Decolonization, Indigenization, & Postcolonialism

Watch the “Decolonization: How Does it Interact with Indigenization and Postcolonialism”


The process of removing the problematic hierarchy of colonial ideologies and western methods of acquiring knowledge. We are surrounded by systems that privilege western ways of conducting business [1].

Example – Professional Communication

Conducting business through emails is widely accepted and expected from people around the globe. It is efficient and practical. In my experience, an Indigenous nation has a culture of people that prefer inviting you to their home for coffee instead. This is because they felt business emails lack authenticity. Understanding and accepting that both ways of approaching business are equally valid plays a crucial role in decolonizing ourselves.

Decolonization does not imply that western ways of conducting business are “bad” or “incorrect,” but aims to remove western bias and create spaces that are inclusive and respectful to international cultures and Indigenous Peoples.


Indigenization is the process of incorporating Indigenous “ways of knowing”, ways of learning, technology, guiding principles and knowledge systems into our schools, businesses, governments and institutions.

Decolonization is often confused with Indigenization.

Although everyone can benefit from Indigenization, not everyone can Indigenize curriculum.

With this in mind, it is important to emphasize that Indigenization:

  • should be carried out by primary rights holders.
  • does not aim to replace western knowledge.

Indigenization is best visualized as the act of braiding two distinct knowledge systems so that learners can come to understand and appreciate both [1].

Decolonization and Indigenization go hand in hand, and this is shown below.

Two-Step Process to Decolonization and Indigenization

Decolonization deconstructs the superiority associated with colonial ideologies to help create space for Indigenization.

Indigenization involves incorporating Indigenous sciences, maths, arts and other knowledge systems into our classrooms.

Example – Decolonization vs. Indigenization

Decolonization recognizes that there are multiple places to facilitate learning; a traditional classroom, on the land, by the river, in a lab. Indigenization would involve replacing a western teaching space or incorporating a specific component of Indigenous teaching to the classroom.


According to the mandate issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Canada (TRC), “reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in [Canada]” [2].

Everyone has a role to play in reconciliation. Decolonizing ourselves, our communities and our institutions is part of our role in truth and reconciliation as engineers.


Postcolonialism is a term that has been used to refer to current governance structures in Canada. But is Canada a postcolonial state or a colonial state? Postcolonialism refers to the study of a region or culture after colonization has occurred.  Colonialism, as I’m sure we’re aware, “is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another.”

So before we link decolonization & postcolonialism, let’s take a step back.

Canada as a country gained independence from Britain in 1867. However, when it gained independence, who held the power? The colonizers or the Indigenous peoples? In other areas of the world, like sub-Saharan Africa or South America, “independence” meant Indigenous peoples reclaiming governance & power after occupation from Europeans. In that sense, there was a clear line to be drawn between colonial & postcolonial eras. But in Canada (and the US and South Africa and Australia), power just shifted from Europe to the settlers. Indigenous peoples today still don’t have autonomy over many of their governance structures, and they definitely don’t hold power the same way that settlers & their descendants do.

So is Canada a postcolonial state? No. Is it a colonial state? Yes, but not in the sense that we’re used to thinking about.

Alright, so knowing this, why should we be aware of whether Canada is a colonial or postcolonial state? Well, when we as settlers and the descendants of settlers are doing this decolonization work, we have to understand that we hold a lot of power. By decolonizing, our focus needs to be on shifting the power away from just us, and breaking down the immense structure of western frameworks and practices to include and amplify Indigenous voices, practices, and rights.


Antoine, A., Mason, R., Mason, R., Palahicky, S. & Rodriguez de France, C. (2018). Pulling Together: A Guide for Curriculum Developers. Victoria, BC: BCcampus. Retrieved from

Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC). (2015, July 23). Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. TRC.



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Decolonizing the Engineering Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Pamela Wolf, Ben Harris, Nika Martinussen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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