Definition of Transforming Settler Consciousness

Our current understanding of transforming settler consciousness is:

Creating narratives, processes, and practices that hold settlers accountable to their responsibilities as beneficiaries of colonization, both historic and ongoing.

Naming and upsetting the status quo, and challenging the power dynamics that perpetuate settler colonialism.

Building just and decolonized relationships with Indigenous peoples, the land, and all beings.

Engaging in an ongoing, complex, and dynamic process grounded in a lifetime commitment, which occurs at the level of the individual, family, community, and nation.

Elaboration on Terminology

This collaborative collection has been initiated within an academic setting, and we have used particular terminology to express our objectives and research questions. We aim to use accessible language and avoid unnecessary jargon while continuing to articulate concepts intentionally in ways that express specific meanings. The purpose of this page is to define the terms we use and elaborate on our choice of language.

Our research has focused on what it means to transform settler consciousness

The term “settler” provides clear denotation of the non-Indigenous presence on Indigenous lands in the nation-state of Canada. The concept, which has a long history, has been adopted in the area of scholarship called “settler colonialism” (e.g. Veracini, Wolfe) and has analytical value in identifying Canada as an ongoing colonial state with continuing implications for Indigenous-non-Indigenous relations. However important the term “settler” is analytically, many Canadians object to the use of the term because they associate it with their ancestors rather than themselves. While the use of the term can be “unsettling” in promoting changes in understanding, the choice of language also needs to be considered for its strategic value in opening up possibilities for transforming the consciousness of Canadians to deeper conversations. We have chosen the term “settler” with awareness that all terms are subject to contestation and that we might choose other terms in other contexts. 

We have used the term “transform” to signal the project of making change in the world in which we are living. Following the popular education tradition of Paulo Freire, analysis, action and reflection are dynamically inter-related concepts. Analysis is important, but we analyze in order to act in this world.  Reflection helps us to deepen our analysis and to plan new action strategically to change power relations.  

“Consciousness” can be thought about in different disciplinary senses, but here we refer to our understanding that a person construes the world through lenses constructed by the society in which they live. With Reagan (2010), we think about the consciousness of Canadians as being shaped by powerful narratives that tell the stories of Canada in particular ways. Our goal is to disrupt narratives that make invisible the historical unfolding of Indigenous-non-Indigenous relations and that celebrate Canada while hiding the taking of land, the dishonouring of treaties, the breaking of promises, the taking of children from their families, and an agenda of cultural genocide.   What happened historically continues in contemporary forms, and Canada’s narratives are strategically designed to disguise continuities. When we think about transforming settler consciousness, we are talking about interventions that create possibilities for Canadians to disrupt these narratives, to learn from Indigenous peoples, to question what they have been taught in the past, and to reconsider their relationships with Indigenous peoples at an individual, family, community, and national level.  We see these shifts in how Canadians understand themselves as facilitating deeper confrontations of settler colonialism.

In 2016, we added a new categorization of initiatives called “reconciliation”. Reconciliation has been defined in many ways.   Some people view reconciliation as the hopeful beginning of a new chapter in relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples by acknowledging the past and moving forward with new understandings and partnerships. Others consider reconciliation to be a distracting government ploy to avoid dealing with the occupation of Indigenous lands and to subsume Indigenous Nations within the Canadian state.

Since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 Final Report and their 94 Calls to Action, there has been a groundswell of grassroots initiatives as responses to “reconciliation”. Many organizations, associations and governments have created events and educational opportunities to address Indigenous-non-Indigenous relations. The purpose of the category “Reconciliation” on this website is:

To identify those initiatives that organizers say are addressing reconciliation.

To identify those initiatives aimed at educating about the truth of Indigenous-non-Indigenous history and relationships.

To identify initiatives designed to make non-Indigenous peoples more aware of Indigenous peoples, cultures, and treaties.

To identify initiatives that encourage people to take action based on their changing knowledge.

To identify those initiatives whose work addresses one or more of the TRC’s calls to action explicitly or implicitly.

It was not always easy to decide whether an initiative should be classified as “reconciliation”. For example, should an initiative that takes a more oppositional position in relation to reconciliation be categorized as “reconciliation” if its aims are resonant with the purposes noted above? No doubt, this category will be debated into the future as part of the ongoing unfolding of Indigenous-Non-Indigenous relationships.

Works Cited

Friere , Paulo.  Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  New York:  Continuum, 1986. c. 1970

Reagan, Paulette.  Unsettling the Settler Within.  Vancouver:  UBC Press, 2010.

Veracini, Lorenzo.  Settler Colonialism:  A Theoretical Overview.  NY:  Palgrave MacMillan, 2010.

Wolfe, Patrick.  “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.”  Journal of Genocide Research.   8, no. 4 (2006):  387-409.

1 Response to Definition of Transforming Settler Consciousness

  1. Erin Lund Johnson says:

    “Building just and decolonized relationships with Indigenous peoples, the land, and all beings.” I am very interested in all the possibilities which might come from this aspect. I’d love to hear more talk around this transforming of relations and how we might do this together between our peoples outside of the colonial framework which assigns these unjust roles and relationships to us.

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