A Critique of the Call to "Always Indigenize!"

  • Elina Hill University of Victoria


Intent on working toward decolonization, Len Findlay encourages scholars in Canadian universities, particularly in the humanities, to "Always Indigenize!" Findlay is aware that this is no simple task, yet he remains hopeful that academics can maintain active and political stances, refusing to "play down or attempt to suspend sociopolitical determinants," in order to bring people's attention to "Indigenizing vision". Such vision, he argues, if ethically attended to, "can be of enormous benefit to all people", not only enriching and diversifying Western knowledge and thinkers, but also connecting and informing Indigenous scholars. Indigenous and non-Indigenous thinkers can then better exploit the university in order to reach Indigenous goals, including decolonization.

Indigenous peoples have had little choice but to engage with Western institutions imposed upon their lands, and have sought to make such spaces more responsive to their needs and goals. As such, Findlay insists that the master's tools can "be used to dismantle the master's house," despite Audre Lorde's argument to the contrary. However, Findlay does not sufficiently consider the implications of such an undertaking. As Lorde points out, expecting the oppressed to educate their ignorant and reluctant oppressors can lead to "a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought." When Indigenous people participate in efforts to make Indigenous thought coherent for university scholars, and consequently the colonial state, they spend less time engaged with institutions of knowledge in their communities. Figuring the university as a central site of Indigenous knowledge "can displace and demean the knowledge of elders in people's own communities," as Andrea Bear-Nicholas writes. Meanings are often lost as Indigenous languages are translated into the lingua franca of the university. Critical frames of reference may also be lost. As Indigenous thinkers are focused away from engagement with community members, important issues and debates may become obscured by academic interests and deliberations that are less relevant. While attending to Indigenous thought is crucial, a focus on "Indigenizing" might actually help to avoid self-critical work toward decolonization on the part of the university. Instead, work aimed to always decolonize, for example through the support of Indigenous knowledge (social, political, linguistic, etc.) in situ, might better resist exploitative moves on the part of the university and the state, as well as set the ground for thinkers to pay attention to the already coherent narratives of Indigenous people.