Guest Post: Eric Ritskes

This week, Niigaan: In Conversation is pleased to present a series of essays written by our friends and allies who, through their work, are rebuilding relationships and reenvisioning our future.  As part of the planning process behind our upcoming gala, we asked ourselves, what happened to the fire? The community rallied around Chief Spence, there was a desperate feeling, people brought wood, food, soup, medicines, water. We need to get that energy back. The problems are still here, we still have work to do. 

For more information about our Biiskaabiiyang Winter Gala in partnership with Red Man Laughing, visit:

The Chords of Sustained Indigenous Decolonization


For me, the power of Idle No More was bound to the creative resistance it manifested. More than the round dances, more than the national television coverage, and more than the hashtags – people took it on themselves, joined with community members, reached across Canada and across national borders to collectively decide to contribute something to the movement. Pamphlets were written, teach-ins were planned, art was made, sacred spaces were claimed, and highways were blockaded. Whatever it was that motivated them, people decided to put their beliefs and skills into creative contention with the ongoing colonial reality. I was struck by the diversity of actions and how spontaneously people rose up to make them happen. It was the power of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous nations on display for the world to see, the creative contention with current and historical colonial violences that couldn’t, despite best efforts, keep the spirit of Indigenous peoples from resisting and from creating. sacred fire

It was also a reminder of the power of hope. Too often we find ourselves caught up in the daily grind of decolonization – even of survival – of struggling on multiple levels against seemingly endless barriers; but what Idle No More reminded me of was the joy and hope that drives us all to imagine a different future, one where Indigenous nationhood and peoples are honored and valued. Seeing so many people join together, I was reminded of why we hope for something else – it was a small, imperfect taste of what it is to come, but a taste that lingers and can sustain us for the next step.

The challenge then, and now, is how to transform that hope into something sustainable and something lasting. The challenge is to take our dreams and figure out the practical steps needed to make them reality. It’s not a matter of recapturing the fire of Idle No More – because passion and desire are/were not enough. They are the spark, the beginning, and what is needed is collective will and organization for the hard work of decolonization, for the work that happens when the placards are put away. When we enter into long-term commitment to the struggle, we commit to giving our energy, our skills, our being to be the fuel the keeps the sacred fires burning.

This commitment demands that we look for answers beyond the institutions and structures that continually implicate us in the colonial project. We need to envision education as something beyond the colonial schools and government funding plans. We need to believe that governance and politics are more than band councils or municipal/ provincial/federal bodies. We need to understand environmentalism beyond individual cases and causes. While we are all complicit with varying systems of oppression, and we all occupy various positions on the continuum between resistance and oppression, we must all choose to work for and demand change. We need to envision and then collectively build alternatives. Our theories, protests, petitions and powerful words are only as valuable as the sustained actions for decolonization that they provoke. To be able to collectively build, to string together the moments of disruption through the chords of daily, lived out resistance, we must be willing to sustain one another. We must be able to live out the kinds of relationships, on a micro level, before they can ever become reality on a larger scale. This is taking resistance and resurgence back to the kinship level, to a relational level that allows us to hold one another up, to build and collaborate. This requires revolutionary actions like humility, self-love, and setting aside ego. It’s about allowing individual to play a role and showcase their skills within a collective that values them. It’s about building.

As I write this, I feel like what I am saying is a little simplistic, leaning a little too close to vague platitudes; but sometimes what is needed begins with ‘simple’ actions that reverberate into larger movements. We are collaborative journeying towards a tangible future of Indigenous sovereignty and nationhood, towards a collective decolonization and moments of reflection, like these, are necessary to both see what we’ve already learned and what is yet to be learned. Idle No More taught us some valuable lessons that we must learn from and build on, rather than letting them slide into that place of forgetfulness, where lessons learned through hard fought struggle are lost and errors repeated.

Eric Ritskes is a PhD student at the University of Toronto in Sociology and Equity Studied in Education. He is the founder and co-Editor of Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, an un-disciplinary online, peer-reviewed journal.

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