Decolonial State of Mind

About the Perspectives on Democracy Series

As a social change agency, CKX seeks to leverage its platform to amplify voices on critical social justice issues. This series illuminates perspectives on democracy and pathways towards reconciliation and decolonization.

Our thanks and gratitude to Melissa Herman for her contribution to and crafting of this series, documenting stories and insights with Indigenous creators, artists, warriors, mothers, daughters, sisters and activists on their experience and engagement with democracy in Canada.

Zoey Roy can make the ground move with her voice. She is the creator of gentle earthquakes that softly shift the views of the world. She is a young Denesuline/Cree/Métis woman who lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She wears many hats ranging from social justice warrior to poet to social engineer, just to name a few. But most of all she encourages people across the country to remove barriers to reconciliation through acts of kindness, love and building on each others’ commonalities and strengths.

Currently, she is studying ways to decolonize approaches to research. She tells me that, first off, researchers need to know where in society they stand. Second, researchers need to state what we are trying to do, why, and what we would gain from it in comparison to what the community gains from it. Then, we need to interrogate that action — of what we gain — through a decolonized perspective.

Zoey says we need to create new knowledge and new ways of researching. She shares that she is interrogating the Youth Justice system by saying that probation officers lack competency and act on biases; the system as whole is incompetent because of the number of Indigenous youth that are incarcerated for crimes of poverty — such as breaking into cars and shoplifting. She says that can’t be because Indigenous youth are more problematic, so she has to prove it. And how to decolonize those systemic assumptions — that Indigenous youth are somehow more problematic — is to look at what is happening through a Traditional, trauma-informed lens.

As an Indigenous researcher, she says that she focuses on safe spaces that are trauma-informed. She says it is important to follow the principles of OCAP. The four principles are Ownership, Control, Access and Possession, forming  a set of standards that establish how Indigenous peoples’ data should be collected, protected, used, and shared. She tells me to look at OCAP’s wording and use the wording to focus on creating engagement  that are a little bigger, long-term and research-focused to ensure the information we gain from our engagements will build on strengths of Indigenous communities. She says it is a matter of analyzing resiliency and leveraging strengths.

In terms of democracy, she says that she doesn’t feel like most of the people in current leadership roles reflect her, or Indigenous communities. She says it can’t be a coincidence that any given Board of Directors, any given powerful company, agency or level of Government were and are made up predominantly of old white men. She feels it is such a lazy approach to our country and that as a young person, if she doesn’t change it, who will? So she learned more about democracy, government structure, and the Canadian government.

Zoey understands that democracy is where we are at — but the problem is the people who are most disengaged and disempowered by government are the people who need the government the most — and they aren't the ones voting. So democracy can’t work for everyone because it perpetuates that disenfranchisement of the most vulnerable populations; Indigenous people, for instance. She explains that our people are the most represented in disparity and poverty, with low life expectancy. We have the lowest graduation rates and the highest rates of dependency on social assistance. And these things are the result of decisions and policies made by people who were voted into power. She notes that these are all manifestations of Canada’s democracy and obviously this democracy doesn’t work for us. She is adamant that Indigenous people are constantly disempowered by the Canadian government. She adds that, until our people are more engaged, it won’t matter what political party is in office. She closes with ‘this is a vicious cycle and it needs to stop.’

Melissa Herman lives in Treaty 8's northern region. Entrenched in the ancient traditions of the Dene people, she does her best to carry those practices with her, to extend to the modern world, in an effort to bring together Canada and Indigenous peoples.