Education | Opinion

Duane Champagne: Decolonization teachings missing the mark

"How long should a grievance be allowed to fester? When it comes to many Native American studies programs, the answer seems to be, “For too long.”

Decolonization, resistance to assimilation, critical indigenous studies, and other negatively focused aspects of the Indian experience are now common in such programs. This is all well and good; properly critiquing American history and acts toward indigenous communities has a role in the curriculum. But such an emphasis is misplaced if taken to extremes.

Some university Indian studies programs now advocate anticolonial and decolonization teachings. By ridding ourselves of colonized viewpoints, the thinking goes, a person can free oneself from colonized thinking and compliance. It follows that if everyone in every tribe did this, then there would be free-thinking students, and liberated Indian community members.

The problem with this reasoning, though, is that these critiques divert our attention from the direct concern, attention, teaching, and research about tribal communities and cultures. People become confused about the struggle and indigenous community and identity. If people believe the struggle and critique are the primary point then they are in the business of focusing on the history and institutions of colonization. Using Western weapons of political and cultural conflict against them turns into a form of assimilation, and loses sight of, takes central focus away from, the primary goal of preserving and renewing indigenous communities."

Get the Story:
Duane Champagne: Are Native American Studies Programs Doing a Good Job? (Indian Country Today 9/23)

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