While sitting around a campfire with my family on Canada Day, I had the opportunity to reflect upon everything that makes Canada such a wonderful country. Freedom, relative equality, the capability to meet basic needs, and of course, poutine. Then I started to think about Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and how they are largely faced with a different reality.
I have always had an interest in Indigenous rights and the struggles faced by Indigenous peoples. Last term I noticed that the University of Waterloo was offering a class called Native Peoples and Public Policy in Canada. I jumped at the opportunity to enroll in this class. The first class opened up with a smudging ceremony. I was hooked. In all of our classes we sat in a talking circle, so that there was no hierarchy. Everyone was equal. When we discussed concepts and ideas, we passed around a talking stick. The talking stick gave you the power to speak for as long, or as little as you would like, or not at all. For a shy person like myself, the talking stick really allowed me to open up and share my opinions in a space where I honestly felt no judgment.
Indigenous people in Canada experience higher rates of suicides than the Canadian average, higher rates of substance abuse, higher rates of unemployment, low rates of education, and little to no access in many cases to clean, running water or basic health care services. These experiences have manifested as a result of colonialism and oppressive government policies that forced assimilation. The Canadian government worked so hard to break down what in my mind is such a beautiful culture and way of life. The nature-centered view of society and spirituality. A cyclical view of time. A focus on building relationships.
I think there is a huge potential for incorporating Indigenous knowledge and ways of life into the field of international development. For too long, development has harmed where it set out to help, proving to be especially true in the context of Indigenous development. Development tried to “modernize” societies that were already functioning well (and in many ways, functioning better than current Western society). For me, development can only truly be accomplished if it arises from the grassroots and includes full participation from all affected parties. I think we can learn a lot from Indigenous teachings that focus on building relationships and earning respect. In my opinion, incorporating these tools will make sure that the appropriate steps to development are taken.
How do you feel about the incorporation of Indigenous teachings and ways of life into development? Would you like to see some of these methods incorporated into other aspects of your lives? Maybe in our mainstream education system which can often be exclusive?