BCFSN Decolonization Resources

The Foodlands Cooperative of B.C. acknowledges that the place dominantly referred to as British Columbia is the unceded territories of 27 Indigenous Nations who have been here since time immemorial.

We hold to a vision where Indigenous Nations and settlers live in relation to the land in a just and peaceful relationship, and where Indigenous sovereignty is fully recognized, including political, economic, and territorial self-determination.

We encourage everyone individually and collectively to take steps to decolonize themselves. The following resource, the British Columbia Food Systems Network (BCFSN) Decolonization Pledge, was created for the BC Food Systems Network and has been adapted by Foodlands for easy reference.

To Begin:

1) Discover upon whose territory I/we reside and how to pronounce the name correctly

2) Study and use Dawn Morrison’s Decolonizing Food Systems Discourse: Contentious and Complementary Terms [Morrison & Brynne, 2016, p.10.]

  • Stakeholder – is a contentious term in reference to Indigenous peoples because it connotes we are 3rd party “interest groups”, rather than the original inhabitants of outstanding land claims areas.
  • Resources – capitalist language and linear productionist paradigm does not accurately reflect the Indigenous relationships to the land, plants and animals that provide us with our food. It is very low context and robs us of our higher context narrative that tells the rich history of our ecosocial, and spiritual relationships.
  • Utilized or underutilized land – contentious term that connotes the doctrine of terra nullius that has dispossessed Indigenous peoples.
  • Indigenous land ethic – In contrast to colonialist notion of terra nullus that fails to recognize the sophisticated land and food system that existed in North America prior to contact with European settlers, Indigenous peoples have worked with, rather than against natural systems to shape and humanize the land and food system for thousands of years. Indigenous land ethic does not view the land and food system, or any part thereof, as a commodity to be bought and sold in the market economy, or a “resource” or “product” to be exploited for external means. Based on values of interdependency, respect, reciprocity, and ecological and cultural integrity, an Indigenous land ethic views humans as a part of nature and not separate or dominant over it. The Indigenous land ethic converges with the Aldo Leopold land ethic in the way it views the land as an interconnected biotic whole. Recognizing there are serious social and political issues that stand in the way of completely reconciling Leopoldian and Indigenous ethics in a concrete way, they share similar ethics in abstract terms (Whyte, 2011).
  • Wild or wilderness – The terms wild and wilderness are subjective terms that are problematic in their primitive view of Indigenous peoples, and the ways in which they have estranged Indigenous relationships to the land, activities and nature. The terms assume the preservationist environmental ethic that does not recognize Indigenous peoples and our longstanding relationships to the plants, animals or land. It is based on terra nullius which is highly contentious in the way it has made us invisible in decision making matters impacting our land and food system. The term wild describes a relationship in which we are not in control of the plant, animal or person. The term would be used most appropriately to describe the nature of our relationship to invasive species, rather than Indigenous species that have been enhanced through Indigenous harvesting and cultivation on a broad landscape level for thousands of years.
  • First Nations and Aboriginal peoples – Along the spectrum of Indigenous tribes in their varying degrees of dispossession, it is recognized that many identify more with the socio-political relationship with the state, rather than by social or cultural ties to their distinct tribe. While many Indigenous peoples have accepted the terms Aboriginal or First Nations to identify with in legal, political, or cultural contexts, the terms are considered by many to be subjugatory as they have been imposed by the nation state in the context of contemporary colonialism. The term Aboriginal is used most widely by the federal government of Canada to define all of the original inhabitants (including the Indian, Inuit and Metis), while the term First Nations is a very divisive term that was first imposed by the BC Treaty Commission to enable individual bands/communities to negotiate treaties with or without the consent of the whole Indigenous tribe/nation.
  • Indigenous peoples (recommended) There is no universal definition of what it means to be Indigenous that would match the diversity in cultures and characteristics found in the distinct Indigenous cultures, tribes and nations within what is known to the settlers as BC, or Canada. In all of the diverse socio- political, cultural and ecological contexts, the most appropriate term in which to identify each distinct tribe would be described by the Indigenous tribe themselves (i.e. Sto’lo, Squamish, Tsleil-watuth etc…), as opposed to being state imposed by the municipality, province or federal government. In an eco-cultural context, the term Indigenous is used to identify tribes that share a common heritage (ancestral, biological, cultural, and territorial). Recognizing that each of the distinct tribes and nations share similar worldviews, values and cultural strategies, the term Indigenous can be used more generally in socio-political context to describe the common struggles of Indigenous tribes that are striving to reclaim their collective voice, vision, perspectives and priorities in relation to the land and food system in contemporary colonialism.

3) Attend, participate in, and contribute to events organized by Indigenous people

In the spirit of continuous attendance and support of Indigenous people, and not being a passive observer, use social media sites like Facebook and Google searches to find Indigenous events. The Indigenous community website may also highlight upcoming events.

4) Read the Executive Summary of the Truth & Reconciliation report Honoring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future

5) Self and collectively educate on the ways in which colonialism is not a thing of the past, but very much present and pervasive today

Colonialism in Canada is settler colonialism (other states with this type of colonialism include the USA, Australia and Israel). Settler colonialism took place where European settlers settled permanently on Indigenous lands, aggressively seized those lands from Indigenous peoples and eventually greatly outnumbered Indigenous populations.

6) Organize a book club and read Indigenous authors: Jeanette Armstrong’s Slash, Arthur Manuel’s Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call, or Lee Maracle’s I Am Woman (for starters…)

To continuing learning:

7) Read the reports from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

8) Learn about the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples

9) Read the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

10) Join the call for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and read Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

11) Listen to CBC radio’s Unreserved

12) Organize a film night and discussion. The following are available and free online:

13) Learn about the “Sixties Scoop

The term “Sixties Scoop” was coined by Patrick Johnston, author of the 1983 report [Indigenous] Children and the Child Welfare System. It refers to the mass removal of Indigenous children from their families into the child welfare system, and placed with mostly settlers. In some cases, children were sent to live with families in other provinces, what is dominantly called the United States and the U.K. Many Indigenous peoples charged that in many cases where consent was not given, that government authorities and social workers acted under the colonialist assumption that Indigenous people were culturally inferior and unable to adequately provide for the needs of the children. Many Indigenous peoples believe that the forced removal of the children was a deliberate act of genocide.

14) Self educate about the Residential School system and its impact

Residential schools for Indigenous peoples in Canada date back to the 1870’s. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Indigenous children. During this era, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools often against their parents’ wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. While there is an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has been a source of ongoing systemic social struggles and trauma healing. 

15) Learn the difference between a hereditary and an elected Chief

Hereditary Chief: As the name implies, hereditary Chiefs are those who inherit the title and responsibilities according to the history and cultural values of their community. Their governing principles are anchored in their own cultural traditions. Hereditary Chiefs carry the responsibility of ensuring the traditions, protocols, songs, dances of the community, which have been passed down for hundreds of generations, are respected and kept alive. They are caretakers of the people and the culture. 

Elected Chief: The introduction of the Indian Act in 1876 introduced the Elected Chief and Council System, which forced communities to elect their leaders and to hold elections every two years. Know also that they are elected by their people but are accountable to the federal government. As you can imagine, this form of leadership causes friction and confusion. “The imposition of the Indian Act electoral system undermined a tradition of self-governance that had existed effectively for thousands of years. The imposed system displaced traditional political structures and did not reflect, consider or honour [Indigenous] needs or values. It also did not recognize that each Nation had its own style of governance with specialized skills, tools, authority and capacity developed over centuries. It was designed for assimilation – to remake traditional cultures in the image of the colonizers” (Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.).

16) Donate to Indigenous organizations

Consider personal donations, reparations, and assisting with Indigenous funding applications (when relationships are present). Donations could include a range of financial to non-financial contributions to support Indigenous goals. Local Indigenous websites may be sources for finding organizations to donate.

17) I/we will educate ourselves on the difference between historical and modern-day treaties and why extinguishment of Aboriginal rights and title is unacceptable

“From the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries, Crown representatives and leaders of [Indigenous] communities signed treaties throughout most of Canada in an effort to resolve issues of outstanding [Indigenous] title.  These treaties set out agreements as to the nature and limits of [Indigenous] rights and title.  Crown representatives interpreted these treaties as a “blanket extinguishment” of [Indigenous] title. However, many have argued that at the time the treaties were negotiated, [Indigenous] signatories did not understand the treaties as limiting or extinguishing their title. The Supreme Court would later confirm that treaties should be interpreted with the [Indigenous] interests in mind (Simon v the Queen [1985]).” See more about Indigenous title here.

18) Learn what nation-to-nation relationships might look like on the territory you live on

Examples of Nation to Nation relationships:

  • The sovereignty to exercise and implement inherent Indigenous and Treaty rights and responsibilities;
  • Establishing a new relationship with the Crown to include Indigenous self-government founded in self-determination, legal capacity and access to resources
  • Respectful engagement of Treaty renewal and Treaty implementation;
  • Explore fiscal arrangements and resource revenue sharing;
  • Closing the social and economic gaps faced by Indigenous peoples.

    Read National Dialogue Discussion Paper.

19) Learn how environmental racism is practiced in Canada against Indigenous communities, for instance in Grassy Narrows First Nation territory

Some accessible articles to begin these learnings include

20) Be willing to be uncomfortable, since what a truly just and decolonized Canada will look like is not yet known

Read: Decolonizing food systems: A journey into an uncomfortable but necessary place.