By Cedar Luke, PPP Intercultural Research Associate
Pacific Peoples’ Partnership (PPP) has inspired me to cultivate my abilities to serve something greater. My name is Cedar Luke, I began to work with PPP in the first weeks of 2020 as an intern by means of a continuing studies program in Intercultural Education at the University of Victoria. PPP seemed to align well with my previous engagement in Indigenous Studies, Social Justice and Latin American Studies which I pursued throughout my undergraduate degree.
My work with PPP has allowed me to synthesize years of research and academic pursuits by bridging the university with a larger community vision. April Ingham, the executive director of PPP, has been an incredible guide, focusing my efforts to the benefit of the organization as well as the greater movement towards equity, inclusion, and social justice.
Through my internship, I had the honour to review a program developed by a previous Indigenous Governance intern, Russ Johnston, titled the “Community Toolkit.” This program is designed as a workshop to explore the importance of our own history and perspective in working cross-culturally as an ally for social justice. This program recognizes the unjust history of colonization and searches to define and practice decolonization as a tool to envision positive pathways to healthy and reciprocal relationships between people, place, and culture.
This program defines six specific steps to accomplish this: an introduction aligned with local Indigenous protocols, the exploration of self-location and accountability, developing definitions of decolonization and allyship, and the creative aspect of envisioning positive, cross-cultural relationships and a future which we can work towards together.
Through my conversations with community, I realized just how important it is to know where one is coming from and what influences our perspective. In the step on self-location, we ask participants to identify their birthplace, their ancestry and their relationship to different natural environments in order to welcome their stories into the space. As Russ says, the work of this workshop needs to matter to each participant and is only meaningful if we know who we are in relation to it. In the next step, we explore different levels of accountability experienced in each aspect of our self-location and explore why we have chosen to participate in this workshop and the service of solidarity.
Harsha Walia, a Vancouver based activist and writer, defines decolonization as “a dramatic re-imagining of relationships with land, people and the state. Much of this requires study. It requires conversation. It is a practice; it is an unlearning.” We intentionally avoid giving a static definition for decolonization because it is a concept and practice which is constantly evolving. Decolonization is critical of imperialism and colonialism and thus works to advance the interests of Indigenous peoples by re-centering Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing. The values derived from colonization continue to be upheld in many societal norms and institutions, intimately interwoven into social structures that perpetuate inequality and discrimination. For this reason, decolonization has deep implications for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens who wish for a more equitable and just society.
Exploring colonization and decolonization can bring up many deep feelings of sadness, confusion anger, guilt, denial, etc. Many individuals who are privileged by the structures of inequality can choose not to engage and for this reason it is important we call people into the conversation rather than calling people out. To become an ally through grounded relationships is a great honor and gift. In working cross-culturally we learn about ourselves, we learn how to respectfully and curiously learn from others, and have the opportunity to be part of beautiful collaborations. This willingness to connect with what is unknown expands our sense of community, our sense of purpose and sense of belonging.
This program will be primarily used as an introductory workshop within the orientation process for new PPP interns and volunteers. This is to assure the heart of our operations are aligned with critical inquiry and the most effective positive change for the individual as well as the collective. As this program continues to develop, we are open to cultivating a several session seminar which would be open to the public for community engagement. I am currently refining a final draft of recommendations which I have generated over the past four months. I look forward to seeing how this program will grow into the future.
Although my work with the Community Toolkit is coming to a close, I am continuing to work with PPP as a research associate. In the coming months, I will focus on the development of a handbook to enshrine wise practices and policies for working with youth. I hope this handbook will assure PPP’s work is forever a safe and inspiring space for youth to learn and grow.
As we move forward together, may we remember that we are all historically Indigenous to somewhere. We all need the same vital nutrients of this Earth to nourish life, and through the act of giving we truly do receive.
Cedar Luke has lived, studied and worked in Latin America for five years and is graduating in Latin American Studies and Intercultural Education from the University of Victoria. Over the years, he has built relationships with Indigenous traditions of the Amazon as well as with the Annishnaabe community where he was raised in Duluth, Minnesota in the United States.