Working It Out Together: Decolonization Dance

Season 3 ends on a high note featuring dance, and its ability to heal. Host Waneek Horn-Miller sums up the significance of dance: “Dance has always been an integral part of our ceremonies and traditions. It expresses our prayers, and our mythology, it celebrates our victories, and is a way to heal.”

However, colonization nearly destroyed dance. Policy forced dance underground, yet it survived and is seeing a resurgence across the land. Briana Olson, Manager, iHuman Youth Society, explains, “Our ceremonies were related, and central, and fully immersed in how we raised our children, how we engaged in trade, and through our language was how we were directly connected with how we viewed our land.” But to the colonizers, dance was viewed as a threat to the values they held. Thus the settlers created policy to ensure language, ceremonies and sacred dances were all banned. This form of colonization has facilitated  the culture of shame that, for many Indigenous people, has become a way of being.

Karen J. Pheasant, Cultural Knowledge Keeper, also speaks to the tradition and importance of dance in Indigenous culture: “We always gave first and foremost recognition to the powers that be, that brought these to us and we gave them with ceremony which was song, which was offerings, and celebrate the good life. What enabled us to do that was through our dance.”

James Jones, is a self described fusion dancer who, following a career altering knee injury, combined hip-hop with traditional dance styles. James, the official dancer with the popular band A Tribe Called Red, describes dancing as “food for the spirit.” When not touring, he has  been leading youth workshops, sharing his own experiences with multi-generational trauma and how that journey has affected his life. James was able to overcome personal tragedy and in so doing claims he was healed by the power of Hoop Dancing.

One interesting final note with respect to this episode: in the segment about James’ life in gangs on the streets of Edmonton,  there are a series of shots edited in, but never directly addressed. We see images from the Red Dress Campaign. This campaign was designed to draw attention to the plight of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls across Canada.

You can read more about James Jones here at WIOT Zine.

Overall, this season has  been incredibly instructive. Each episode, each facet explored, demonstrates how pervasive colonization has penetrated the lives of Indigenous people. If you are a student or a teacher wanting to understand colonization, particularly in light of the recent TRC Report and its Calls to Action, or if perhaps you are looking to add more content to your Social Studies units I HIGHLY recommend watching this season in its entirety. When viewed together, you get a real sense of the over arcing scope government and policy have played in the lives of Indigenous people in Canada. Additionally, there is a wealth of resources that could easily be adapted for classroom activities, located in the link listed above.

Carolyn Potts
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Carolyn Potts

Teacher. Writer. Mom. Masters' Candidate, Faculty of Education, Western University. Studying Pop Culture Media as a Decolonizer of Education Policy and Practice. I also volunteer as a Girl Guide leader in my spare time.
Carolyn Potts
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