A Campbell River non-profit organization has received funding to teach decolonization and reconciliation to community groups and businesses over the next year.
Volunteer Campbell River discussed the yet-untitled project at the Campbell River and District Coalition To End Homelessness meeting on Sept. 3. With funding provided by the B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office, they will hold a series of workshops and events for local businesses and non-profits to give a better understanding of reconciliation, the importance of decolonization and how those practices can be implemented in daily life.
“The main idea behind the project is to begin looking at where our organizations, both businesses and non-profits, are at in our path of healing, understanding, reconciliation and decolonization,” said Volunteer Campbell River executive director Mary Catherine Williams “We hope to do some demonstration of that process in a small way and to do some community learning as well.”
The project started in August and runs until July 2021. Volunteer Campbell River, along with partner agencies Campbell River Chamber of Commerce and the Immigrant Welcome Centre, will be facilitating a series of group events over online platforms to offer initial training to the community. This will be focused on Indigenous history, colonization and its impact and anti-racism. Then in the new year, they will invite eight non-profits and eight businesses to work together in small groups to explore the state of their organizations and how they can adapt their practices to move forward.
“Where are they at, what things do they need to think about in their own organization in terms of policy and procedure, who works there, how they treat people that interact with their organization, what can they do moving forward that is reducing racism and also welcoming and including Indigenous people and others into their space and organization,” are all topics to be considered Williams said.
Decolonization is a nuanced topic with no standard definition. It is generally seen as a counter to colonialism, which according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a “practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another.” Canada has a history of colonization that started when European people came to North America and set up systems that benefited themselves, rather than the people who were already here. Decolonization typically refers to restoring lands, culture, language, relationships and rights, among other things, to Indigenous people. However, as this colonial system is older than the nation of Canada itself, moving past it means changing fundamental aspects of Canadian society.
“The decolonization piece has really been new to me in the past six months or so when I really started to explore that and understand what colonization has done to all of us,” said Williams. “It has impacted all of us, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and throughout the world.”
“I have lived in Campbell River for a long time, about 20 years and I know that there is racism in our community. I hear about it and I see it. Friends and family experience it. This is something that we need to do… We have to reach out and do that, it’s not for others to do it, it’s for us to do it,” she added.
Since colonialism is a global phenomenon, Williams believes it is important to help newcomers to Canada who themselves have experienced some form of colonialism in their countries of origin. That is why one of the major partners is the Immigrant Welcome Centre of Campbell River.
“Newcomers to Canada also come from colonized environments where they have affected by colonization as well. It’s about really rethinking what neo-colonization is still like and what we can do to move away from colonization,” Williams explained. “One of the training that we’ll be offering will be specifically about the decolonization piece, what that might mean and how internally, we can begin to process that.”
Though some of the training will be offered by Indigenous people who specialize in this kind of work, Williams said that most of the work will be done through self-examination.
“I don’t expect this work to be done by others. This is work that we as organizations and non-Indigenous people need to do,” she said. “We have to learn from people who have experience in this and have done the thinking and learning that we have to then do. It’s a bit complicated, but we have to do this work, and I think it’s in partnership and support of Indigenous people and others.”
Williams says that the idea for the project came after years of working in the non-profit sector. She saw the leadership and staff of many organizations not having the knowledge and experience to bring reconciliation and decolonization into their operations. Volunteer Campbell River got some funding last year from the Campbell River Community Foundation to start but is hoping that this new round of funding helps spread the message even more.
“I think it’s been important for a long time, but we’re realizing it more and more. There’s the recent historical experiences, like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which produced its report in 2015. It really encouraged us all to do this work in different ways. It encouraged educational institutions, organizations and us as a country to make sure that newcomers understand the history of Canada. I know that there are Canadians who were born here need to understand the history of Canada more fully, as I have had to learn some and still need to learn more,” Williams said.
Decolonization and reconciliation are meant to be ongoing practices, and Williams hopes this program will be one of the first in many steps for the community.
The project is in the early stages. Williams hopes that the initial training programs can start online in November.