I recently came across a news article about a Caucasian man in Winnipeg who proudly donned his personalized car plates around the city with the word: ASSIMIL8.
Shortly afterward, he got two complaints from two people who took offence at the word. They complained to his insurance company and he was asked to remove his plate after which he claimed that he used the personalized plate to honor his favorite show, Startrek. The complaints were made on the grounds that Indigenous people are negatively triggered by the words based on our history of assimilation in Canada. As an Indigenous female who faces everyday experiences of racism when I clearly demonstrate that I am an Indigenous person through my Cree accent and dialect, customs, beliefs, and worldviews, I can affirm that the word ASSIMIL8 triggers a negative response within me.
Assimilation is defined as the process that has individuals and groups of people of different heritage acquire the same basic habits, attitudes, and mode of life of an embracing culture (Merriam-Webster). In Canada, this refers to how we as Indigenous people have been forced to abandon our languages, spiritual beliefs, and family customs to better fit into the white-settler western ways of existing. To assimilate was the general aim of the government when they put our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents into residential schools as children and punished them for showing any part of their Indigenous identities. Through daily beatings, verbal abuse, and shaming they were taught that the white way was the right way.
Today, with these extreme kind of colonization tactics normally frowned upon, we still face the pressure to assimilate in highly invisible, but equally destructive, ways.
I was in a conversation with someone recently who told me that in non-Indigenous institutions, the first step is to start the process to decolonize the way people think. The definition of decolonize is “to free from colonial state” (Merriam-Webster). In this sense, it is the idea that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people begin to think differently about themselves in Canadian society; to rid themselves of the idea that white ways are the right ways. Truly, to decolonize ourselves is the first step to clearing the way for our Indigenous ways to be accepted as part of what is normal in this country and its institutions. In this way, there would be no need for us to assimilate in order to find success in the dominant society as we would be accepted for who we are. Especially for those of us who live away from our reserves.
The work to begin to decolonize is fairly difficult and it is a task that I strive to help with as part of my business, Free the Spirit Consulting. Some of the services I offer to communities and organizations is to show the value of Indigenous understandings, teachings, and worldviews in our society, that people see this value in their daily lives and relationships. At the same time, I hope to maintain pride in my Indigenous identity, to remain financially and economically self-sufficient without the need to assimilate. Therefore, I invite you the reader to consider the value of my services to your community or organization. Hiring our services is a small step.