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date: 29 June 2017

Indigenous Education and Decolonization

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

The need to decolonize and indigenize education stems from shared experiences of colonialism across the globe. In a world divided by ongoing conflict and fueled by issues of power and control, the need to closely examine the ways that education has served hegemonic interests will help to inform future educational initiatives as well as serve as a form of reparation for those indigenous peoples who have endured the dire consequences of colonialism. Present-day efforts to reclaim and revitalize threatened traditions are supported by international bodies such as the United Nations, as articulated within the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2008).

Decolonizing education entails identifying how colonization has impacted education and working to unsettle colonial structures and dynamics within educational contexts. Indigenizing education entails articulating and revitalizing indigenous understandings of education and reshaping education in ways that are responsive to indigenous communities’ knowledges. We use the term education broadly in these descriptions to name the sociocultural task of understanding ways of knowing and being within epistemological and ontological systems and the ongoing formation and transmission of knowledges: for instance, we mean both formal education as structured through Western schooling and other forms of education such as those traditionally practiced within indigenous families and communities. Decolonizing and indigenizing education fits within larger understandings of decolonization and indigenization at sociopolitical levels. However, these undertakings address in particular the colonization of the mind, of knowledge, language and culture, and the impacts of colonization at personal and collective levels of physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological, and intellectual experience.

From our perspectives, indigenizing is significant and distinct from decolonizing in that indigenizing work begins from indigenous perspectives and standpoints. Indigenizing is powerful for indigenous communities because it removes the colonial as a primary focus. Whereas the act of decolonizing challenges colonization and Eurocentrism, indigenizing fosters the resurgence and practice of indigenous knowledges and principles of self-determination by connecting indigenous pasts, presents, and futures. In this time of transition, the work of decolonizing schooling precedes that of indigenizing education for most educators and learners. Yet, in keeping with indigenous knowledge traditions, it must be acknowledged that education is in a state of constant flux as we come to know education as representative of diverse, and complex, worldviews.