July 13, 2020Print | PDF
Kathy Absolon-King, associate professor of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University and director of the Laurier Centre for Indigegogy, has been awarded an Insight Grant by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). She will receive $213,080 over three years for her study “Decolonizing journeys: Learning about decolonizing through Indigenous research and digital story work.”
Established in 2017, the Centre for Indigegogy provides professional development opportunities rooted in Indigenous practices and beliefs. The centre offers a Decolonizing Education Certificate program to help educators understand colonization and its impacts and to integrate those perspectives into their teaching. Absolon-King is an instructor in the certificate program, but was inspired to launch her “Decolonizing Journeys” study after enrolling in the program as a student.
“Though I’ve been working in this field for 30 years, I decided I wanted to participate myself and learn from the other amazing instructors,” she says. “During that year with my fellow students, I started to experience the journey of decolonization from an emotional, relational place, rather than simply an intellectual one. It reinforced for me that decolonization is truly a journey. It is a process of unpacking and unlearning, and taking a second look at the values, beliefs and ethics with which we teach.”
Absolon-King discovered a gap in existing academic literature about this process, making it difficult to establish best practices for decolonization education. She and her collaborators from the University of Guelph, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Ryerson University and York University are seeking to remedy that by collecting stories of participants who have completed the Decolonizing Education Certificate program.
“We are documenting a journey that not many people have had the courage to go on,” says Absolon-King. “We are going to take a closer look at where the turning points are, when the ‘a-ha’ moments occur and what causes those transformative moments. Our learnings will inform future modules and deepen our training.”
Absolon-King compares the study to similar work in the fields of grief or death and dying.
“People who embark on this journey experience a death of sorts by confronting their old ways of knowing the world and learning to accept what colonization means and all of its manifestations,” she says. “It’s uncomfortable. It takes time and it causes grief, pain and anxiety. Just as we have established resources for the grief process, we want to provide a roadmap to help people through decolonization. We will establish markers that confirm for them, ‘If you’re experiencing this, it’s okay – you’re on a journey.’ Or if you’re not feeling these emotions, you may not be doing the work.”
"Decolonization is truly a journey. It is a process of unpacking and unlearning, and taking a second look at the values, beliefs and ethics with which we teach.”
- Kathy Absolon-King
The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily delayed plans for the study, but next year Absolon-King plans to bring together a group of 15 participants for a one-week retreat that will involve two days of circle-based ceremonial work, followed by three days working with Professor Carla Rice at the University of Guelph’s Digital Story Lab. There, participants will share their stories and develop video narratives of their decolonization journeys. The research team will repeat the exercise the following year and then compile the narratives to share widely at conferences and gatherings.
A collaborative, personal approach to research is a deliberate choice for Absolon-King, who sees it as an important antidote to colonial practices. Through the Centre for Indigegogy, she has focused on promoting an Indigenous research methodology.
“In simple terms, Indigenous research is holistic, inclusive of the spirit and follows Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing,” says Absolon-King. “The mainstream research methodology, which is primarily based on interviewing, is extractive. You are mining someone’s brain. We prefer to have conversations that are more reciprocal and steeped in relational accountability, while coming together for feasting, circles and gatherings on the land.
“The Indigenous methodology is one way of knowing, not the only way. But it has been omitted from the buffet of methodologies we’ve come to know. I’m making sure this beautiful entrée is included in the buffet.”
Absolon-King is excited by her win in the Insight Grants competition, her first as a primary investigator.
“I’m invited to be a collaborator on a lot of grants, but I feel like this time it’s me as an Indigenous researcher and scholar taking the reins myself,” she says. “There aren’t a lot of Indigenous scholars doing research at this level, so I feel like my success is a bit of an inroad for us, perhaps opening the door for my Indigenous colleagues. We are stepping into the centre and steering our own canoe. Not ship; canoe.”