The issue: Wider mainstream acceptance of Indigenous[i] perspectives could offer new ways forward on reconciliation, climate action, antiracism initiatives, and social development, but any such shift may provoke strong negative reactions from some.
As colonial narratives and stereotypes are further dismantled, more people may find it easier to understand systemic oppression and support reconciliation.
Some non-Indigenous Canadians are beginning to realize and question the dominance of colonial narratives. These narratives have shaped popular understanding of Canadian history, and supported structures of privilege and oppression. Subsequent generations may be more aware of colonial injustices and their consequences. And as new narratives emerge from Indigenous futurism, old stereotypes may give way to visions of a future where Indigenous peoples thrive and play a key leadership role in a much wider range of policy domains than at present. Changes in people’s mental models of Indigenous pasts and futures may in turn raise public demand for faster and deeper action on reconciliation. This might extend to much broader support for recognition of land and resource rights, reparations for historical wrongs, and greater autonomy over infrastructure and social programs.
As Indigenous Knowledge and worldviews become more prominent, they could shift mainstream thinking about the economy, social supports, ecological responsibility, and technology.
Rising mainstream awareness and adoption of Indigenous nowledge and ways of seeing the world has the potential to transform popular views and expectations in a range of policy areas. For example, uptake of “seventh-generation thinking”—that the long-term impact of today’s decisions must always be considered—could increase the public’s tolerance of short-term sacrifices for long-term gains. Similarly, the Indigenous concept of putting humans at the centre—acting with the intent of having a positive impact on real people—could transform popular views on social benefit programs.[ii] Applied to the world of digital technologies, this concept of focusing on human outcomes could reduce certain harms associated with social media, screen addiction, and information overload. Finally, widespread uptake of the idea that land is medicine—that the natural world sustains and heals all things—could accelerate the acceptance of nature prescriptions[iii] into healthcare or the extension of legal personhood to non-living entities.[iv]
As more non-Indigenous people embrace reconciliation and perhaps even adopt Indigenous approaches to major social and environmental problems, existing anti-reconciliation sentiments could become even more powerful.
Challenges to traditional views of the past and future, wider support for real reconciliation, and broad adoption of Indigenous perspectives or values are threatening to some groups. Certain corporations and some workers in extractive industries could see deeper integration of Indigenous Knowledge into policy[v] as a threat to their economic security. Some fringe groups might view mainstream acceptance of Indigenous perspectives on history as an attack on their version of national identity. At the same time, some Indigenous people may consider certain mainstream uses of Indigenous knowledge as cultural appropriation. Any or all of these reactions could deepen social divides and social conflict—between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, but also within both sets of communities.
[i] “Here we use “Indigenous” to refer to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. At the same time, we acknowledge that each of these groups is culturally, linguistically, geographically, and socially diverse.
[ii] M. Saulis, “Indigenous Wholistic Healing Social Policy,” in Canadian Social Policy: Issues and Perspectives, eds A. Westhues and B. Wharf (Waterloo: WLU Press, 2012) 91-3.
[iii] “Prescribing nature: Research suggests the outdoors are good for your mental health,” CBC, last modified Sep. 6, 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-sept-6-2021-1.6163980/prescribing-nature-research-suggests-the-outdoors-are-good-for-your-mental-health-1.6163985.
[iv] Justine Townsend, “Why the first river in Canada to become a legal person signals a boon for Indigenous Rights,” The Narwhal, last modified Jun. 11, 2021, https://thenarwhal.ca/opinion-muteshekau-shipu-magpie-river-personhood/#.
[v] Government of Canada, “Indigenous Knowledge Policy Framework for Project Reviews and Regulatory Decisions,” accessed, Feb. 7, 2023, https://www.canada.ca/en/impact-assessment-agency/programs/aboriginal-consultation-federal-environmental-assessment/indigenous-knowledge-policy-framework-initiative/indigenous-knowledge-policy-framework-project-reviews-regulatory-decisions.html