. “This realization can be a springboard for action and greater consciousness.”    

“We all have been a victim and a beneficiary of the same education system, and few of us are privileged with the knowledge of how to achieve a decolonized education,” she said. “We must be all critical learners and healers in a wounded space.”

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