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Our Healing Justice speaker series, which wrapped up on November 21, 2019, featured 6 workshops wherein community members and students learned from Detroit-based cultural organizers and healing justice practitioners. An important and unique element to this series was that all of the facilitators and leaders of the workshops were Indigenous - many of whom were Anishinaabeg, meaning they are indigenous to the Great Lakes region - and all facilitators rooted their healing and arts practices in some variation of indigenous-based analysis. Organizing the series in this way was intentional, and it challenged our students to consider whose land we are on and who we identify as “Detroiters”. Having established the indigenous framing of each workshop, we were required to contend with the idea of decolonization. Decolonization is a word that has recently gained traction in academic settings, often thrown around without consideration of the gravity of its true meaning. During this series, we took decolonization out of the academic context to ask: What does decolonization actually look like in practice? A goal of this series was to expose students to and work through methods of healing that can help us gain a better understanding of how practicing decolonization pushes us to vision the possibilities of life after capitalism. Practicing decolonization begins on an individual level, thus one of the central questions of the series challenged us to reflect and contemplate action: How can we move towards decolonizing ourselves?
Before diving more deeply into decolonization and its relationship to our Healing Justice series, it may be helpful to define the two terms that grounded the series: “healing justice” and “cultural organizing”.
(From the Young Women’s Empowerment Project and the Chicago Healing Justice Learning Circle on transformharm.org)
“According to Cara Page, Healing Justice is a framework that identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence and to bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts and minds. Through this framework we continue to build political and philosophical convergences of healing inside of liberation movements and organizations.
Healing Justice means we all deserve to heal on our terms and we confront oppressive systems that get in our way. We honor the trauma and resilience of generations that came before us and use interactive, daily practices that anyone can do. Healing Justice is a reminder to social movements that the concept of action should be expanded to support the self-determination, interdependence, resilience & resistance of those most impacted by oppression. Healing Justice is revolutionary in confronting the capitalist, colonial, individualistic paradigms that tell us we are alone when we seek out healing.”
“Cultural organizing exists at the intersection of art and activism. It is a fluid and dynamic practice that is understood and expressed in a variety of ways, reflecting the unique cultural, artistic, organizational, and community context of its practitioners. Cultural organizing is about integrating arts and culture into organizing strategies. It is also about organizing from a particular tradition, cultural identity, community of place, or worldview.” — from Cultural Organizing: Experiences at the Intersection of Art and Activism
“The term cultural organizing appears occasionally in writing about activism and social movements in the twentieth century. It has been used, for example, in reference to the cultural strategies of Popular Front organizers during the 1920s and 1930s, and to the work of Zilphia Horton and others at the Highlander Center in Appalachia. In his book, The Culture War in the Civil Rights Movement, historian Joe Street uses the term to describe the important roles that artists played in the civil rights and Black liberation struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. Street defines the term broadly as indicating “when activists made an explicit attempt to use cultural forms or expressions as an integral, perhaps even dominant, part of the political struggle and when, during this process, attention was drawn to the intrinsic political meaning of the cultural activity.”
Decolonization & our Workshop Series
These two terms, healing justice and cultural organizing, guided our series and framed our exploration of decolonization. They helped us explore how we can go beyond land acknowledgements and practice decolonization on a daily basis. We absolutely believe that starting events and ending University email ‘sign off’s’ with a land acknowledgement is part of that practice - at the very least, it’s an excellent start. During the series, we began each of the workshops with the facilitators/leaders’ variation of land acknowledgements. One example of an opening land acknowledgement was:
We acknowledge that The University of Michigan, named for Michi’gami, the world’s largest freshwater system and located in the Huron River watershed, was formed and has grown through connections with the land stewarded by the Niswi Ishkodewan Anishinaabeg: The Three Fires People who are the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi along with their neighbors the Seneca, Delaware, Shawnee and Wyandot nations.
The opening land acknowledgement was key for setting the tone of the Healing Justice workshops. However, while this acknowledgement - at events or in emails - is very important to set the tone, it doesn’t nearly suffice for the needed work of decolonization. We can often grow complacent in doing land acknowledgements, checking them off of a to-do list instead of deeply contemplating what it means to contend with the history of genocide and cultural destruction on this land. So what does it mean to actively practice decolonization? For us, centering Detroit-based Indigenous facilitators and leaders as experts in each of the Healing Justice workshops was one way of practicing decolonization and challenging the dominance of colonialism in academic spaces, as well as in Detroit as a whole.
The indigenous leaders of the workshop series guided us through the process stretching our imagination in what is possible - this meant trying out and thinking about things in different, creative and sometimes uncomfortable ways. This push beyond conventional ways of thinking is a key tenant of practicing decolonization. Throughout the series, there were lots of laughs, such as making interesting and sometimes bizarre sounds for Sacramento Knoxx to sample. At the same time, we also spent a notable amount of time sitting with discomfort, which is also a key tenant of decolonization. Many times, we didn’t all agree on how to move forward, and sometimes participants felt cognitive dissonance between what they grew up believing or practicing and the beliefs and practices that were being shared.
One of the ideas that may have been uncomfortable for some workshop participants was the reality of the havoc capitalism has wreaked upon Indigenous communities, and thus the necessity of a transition out of capitalism as a core aspect of decolonization. Throughout time, capitalism has forced many communities to sacrifice culture and tradition for economic survival. It has also defaced and destroyed land held as sacred. A true Just Transition must create inclusionary spaces for all traditions and cultures, recognizing them as integral to a healthy and vibrant economy. Decolonizing our current economic institutions thus requires new visions of being and doing - visions which are co-created in spaces such as this Healing Justice series. Together, we challenged the ideas of people being “units of labor” and being defined by consumerism. We talked about what transformative organizing looks like, and how crucial it is to understand and develop our own intuition. We struggled together to sit in discomfort and find the right flow and ideas for each session - while not perfect, we hope that each participant came away with a broader understanding of decolonization and its relationship to cultural organizing, healing justice, and capitalism. We know that expectations of perfection are also a construct created by colonialism, and that the road forward involves much trial-and-error work rooted in creating a world that values Indigenous peoples, cultures, and perspectives.
Finally, we would like to thank each of our workshop facilitators/leaders, who held the space for us to envision this new world together. Please support their work through the links below.