Unlocking the Indigenous toolkit for breaking free from colonialism 

In the first part of this series, we looked at some of the tactics of Canada’s Colonial Playbook.

In the second part, titled The Colonial Toolkit, we look at those countering the playbook. What does a world without colonialism look like? How do we even get there?

We examine some of the tactics Indigenous peoples are using to envision a post-colonial existence.

Negotiate or walk away?

After generations of broken promises, Canada continues to expect Indigenous Peoples to keep returning to the negotiating table. But when do we walk away from the table — either for a better deal or partnership or to forge our own path?

Currently, the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, a small reserve of around 440 people located about two hours west of Ottawa, is considering this tactic as it has taken a pause in their multi-generational treaty negotiation with Ontario and the Crown.

Despite their small membership. this First Nation has a key role in negotiations as they are the only federally recognized Algonquin First Nations under the Indian Act located within Ontario. The other nine are located in Quebec.

APTN Investigates examines some of the issues that have stalled negotiations in Pikwàkanagàn and speaks to band members on what the next steps might be.

Transforming anger

The monuments of colonial leaders are being reconsidered and dismantled across Canada and around the world – often forcefully taken down by groups frustrated by lack of action from government and other organizations.

However, expressing anger through protest has always been tricky for Indigenous peoples, who have been negatively affected by the colonial tropes of either being the “Stoic Indian” or the “Angry Indian.”

Over the summer, at Toronto’s Ryerson University, the statue of Egerton Ryerson — one of the architects of residential schools – was forcefully taken down by a group of Indigenous protestors and allies. The result of this action was the permanent removal of the statue and the agreement to rename the university.

Professor Pamela Palmater speaks to APTN Investigates’ producer Robert J. Ballantyne at Ryerson University, at the former site of a statue of Egerton Ryerson, one of the architects of the residential school system.


“It was considered something very community-based,” says Pamela Palmater, Ryerson University professor and Chair in Indigenous Governance of the protest march that finalized into the removal of the statue.

“Love and anger and sadness and happiness, they’re all emotions that work together.”

She adds that anger can be a useful emotion to inspire action and organization for Indigenous peoples.

“Anger is a human emotion,” Palmater says. “We’ve been taught by churches, by parents, by society, to repress anger and only show a happy face, but that makes people really sick. And as you know, in our communities, we have a great deal of mental health issues from the traumas, not just the intergenerational trauma, but the ongoing traumas committed by every institution in society, governments and organizations. So, I think anger is something we should see.”

Gaming the system

How do Indigenous people begin imagining a post-colonial era? One of the safest spaces to experiment is through game play. A rising genre of anti-colonial video and board games are helping to set the stage for a new generation of Indigenous ideas and leaders.

In 2006, Prey, was the first attempt by a major video game title to reflect on colonization – albeit with mixed results as the main characters are abducted in the first five minutes and never return to their traditional lands.

More successfully, video games such as 2012’s Assassin’s Creed III and 2021’s Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin have positioned players against colonial forces, rather than playing as a colonizer.

In the tabletop games space, Spirit Island is a popular cooperative game about defending an island against colonizing invaders, and Coyote & Crow is a new role-playing game that is set in an imaginary future where colonization never occurred in the Americas.

Métis writer and developer of Coyote & Crow William McKay intended to inspire players long after the game was put back on the shelf.

“I think we are looking at this as a part of what the future could be,” he says. “A world where Indigenous people express their own culture and create inventions and all the rest — it’s factual, it’s true. It’s here now. And it’s only going to be increasing over the next few years, decades… we’re here to stay.”

Access to land

Breaking free from colonialism requires seeing nature not just as a consumable resource, but as a sustainable relationship that requires respect and maintenance, according to scholars Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Glen Coulthard.

In order to achieve this, Couthard founded Dechinta Bush University Centre for Research and Learning on the Chief Drygeese Territory, near Yellowknife. Dechintha provides university credit for land-based research, some of which includes hunting, fishing and wild harvesting.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a scholar at Dechinta Bush University Centre for Research and Learning


“How do we build something different?” asks Simpson in the APTN Investigates report. “How do we build the kinds of societies and the kinds of families and the kinds of worlds that our ancestors lived in? Because to me, that’s such a powerful, powerful tool. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The template is all around… it’s the land.”

Surviving and thriving

A wide variety of Indigenous scholars and leaders interviewed for both The Colonial Playbook and The Colonial Toolkit shared their perspectives on future-building and upward mobility.

“Survival is resistance, but thriving is resurgence,” explains Palmater. “If we only put all of our efforts into resistance and survival, then we will be out of balance in terms of nation-building and the revitalization and the resurgence of our cultures.”

“The narrative sometimes in the media among Canadians is all about whether or not we can subsist,” Palmater says. “You’re allowed to hunt, but only to the point of subsistence, you know, like barely living. And that’s not our standard. Our standard is to live the good life, to be healthy, safe, happy and enjoy the good life the way we want to.”

“I think what we need to be talking about is that we have strengths,” says Brenda Macdougall, chair of Métis Studies at the University of Ottawa. “We’re not victims… and while we’ve been victimized, that doesn’t mean that we’re powerless… How do we work to think about and keep our values in place where we’re thinking about the next generation? How do we show them that we’re not just survivors, we’re powerful, resilient people? That’s what I want to talk about.”

Aliqa Illauq reflects on Indigenous resurgence as both an individual, and nation-based process.


Inuk researcher and educator Aliqa Illauq believes resurgence starts on an individual level.

“Just take back who you are. You know, we’re not here today because our ancestors were wimps. We’re here today because our ancestors were frickin’ geniuses. We’re here because our ancestors knew how to live life,” says Illauq.

“And right now it seems like we don’t know-how. So just take back who you are as a person. We come from the land, go back to the land. We come from a place of being together, community helping each other. Tell yourself that you are beautiful, your language is strong, your ways of being are perfect.”

Finally, child welfare advocate Cindy Blackstock believes that the word “healing” should not be used in referring to cultural resurgence.

“I choose not to use that word because it’s about recovery from sickness,” she says. “When I look back at all the ancestors and the kids in residential school who pulled over the covers to be able to say a couple of words in a language or to remember [a] teaching, I don’t think of the sickness they passed on to us.

“I think of the multigenerational strength they passed down to us… There’s some real trauma that comes from colonialism, but the place to be able to deal with it is by standing in our multigenerational strength.”

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