Decolonizing Community Engagement in the ‘Era of Reconciliation’ Part 2: What is Decolonization?

Vlog with Dr. Derek Kornelsen

CHI KT Platform
Feb 26, 2018 · 4 min read

In November 2017, we posted Decolonizing Community Engagement, a guest blog where Derek broke down the meaning behind the ‘buzzwords’ decolonization and community engagement in the context of settler colonialism. That was our most-read piece in 2017. In this 2-part series, Derek takes us from print to video, to talk about settler colonialism and how this has impacted Indigenous nationhood.

Missed Part 1 of the Video series? Find it here.

Watch the video on YouTube (transcript below):

Transcript edited for clarity

[Start of recorded material]

Decolonization needs to be understood, I think, in 2 key ways — one is the institutional decolonization, and the relational decolonization. So we have colonial institutions that are thoroughly Western, and Indigenous peoples in Canada need to access these institutions. So decolonizing these institutions is about bringing in Indigenous perspectives and learning from them so that our institutions don’t continue to marginalize and do damage to Indigenous communities.


So there’s kind of two aspects to it, I think — one is how do we decolonize institutions? And there’s been a lot of work lately on bringing Indigenous knowledge to bear on things like health practices, education practices, legal practices. We’ve talked about integrating Indigenous knowledge into Canadian constitutions, and those kinds of things. There’s a lot of that kind of work going on, which is the institutional aspect of decolonizing. In a way, it’s kind of tearing down the destructive aspects of Western institutions, and creating space if you will for Indigenous perspectives and practices. And on the other hand, there’s I think a very personal and critical self-reflective part.


For examples of existing decolonization practices in community engagement, there would be at an institutional level and at a relational level — both of those working. Institutionally, we continue to work with funding agencies and ethics agencies to facilitate methods of engagement that actually do prioritize Indigenous methodologies, and I think that’s really key. Our institutions are not very good at relinquishing control of the process, or relinquishing control of the money, even. So this is sort of the dry policy bit, where we actually are working on ways to transfer research money to communities, where the leadership can actually sit with the community, and the ability to decide how money is spent can sit with the community, and I think that’s really important for community engagement.


We need to take into account the rights-based aspect of community engagement. It’s not just a humanitarian idea, it’s not just charitable, and it’s not simply engaging so that we can get more interesting data. I mean, the point is — if you look at the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, look at the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, and even Aboriginal and Treaty Rights in Canada’s Constitution — these are fundamental rights that Indigenous people have to control — to take charge of and control the way we do work with them.


Decolonizing community engagement at a relational level I think is all about coming in with that perspective of humility and respect. Humility about our knowledge base, where we’re coming at the problem from, recognizing that.

Charles Taylor is a fantastic political philosopher out of McGill and he has a great — this is more about Indigenous rights in the 90s, but –


[End of recorded material]

About the Author

Dr. Derek Kornelsen is a former Assistant Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba. His research focuses on examining/contrasting Western and Indigenous philosophies and institutional frameworks, with a particular emphasis on developing a theoretical framework grounded in an understanding of the dynamics and impacts of Settler Colonialism. This theoretical framework enables a sensitivity to 2 key under-researched areas in Indigenous health and wellness research: the impacts of the disruption of Indigenous peoples’ relationships with land and environment; and strategies for decolonizing key institutions that Indigenous peoples must access (health as well as political, legal, educational, economic institutions). Broadly speaking, this theoretical frame contributes to the development of robust Indigenous determinants of health and wellness. He is currently involved in developing a number of local, national, and international research projects and partnerships in areas of environmental health and Indigenous health and wellness.


Publishing bi-weekly, we focus on all things knowledge translation (KT) – synthesis, exchange, application & dissemination – from a health perspective. Topics include the science of KT, patient engagement, and media & dissemination.

CHI KT Platform

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Know-do gaps. Integrated KT. Patient & public engagement. KT research. Multimedia tools & dissemination. And the occasional puppy.


Publishing bi-weekly, we focus on all things knowledge translation (KT) – synthesis, exchange, application & dissemination – from a health perspective. Topics include the science of KT, patient engagement, and media & dissemination.

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