Friday, October 17, 2014

Where "decolonization" goes off the rails [updated]

In another venue, fellow inkypixelcreature Alison kindly drew my attention to some aspects of this case that escaped my initial vexatious outburst below. The case is clearly not settled, and the discussion is partly one of collective versus individual rights. The quotes are also from a neighbour, not the child's mother as I missed in my hasty misread.  As with most things, context is critical and this is an extremely complicated case involving the potential for the state to remove an Indigenous child from her parents. The residential school experience and intergenerational impact it left adds a hypersensitivity to this case that would otherwise be absent.

Should this hypersensitivity guide decisions that affect well-being of children or adults to the effect that a failure to act on the part of the state may also risk harm?  Should the state even be involved in Aboriginal issues when it comes to decisionmaking inside those communities that embrace autonomy and self-determination, including child welfare? 

I stand by my comments about the presently popular decolonization discourse and problems it poses.

This case is appalling. The judge, misguided. The parent, equally so. A child's life likely hangs in the balance because of a deeply flawed application of cultural relativism and the reluctance to challenge popular postcolonial and anti-oppression discourses.

The rationale goes a bit like this. European society created modern science and colonialism. Colonialism was bad because it suppressed and oppressed Indigenous peoples and purported a Eurocentric worldview. Modern science, which is also medical science, is bad because is the product of an epistemology that grew from Europe more or less at the same time as colonialism (although in reality the geneology of science goes back to antiquity). In order to "decolonize", or undo the influence of colonialism, Indigenous people must eschew historically Eurogenic ideas and practices, and "reclaim" or "rediscover" traditional practices and knowledge in order to "resurge" and become sovereign. Ok, nothing wrong with that on the surface if you're somone who holds your ethnic or cultural identity and community to be the defining feature of who and what you are. It's completely understandable if your ethnicity has been oppressed and marginalised for generations. But I'm insulting your intelligence if I assume you can't see the flaws in the reasoning that says traditional knowledge and 'science' are either held as equal and interchangeable epistemologies, or the latter is totally dismissed in favour of the former. However, to do this so uncritically is lethally dangerous. The quote by the child's mother neighbour is shockingly telling:
“There’s a fear of [aboriginal remedies] or denial of it. If things can’t be quantified or qualified, to them it’s irrelevant,” said Ms. Hill, as she shopped at Ancestral Voices Healing Centre Thursday. “Who are they [doctors] to say she will make it with their treatments. Just because they have a degree, that makes them more knowledgeable?
Yes, actually, it fucking does. That's why there is an emphasis on providing access to and improving education for Aboriginal people. I'm humourlessly reminded of Tim Minchin.

I suppose I could argue that the blinkered worldview that leads someone to possibly kill their child because she mistrusts doctors and white people is a result of colonialism's centuries abuse of Indigenous people, and so its not really her or the judge's fault. But then I'd be denying her and the judge's agency and intelligence - doubtful as they may be. I'd also be subverting the many Indigenous communities across Canada in perpetual and desperate need for healthcare workers and resources. Sadly the door is now may be opened to deny resources to these communities because they 'can just use their "traditional' medicine'.

Maybe now we will see a restraining or recalibration of the decolonization discourse as the bloody excesses of its internal logic are plain to see. Or not.


harebell said...

Right now, all the judge has done is ask hard questions of the Hospital staff.
are they silly? In my opinion yes but I reckon the judge is doing due diligence and considering the "cultural factors" as they have been raised in argument.
Then when the child is returned to chemo there will be one less thing to appeal on.
at least I hope that that is the case.

e.a.f. said...

jeezus h Christ, I can just see harper and his herd taking this one and saying we're cutting medical funding to reserves. they can use their "traditional" methods. What a money saver for governments.

of course First Nations people are skeptical of European cultural methods. However, just because it came from European descent people doesn't make it all bad. The two systems can work together.

Having said all that, if parents with religious objections to specific types of medical interventions can have their child exempted, then First Nations parents ought to have the same rights. Now as to the rights of the Child, that is a whole other ball game.

Evil Brad said...

The "decolonisation discourse" put into context: