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Settler Colonial Studies
ISSN: 2201-473X (Print) 1838-0743 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rset20
Troubling good intentions
Sarah de Leeuw, Margo Greenwood & Nicole Lindsay
To cite this article: Sarah de Leeuw, Margo Greenwood & Nicole Lindsay (2013) Troubling good
intentions, Settler Colonial Studies, 3:3-4, 381-394, DOI: 10.1080/2201473X.2013.810694
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2201473X.2013.810694
Published online: 13 Sep 2013.
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Troubling good intentions
Sarah de Leeuw
*, Margo Greenwood
and Nicole Lindsay
Northern Medical Program, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, BC, Canada;
First Nations Program, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, BC, Canada;
National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health, University of Northern British Columbia,
Prince George, BC, Canada
We are unequivocally in favor of much, much, more space opening up for Aboriginal peoples
and Indigenous ways of knowing and being in academic (and myriad other) spaces. We are
worried, however, about a current lack of published critical engagement with policies and
practices that appear, superﬁcially, to support inclusivity and diversity of Indigenous peoples
in academic institutions. We argue that, principally because such policies are inherently
designed to serve settler-colonial subjects and powers, many inclusivity and diversity
policies instead leave fundamentally unchanged an ongoing colonial relationship with
Indigenous peoples, their epistemologies, and their ontologies. Indeed, we contend that
individual Aboriginal peoples are suffering at deeply embodied levels as universities and
other institutions rush to demonstrate well-intended “decolonizing”agendas. Drawing from
examples in British Columbia, this paper provides a critical intervention into a rapidly
ascending, and deeply institutionalized, dominance of policies and practices that claim to
promote and open spaces for Indigenous peoples and perspectives within academic
institutions. We draw from critical race theorists, including Sara Ahmed, and in our
conclusion offer suggestions that aim to destabilize and trouble the good intentions of neo-
If there is one phrase that those of us who labor in institutions of higher education hear altogether
too often, it is some derivation of “I’m exhausted”. Ask almost anyone wandering the hallowed
halls of an ivory tower how they are doing and they will likely say something along the lines of
“I’m tired”or “I have too much to do”or “I’m feeling really overworked”or “Things are
In this paper, however, we contend that some people –because of markedly different struc-
tural and material forces than the ones experienced by the majority of people who teach and
research within academic institutions –are more exhausted, arguably more exploited, than
others. Although we acknowledge that the neoliberal dynamics of the present moment –including
the increased demands for productivity, decreased resources, diminished job security, and (impor-
tantly for this paper) an institutional focus on consumer-driven service and optics of social
accountability and responsibility –affect all academic workers, our purpose is to emphasize
© 2013 Taylor & Francis
*Corresponding author. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Settler Colonial Studies, 2013
Vol. 3, Nos. 3–4, 381–394, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2201473X.2013.810694
that the university (like many other contemporary institutions) works not just in neoliberal ways,
but also and importantly in neocolonial ways.
As we explore in this paper, policies and languages of post-secondary institutions are increas-
ingly asserting aspirations toward greater inclusion of Indigenous people. Speciﬁcally, we argue
that Indigeneity is garnering unprecedented focus and attention within spaces of post-secondary
education institutions from a new settler-colonial subject working through ostensibly decoloniz-
ing processes and policies. We then suggest these good intentions present a set of deep colonizing
(unintended) consequences that obscure ongoing relations of inequity and conquest. Indeed, at the
heart of this paper is a question about whether or not contemporary universities, and by extension
other institutions that are fundamentally both products of capitalist modernity and imbedded in
and central to colonial projects, can ever be radically transformed so as to further anti-colonial
or Indigenous world-views. We also argue that, within this context of ongoing (and normalized)
institutional neocolonialism, the Indigenous people who have relatively recently begun to be
recruited into and hired by academic institutions experience unique and historically situated
forms of institutional marginalization directly linked to expectations about their Indigeneity.
This paper is a critical intervention into what we see and name as an escalation of “structural
good intentions”toward Indigenous peoples and Indigeneity in post-secondary institutions. In
many ways it might best be understood as a dispatch from the front lines
–it is informed by
what we witness (and live) as, ﬁrst, an increased discussion about the failures of academic insti-
tutions to materially decolonize in ways that match decolonizing policies, rhetoric, and language
but, second, a lack of critically written and published scholarship in academic or research journals
about what is increasingly a commonsensical and experiential reality.
Indeed, and without a great
deal of documented pushback, there exists a small body of literature asserting that “Indigenizing”
postcolonial universities in Canada is a radical practice that ought to be taken up with gusto in
efforts to ensure socially just ways of knowing and being.
While we cautiously agree, we aim
to highlight how the good intentions of inclusion policies focused on Indigenous academics
and students, if left untroubled, risk perpetuating and masking the very inequities they purport
to ameliorate. We frame our discussion ﬁrst by drawing from the insights of critical anti-racist
feminisms on macro and micro-relations of power.
Institutional whiteness and colonial good intentions
In the introduction to her study about the university’s diversity policies, Ahmed notes the need to
focus critically on well-intentioned institutional efforts aimed at correcting deep historical injus-
tices in order to examine how “power can be redone at the moment it is imagined as undone”.
This insight is the basis for an important line of critique by critical feminism and anti-racism scho-
lars. As we and others have written elsewhere, twenty-ﬁrst-century colonial (especially White)
settler subjects have, in contexts of anti-racist social movements,
increasingly been called to
struggle with charges of racism or entrenched positionalities of power. Acknowledging the con-
textual differences in much postcolonial and critical anti-racist feminist theory, we argue that
those thinking through issues of Indigeneity and decolonization have much to learn from these
In an article describing the moral and emotional regulation of antiracism and feminist orga-
nizing, Srivastava notes that White feminists tend to be deeply and emotionally attached to an
image of themselves as inherently good and inherently “against”racism because of their sense
of being oppressed themselves: their good intentions and desires to be “not”racist are privileged.
Their subjectivity is historically informed –as Srivastava and other scholars
have pointed out, by
“colonial and contemporary representations of virtue, honesty, and benevolence [that] have been a
historical foundation of whiteness, bourgeois respectability, and femininity”.
382 S. de Leeuw et al.
We extend Srivastava’s observations. Just as an overly strong investment in being “not”racist
undermines the capacity of White members of anti-racist social movements to meaningfully
respond to charges of racism within their organizations,
equally powerful sentiments are at
work in decolonizing contexts. Thus, if they mask the ongoing colonial relationships entrenched
in neoliberal and neocolonial institutions, subjective investments in “not”being a settler colonist
of the ilk of those in the past risks undermining the capacity of those White and/or settler colonial
subjects that still beneﬁt from colonial institutions to be critical of the limitations of institutiona-
lized efforts to reverse historical inequities.
As (self)consciousness about whiteness, racism, and colonialism becomes more widespread,
especially among White and settler colonial subjects and especially in institutionally embedded
argues that a new subject has emerged. She/he is anxiously and emotionally
invested in a virtuous and morally good critical stance with respect to whiteness and racism
and, we would add, settler colonialism. In such a context, the very act of naming oneself as
engaged in decolonizing, equalizing, liberatory forms of practice and policy is, potentially and
simultaneously, an act of opening oneself to the risk of failing to meet these aims. We wonder,
then, what space might exist for these admissions and for subsequent change, particularly
because it remains the case that within institutions, “relationships and alliances will always
take place in situations of asymmetry of power”.
Indeed, relationships and engagements that
are produced within institutions seeking to expand spaces of Indigeneity necessarily rely on “a
prior ethnographic investment in what the [relationship] provides –that is, access to the stranger
Thus, members of Indigenous communities who enter universities in the twenty-ﬁrst
century must necessarily be ﬁrst constructed as “other”,as“strange”, so that this strangeness can
be overcome both in the efforts of opening institutions to Indigeneity and, crucially, in the pro-
duction of policies and practices about Indigenous peoples and their/our ways of knowing and
Un/making colonial histories: good intentions and the new settler-colonial subject
Colonialism in British Columbia and Canada has a well-documented history which does not need
repetition here. One consistent feature of settler colonialism that we do want to highlight,
however, is that settler colonists in BC and beyond have historically avoided casting themselves
as explicitly doing wrong. In other words, as we and many others have observed, historical and
contemporary settler colonists have frequently constructed and enacted elaborate justiﬁcations for
their activities, framing colonial activities as “good”and at least partly altruistically inclined
toward Indigenous peoples.
Throughout the history of settler-colonial/Indigenous contact in
British Columbia and across Canada, ideas about the best interests of Indigenous people
usually turned on settler-colonial assessments about Indigenous savagery, about the inevitability
of peoples constructed as endangered and primitive simply dying off, and about moral impera-
tives to save uncivilized ungodly souls. These ideas manifested concretely in a variety of colonial
policies and practices. Missionaries established churches across “Indian Territory”and actively
recruited “heathen lost souls”for transformation.
Indian Reserves mapped people in and out
of the province and are now spaces that continue to spatially demarcate racialized Indigenous
peoples in unique and particular ways.
Health policies and practices translated into a coloniza-
tion of bodies.
And in perhaps one of the most destructive colonial policies ever devised, the
government removed children from their families and communities and placed them in (fre-
quently deeply abusive) Indian residential schools that operated across the province for over
100 years in an efforts to de-Indigenize First Nations children.
Strong evidence, however, suggests that many involved in these colonial projects –even the
residential schooling project, which has now gained wide and mainstream acceptance as one of
Settler Colonial Studies 383
colonialism’s most egregious “national crimes”
–understood themselves to be acting in the best
interests of Indigenous peoples.
Indeed, the impulse to improve and help Indigenous peoples is
remarkably immune to critique at the time of its unfolding.
As Tania Murray Li argues, the con-
struction of non-Indigenous governments and other agencies as helping, protecting, and benevo-
lent forces aiming to “improve”and transform Indigenous peoples “for their own good”is not
only a crucial colonial strategy with remarkable tenacity, it also offers a means for colonizers
to distance themselves from more obviously coercive, violent, or colonial ideas, actions, and
The rhetoric about colonial projects has shifted recently. In the twenty-ﬁrst century, settler
colonialism is neither taken for granted nor neutral: it is certainly not something upon which
uncritical praise is bestowed, nor is it something left unproblematized. In the settler-colonial pol-
itical sphere, problematizing colonialism relies heavily either on underscoring it as something that
good people and places have nothing to do with or as something that, because it once did great
damage, makes it incumbent upon those in the present to unpack in order that it be progressed
beyond. Very recently, for instance, and in what was seen at the time to bespeak Canada’s prai-
seworthy presence in the world, the country’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, proudly claimed
that Canada was a country with no history of colonialism –a clearly erroneous statement that was
However erroneous, though, Harper’s statement reveals a very real anxiety
and impulse to re-write history in a way that distances oneself and one’s nation from the “bad”
legacy of colonialism –the (albeit imaginary) Canadian absence of which was framed by
Harper as a marker of national civility, a cause for international admiration.
Paradoxically, shortly before issuing this statement, Harper offered a formal apology for resi-
dential schooling in Canada. While never uttering the word “colonialism”in the apology, he
nevertheless carefully outlined how the project was a “sad legacy in Canada’s history”from
which twenty-ﬁrst-century citizens should move forward into a bright new future. A salient com-
ponent of the message, one touted as among the most historically signiﬁcant national addresses in
several decades concerning the treatment of Indigenous peoples, is its distancing of present from
past and the entrenchment of colonial violence as something with no place in the contemporary. In
the apology, Harper stated, “the policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has
no place in our country”.
In its insistence that policies of assimilation are things of the past, with
no place in the present and something which ALL (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) Canadians
must move forward into a strong and healthy future, Harper’s apology obscures ongoing settler
colonialism and reinforces an imagined separation of past from present and future. What
becomes impossible through these kinds of rhetorical constructions is the ability to articulate a
settler-colonial present as the seamless continuation of processes that have unfolded for centu-
What shifts, in this time of apologies for past colonial grievances, are the orientations of
settler-colonial subjects to long-standing projects of colonization and appropriation of resources.
In sum, non-Indigenous British Columbians and other Canadians are increasingly being called
upon to acknowledge and account for colonialism’s impact on Indigenous peoples on multiple
levels: health, education, resource management and land title, among others. We argue that this
unique moment –in which many settler-colonial subjects are cognizant of (literally) existing
on unstable, unceded ground and are increasingly aware of having to account for their/our posi-
tionality –is producing a new and very particular kind of settler-colonial subjectivity. Institution-
ally, as we explore in more detail below, this is manifesting in new kinds of policies and practices
ostensibly aimed toward addressing and ameliorating past wrongs. We argue, however, that these
policies and practices demand critical attention because they function to obscure ongoing harms
and injustices of colonial practice, subverting the very good intentions they purport to represent.
Although this paradoxical inversion of good intentions manifests in a wide variety of ways across
384 S. de Leeuw et al.
many contexts, we locate our current investigation of the troubling outcomes of good intentions in
the twenty-ﬁrst-century post-secondary academic institution.
Un/making colonial institutions: deep colonizing and the neocolonial inclusive university
A crucial feature of contemporary settler-colonial societies located in what was once known as the
“New World”is the impossibility of settler decolonization in the true sense of that word. Indeed,
as Carol Pateman writes:
The process of decolonization and national self-determination that began after the Second World War
has swept away all but tiny remnants of the colonies of the European powers, but the Native peoples of
the two New Worlds, living within the boundaries of the states constructed from the plantations of
settlers, have never been seen as candidates for sovereignty.
Increasingly, however, the “idea”of decolonization as a laudable and good aim is on the rise –
decolonization is thus turned into a metaphor, a set of languages and empty signiﬁers that
allows settlers to equivocate the contradictions inherent in their need to maintain control over
land and resources while symbolically attesting to decolonial desires.
This ongoing settler colo-
nialism has been naturalized over time, changing appearances without changing the structural
dynamics of power and advantage that characterize settler-colonial/Indigenous relationships.
It is in this context of a structurally limited decolonization –in which decolonizing policies are
based not on Indigenous sovereignty but rather on a set of “good intentions”purporting to ame-
liorate some of the harmful legacies of historical, past colonialisms –that Veracini invokes
Deborah Bird Rose’s (1996) concept of “deep colonizing”to explain the propensity for such pol-
icies to further entrench colonial relations of inequality.
Deep colonizing refers to the ways in
which colonizing dynamics are embedded in decolonizing institutions or practices, thus rendering
impossible any sort of actual decolonization of institutions such as universities. Rose (1996),
writing about the erasure of women in land claim processes in Australia in a post-colonial era,
argues that colonial practices are not only still with us, but more problematically, their embedd-
edness in de- or post-colonizing institutions or policies serves to conceal and naturalize them. We
Given the ways in which deep colonization is naturalized in “post”or “de”colonizing con-
texts, there is a powerful necessity to critically interrogate and untangle the colonizing elements
or aspects of these “well-meaning”practices. Rose writes: “if the colonizing practices are not sep-
arated analytically from decolonizing institutions, conquest will continue. And if it continues in
this form it will be wearing a mask of benign, or even radical, decolonization, which will make it
far more difﬁcult to challenge at all levels”
Part of the reason this is so is precisely because, as
Veracini (2011) points out, a settler colonial formation is “primarily aimed at producing the con-
ditions of its own supercession”–and thus instead of proclaiming its permanence (as historical
colonial formations once did), it announces its passing.
We suggest that we are in the midst of such a moment –one inextricably bound up in a
relationship of continuity with historical settler colonialism –in which non-Indigenous subjects,
and by extension the institutions they/we inhabit, are making efforts to decolonize, to refute colo-
nialism while still existing within and expanding it. To illustrate the implications of deep coloniz-
ing effects of well-intentioned policies, we turn to a close inquiry of university policies premised
on principles of decolonization and the desire to increase the inclusion of Indigenous scholars. We
suggest that these policies are being produced and deployed within a historical moment during
which –rightly, we think –there exist growing efforts to move away from or beyond postcolonial
theories, the result of which is that –not quite as productively, we think –discussions and
Settler Colonial Studies 385
languages about anti-colonialism and “decolonization”have, if not become hegemonic, at least
We open this discussion with the observation that heightened concern about rates of post-sec-
ondary participation and completion for Indigenous peoples is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Disparities in educational attainment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples have
been generations in the making.
Further, we note that as a result of the remarkably small
pool of Indigenous academics and the upsurge of efforts to increase the numbers of Indigenous
students making their way into and progressing through post-secondary education systems,
many Indigenous faculty experience extraordinary, speciﬁc, and unique demands for supervision
and support of Indigenous students and related university service (representation on committees,
participation in initiatives, consultation, etc.). Finally, we frame our discussion with the recog-
nition that universities in contemporary British Columbia, like universities in settler colonial geo-
graphies around the world, exist in a neocolonial present that cannot fully, if ever, actually be
decolonized as such. Thus, following Sara Ahmed’s observation that the creation of diversity pol-
icies can frequently stand in and replace any real action on changing institutional structures limit-
we raise questions about the extent to which gestures toward decolonization
through inclusivity and diversity policies explicitly targeting Indigenous populations might be
understood as further legitimizing colonial power –precisely because these policies allow insti-
tutions to cultivate a culture of “doing the right thing”while avoiding fundamental shifts in power
imbalances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples or the systems within which we
Exactly how many Indigenous faculty are experiencing what degree of additional pressures
over and above the ordinary demands of an academic career is difﬁcult to determine. Nor can
we accurately quantify, by extension, the numbers of aspiring faculty that might be kept in
unstable, impermanent or marginal academic employment precisely because of these tensions.
What we can say, from personal experiences and because it is a small community of Indigenous
peoples who work as faculty at British Columbian universities, is that many Indigenous faculty
feel pulled across multiple and conﬂicting worlds. Most notably, there is often a pull between
what might, albeit somewhat simplistically, be classiﬁed dichotomously as institution/community,
profession/home, scholarly/colloquial, imagined/real, evidenced/felt and, perhaps most compli-
cated, expected/lived. Given the small numbers of faculty, it seems relevant to note that,
between us, we know of (or have experienced) at least half a dozen failed attempts for Indigenous
faculty to achieve tenure and promotion in their ﬁrst attempt and at least two cases of Indigenous
faculty leaving an institution because they can no longer handle nor meet institutional expec-
tations. And while, conversationally and in our daily lives, we hear much about the realities of
Indigenous faculty members working in a climate increasingly focused on anti-colonial or deco-
lonizing agendas, there remains little in the way of published research to document or contextua-
lize their/our experiences.
Our impressions are validated by the small amount of data that does exist on the numbers of
Indigenous academics currently working at Canadian post-secondary institutions and on the con-
ditions of their academic work. The Canadian Association of University Teachers, in its 2011–
2012 Almanac of Post-Secondary Education, reports that 1% of Canadian university teachers
identiﬁed as Indigenous (as opposed to 3.8% of the general Canadian population
). And although
it does not cite statistical ﬁgures, a report prepared for the Association of Universities and Col-
leges of Canada in 2006 notes that “there are few Aboriginal people employed at universities,
even fewer are faculty members and fewer still hold high proﬁle administrative positions”.
The report recommends hiring of Indigenous faculty as a priority for Canadian universities and
colleges, observing at the same time the challenges of doing so based on the small pool of qua-
liﬁed candidates available to ﬁll faculty positions.
386 S. de Leeuw et al.
In order to get a clearer sense of how BC universities are addressing the twin challenges of
increasing both recruitment and retention of Indigenous students and faculty, we undertook a
search of individual university websites, supplemented where possible by telephone inquiries.
In all, we searched the websites of nine British Columbia universities, ﬁnding a range of policies
and reports focused on Indigenous post-secondary issues. At one end of the scale, generally occu-
pied by the larger universities, we found well-developed and detailed policies and service plans
aimed to increase recruitment and retention of Indigenous students and faculty. At the other end of
the scale, generally occupied by smaller and/or newer universities, we found very little publicly
available information on either numbers of Indigenous students and faculty or on strategies to
increase these numbers. We focus the following discussion on the former group and, for
reasons of privacy, have chosen to anonymize our discussion.
All three of BC’s“major”universities (i.e. the largest and longest-standing universities) have
some version of an “Aboriginal Service Plan”or “Aboriginal Strategic Plan”(ASP) and/or desig-
nated ofﬁces or divisions focused on Indigenous issues. Two of the three universities considered
here had strategic plans speciﬁcally focused on Aboriginal education publicly available on their
websites. One was released in 2007 and one in 2009. The third university did not have a publicly
available ASP, but its 2010 institution-wide service plan did have language around the need to
increase numbers of Indigenous students graduating from the institution, as well as the importance
of supporting Indigenous students and building relationships with communities. In all three docu-
ments, the imperative to both recruit and retain increased numbers of Indigenous students was
central to policies and recommendations. For example, one ASP pointed out that although a
target for enrollment of 1000 Indigenous students had been set for the year 2000, as of 2008
only half of that enrollment target had been met. Further, the document highlighted that although
Indigenous students in BC account for 10% of school enrollments, only 1% of the institution’s
students in 2008 was identiﬁed as Indigenous. For graduate degrees, participation rates were
reported to be even lower: between 2005 and 2007, only half of 1% of post-degree graduates
identiﬁed as Indigenous. These statistics are very similar to those reported by other universities.
Each of the three universities examined acknowledged the importance of Indigenous faculty
in ensuring success for Indigenous students, with one ASP singling out the presence of Indigen-
ous faculty as the “most powerful predictor of educational quality for First Nations students”.
Despite this, however, the numbers of Indigenous faculty members employed by these institutions
are still remarkably small, ranging from just over to just under 1% in each of the three institutions
surveyed. One administrator we spoke to pointed out that part of the challenge in reporting
numbers of Indigenous students and faculty is that individuals chose to self-identify or not,
and thus numbers might not be entirely accurate. He cited as an example a case in which a
long-standing faculty member came forward as Métis at a time when Indigenous faculty at the
university numbered only 10, raising the number of Indigenous faculty by 10% without the uni-
versity having to do any hiring! Such anecdotes underscore, perhaps, the enormous impact that a
single individual can have in a context where the numbers of Indigenous faculty are so small –a
situation that, this administrator pointed out, has signiﬁcantly improved in recent years.
Another ASP acknowledged both the importance of attracting “leading Aboriginal scholars
and administrators and other experts to [the university’s] ranks”, as well as the unique challenges
faced by those individuals who “routinely face legitimate demands for student mentoring, com-
munity involvement, and university service that are substantially greater than those facing their
peers”. This ASP goes on to state that: “For Aboriginal scholars and others in related ﬁelds to
be successful, and for the university to be successful in attracting and retaining them and devel-
oping its programs, those circumstances should be adequately and equitably addressed”.
“Those circumstances”are precisely what we aim to highlight and interrogate here –namely,
the demands bearing down on Indigenous academics working in the context of universities that
Settler Colonial Studies 387
not only have built policies around pursuing and recruiting them into its ranks, but also have a
strong vested interest in identifying, accounting for, making visible, and deploying their presence
in order to carry out the good work of improving educational equity for Indigenous peoples. The
implication of these circumstances, we argue, is that certain individuals are called upon to
perform their Indigeneity over and above the standard performative demands of an academic
career, wherein the value of one’s career (and by extension, one’s employability) is assessed
according to standards of scholarship that privilege certain types of scholarly achievements
(peer reviewed, single-authored publications in high-ranking journals, large grants and other
accolades). Perhaps it is in front of a tenure committee that the deep colonizing elements of
the post-colonial university become most evident as a continued form of conquest, despite the
fact that these dynamics operate in a very real everyday sense on the exhausted bodies that
inhabit academic spaces.
The tensions outlined above have not gone unnoticed in the policies we reviewed. In all three
institutions, promotion and tenure procedures were highlighted as an area for policy review, and
in all three cases, initiatives to do so were in various early stages of development, with committees
struck, discussions underway, and reports in progress. However, movement of these issues
appears to be progressing remarkably slowly, given the fact that these stated good intentions to
review workload, promotion and tenure emerged in policy documents ﬁve years ago in two
cases, and seven years ago in the third. One has to wonder: what is taking so long? And are inten-
tions having any material, on-the-ground outcomes?
The reality remains, and is generally acknowledged by the institutions themselves, that rep-
resentation of Indigenous peoples at any faculty ranking is abysmally low, but at higher rankings
(full tenure) and in administration positions, it is even lower. The faculty and administrators we
spoke to about this issue agree that heightened demands on the time and energy of Indigenous
faculty is a contributing factor, noting that while teaching load and publication pressures exist
for faculty across the board, many Indigenous faculty come under increased pressure in terms
of service commitments. This is particularly the case when numbers of Indigenous faculty
members are small and demands are high for Indigenous representation in university-level com-
mittees and initiatives, and these heightened demands may be exacerbated where individuals are
also called on to participate in and support community initiatives, or to act in a connective
capacity to provide linkages between the university and community.
One administrator we spoke to pointed out that “death by a thousand committees”is only
part of the problem. While many individuals chose to take on an extra level of mentoring or
service, others do not. Rather than making assumptions about Indigenous scholarly workload,
another administrator and faculty member argued that it is important for faculties and institutions
to better understand and value forms of scholarship undertaken by Indigenous academics –
including types of research which may not fall within standard timelines or forms generally
expected for promotion and tenure. Student supervision, university and non-university service
commitments, community engagement and a wider scope of publications should also be con-
sidered in tenure review. In short, tenure review processes must take into account a broader spec-
trum of research activities and outputs. One internal report on this issue we reviewed outlined a
rationale for rethinking promotion and tenure policies based on increased recognition of the
value of civic and community engaged scholarship, teaching and service. Recommendations pre-
sented in this document highlight the need for promotion and tenure committees to consider a
broader scope of scholarship which includes a balance of peer and non-peer reviewed publi-
cations and research outputs, values interdisciplinarity, recognizes differences in timelines for
community-engaged research, and places more value on teaching, professional service and com-
388 S. de Leeuw et al.
Power undone and redone: on troubling good intentions
Our examination of these uniquely historically situated policies, reports and conversations reveals
a set of deep colonizing tensions in post-secondary institutions in British Columbia. These pol-
icies have emerged in a time and place in which settler-colonial institutions are attempting to ame-
liorate the effects of historical injustices and inequities, while at the same time, the policies and the
institutions for which they “speak”continue to exist within a multitude of colonial moments and
spaces both present and past. They are also producing new spaces and moments for the future.
Clearly the last decade has seen an exponential growth in policies and rhetorics aimed at
making institutions of higher learning more welcoming and inclusive of Indigenous peoples
and Indigenous ways of knowing and being. There are consequently more people to administer
and think about those policies and rhetorics. As we mention at the outset of this paper, we
fully support any and all efforts to meaningfully open new spaces for Indigenous peoples in insti-
tutions of higher learning. We also know that institutional change is a slow, difﬁcult process and,
further, that partial or surface-level reforms at best do little more than pay lip service to the types
of deep transformation that are so very necessary to any decolonizing process, and at worst, can
justify inaction and obscure ongoing colonization.
In an efforts to unpack this question, we interject here with some personal anecdotes about
living within spaces of good intentions. These anecdotes are anchored in experiences of academic
institutions and interactions with other Indigenous peoples trying to survive within them. In our
experience, to be Indigenous in the academy is to NEVER be neutral with reference to being a
colonial subject. Conversely, the positionality of being a settler colonist, which we acknowledge
takes multiple and differently racialized forms imbued with hierarchies of power, is rarely made
visible in the same way and is almost always naturalized.
The Indigenous scholars that we know
(or are) live the outcome of this constant visibility: to be seen, understood, and (re)constructed as
being Indigenous often translates into being asked to speak from that position, a position which
the academy is eager to understand, acknowledge, and (very importantly) harness.
For example, Indigenous scholars we know (or are) are frequently asked to offer guest lectures
on topics that touch on Indigeneity because classes are eager to have (to witness) Indigenous
people give voice and body to what might otherwise be construed by students as abstractions.
Indigenous scholars are called to sit on numerous committees where, again, the physical, material
presence of Indigenous peoples is seen to be advantageous. They/we are encouraged to work with
other Indigenous scholars in order to promote and support Indigenous diversity in academic insti-
tutions, and are positioned as “the Indigenous face”of institutions. Indeed, in British Columbia’s
largest post-secondary institution, photos of Indigenous scholars (promoted precisely as such) are
a key web presence of the university –unsurprisingly, no such visibility is offered to (or thrust
upon) settler-colonial subjects speciﬁcally as “being”settler colonists.
We also know that, because of the limited number of qualiﬁed Indigenous scholars available
to take up faculty positions (read: PhDs with strong scholarly track records based on Western stan-
dards of academic value), many junior Indigenous scholars, without a PhD in hand, are being
recruited by post-secondary institutions. We know of too many of them who have accepted pos-
itions but, because of their increased workloads linked speciﬁcally with being Indigenous, do not
complete their PhDs and, consequently, never achieve tenure. Many leave their positions and,
when we have spoken with them, mention having felt like a “token”presence whose usefulness
from an institutional perspective had simply expired. We also know of too many who, when
writing expressly for high-impact factor peer-reviewed journals (of the kind highly valued by
tenure committees) about the dissatisfying experiences of being Indigenous in the academy,
have had their articles rejected because the topic, according to editors and reviewers, is “old
hat”,“unoriginal”,or“not academic”. Finally, and perhaps most tragically, we have witnessed
Settler Colonial Studies 389
(and experienced) the remarkable personal stresses –including health challenges related to over-
work and stress, marriage and/or partnership failure, and feelings of alienation from family and
other (often non-academic) Indigenous communities and peoples –too often suffered by those
Indigenous scholars who are considered highly successful according to the optics and measure-
ment criteria of universities.
In sum, there remains a series of tensions and troubles for Indigenous scholars (and other Indi-
genous subjects) within spaces rife with good intentions. This leads us to believe that good inten-
tions desperately require troubling –in great part because they are, in turn, so troubling to
Indigenous subjects within institutions. Speciﬁcally, we suggest that the intentions of settler colo-
nists –those good intentions that are being institutionalized through policy and thus ascending to
new positions of power –require a great deal more serious critical attention than they are currently
receiving. Without a groundswell of published critical documentation pushing back against good
intentions, there is little to no chance for anything remotely resembling decolonized academic
spaces –no matter how much language and policy is produced about the subject.
As well-intended policies gather strength and acceptance within post-secondary institutions
that remain relatively devoid of Indigenous subjects, we propose that in line with Ahmed’s
thoughts about collaborative ethnography, difference and distance can be (and often are) re-
inscribed through acts that purport to celebrate and validate subjects who, in reality, occupy differ-
to simply redeﬁne the “informant”[read Indigenous subject] as an “equal partner”would work to
conceal the power relations which still allow the gathering together of the ethnographic document.
In other words, the narrative of overcoming relations of authorisation in traditional ethnography con-
stitutes another form of authorisation …. So it remains the ethnographer who is praised for giving up
her or his authority.
What Ahmed provokes us to consider here, vis-à-vis the growing body of well-intentioned pol-
icies proliferating within post-secondary institutions, is that the very act of authoring policies and
agendas in this time of decolonizing languages risks reinforcing the distance between subjects
precisely by naming or gesturing toward that distance as overcome(able). While we support
the aspiration to challenge the hierarchical dimensions of all institutions, Ahmed reminds us of
the necessity to remain alert to the ways in which subjects (in our case Indigenous and non-Indi-
genous subjects) come to occupy conventional, power-laden positionalities. The very act, we
suggest, of advancing a model of co-production of institutional space and shared interests may
reinscribe and reify difference, differences which in fact bear down disproportionately on Indi-
genous peoples, again obscuring any chance of decolonizing academic institutions. To this
extent, then, the “otherness”of Indigenous peoples is actually reinforced through decolonizing
discourses of policies and institutional mandates in which Indigenous peoples are ﬁrst produced
as different and distant, in order to begin attempts to overcome that distance and difference.
Conclusions: occupying occupied spaces
What possible solutions might exist to the challenges outlined in this article? First and foremost,
we ask that our suggestions be understood as contingent. We have no deﬁnitive answers –which,
unto itself, we see as a caveat that must always bracket any and all discussions about decolonizing
or anti-colonial work, particularly in the academy. Decolonization and anti-colonial work, like the
colonization and colonial work with which it is necessarily in constant dialog and reference, is
always shifting, ﬂoating, incomplete, unstable, and contradictory. What requires acknowledging,
in other words, is that any efforts to decolonize spaces and times that are premised upon the idea
390 S. de Leeuw et al.
or goal of some type of completion, some kind of closure, or some certainty that purports to afford
anyone involved an opportunity to move onwards or forwards, is an effort that is destined to fail.
Unsettling settler colonialism can never be instrumental, nor can it be ﬁnished.
In other words, colonialism, and especially settler colonialism in territories that remain occu-
pied, is still and always has been incomplete and ongoing –and likewise, decolonizing and/or
anti-colonial work must also always be conceptualized as incomplete and ongoing. Although
we do not by any means propose that policies aimed to correct institutionalized inequities are
fully unnecessary or not useful, we suspect the very nature of a policy, an inscription of a narra-
tive/directive or a concretizing of what is (and is not) advisable or appropriate as anti-colonial
work, is antithetical to the possibility of real change. Paradoxically, then, any kind of change is
likely to come in great part from acknowledging the fundamental impossibility of itself and by
pushing back on the limits of possibility. This is difﬁcult for both individuals and institutions,
grounded as they are in concepts of growth and oriented at least superﬁcially to some imagined
other, different, better, future time and space. And yet, as Sara Ahmed notes,
it is the very idea of
overcoming that which we have all inherited (settler colonialism), of relegating the past to a realm
of the somehow disappeared, which serves most potently to re-entrench it. Furthermore, and again
somewhat antithetical to the directions we have charted in this paper as currently existing in post-
secondary institutions (and we suspect in spaces beyond those institutions), it may well not be
Indigenous peoples and Indigeneity that need to be made more visible through policies and prac-
tices (translating into more scrutiny and thus more demand on Indigenous subjects) but, instead,
the naturalized, hegemonic, and remarkably invisible nature of settler-colonial power that requires
illuminating and then destabilizing.
We also want to be clear that our thoughts in this paper, while mobile (e.g. transportable
without being, wholesale, transferable), are not meant to be generalizable or reproducible.
Again, we suggest that this caveat is equally applicable to all efforts in post-secondary and
other institutional settings that are concerned with anti-colonial work: the work is always geo-
graphically and temporally speciﬁc and, since both time and place are always shifting and in a
process of construction and deconstruction, so too must be the policies and practices that
unfold in and through them. We are NOTsaying here that policies aimed at decolonization or pol-
icies anchored in “good”intentions should cease to exist. Rather, we want to suggest that good
intentions must always be critically destabilized in part through acknowledging their historic ante-
cedents and genealogical lineages. Good intentions are not good simply by virtue of positioning
themselves as such, and when good intentions manifest as institutional policies or practices it is
incumbent upon anyone interested in meaningfully destabilizing normative settler colonialism to
actively push back against those policies and practices. Indeed, only if it withstands or shifts in
response to critical pressure might a policy or practice be understood as doing the work that it
announces or evokes as being done by its presence, by its being.
Colonialism always was, and is right now, uncomfortable –particularly so for colonized sub-
jects, but also for settler-colonial subjects. Unsettling colonialism, and indeed troubling good
intentions, must similarly never be comfortable. It is, we suggest, at the very moment when some-
thing ascends to a position of normative comfortableness that it most desperately needs troubling.
It is exactly at the moment when we, especially those of us who are settler colonists, feel good
about having reached a place of comfort and stabilization about unsettling colonialism that we
should be feeling most troubled. Indeed, in the very act of seeking to decolonize academic insti-
tutions that exist within an ever-present settler colonial geography, it might be that decolonization
is fundamentally rendered impossible and that something new and different must be imagined.
We recognize that most spaces, especially institutional and post-secondary educational
spaces, remain lacking in Indigenous peoples, presences, and voices –and that many people,
both Indigenous and non-Indigenous –would like that to change. We count ourselves among
Settler Colonial Studies 391
them. We are not convinced, however, that this lack can be addressed by simply increasing the
numbers of Indigenous peoples and their/our ways of knowing and being in spaces and insti-
tutions that remain fundamentally unchanged, nor by Indigenous peoples simply being positioned
as more visible subjects for non-Indigenous subjects to engage with and draw from within those
spaces and institutions. It may be that academic institutions will never be spaces of and for Indi-
genous peoples and knowledges. Indeed, academic institutions may always be sites of normative
settler colonial power. And yet, drawing on Gibson-Graham,
we suggest that even the remotest
possibility of achieving new insights into decolonizing relationships –especially but not exclu-
sively in post-secondary institutions –can only be achieved when settler colonists become
more visible, exactly and precisely as non-Indigenous settler colonists whose presences must
never be naturalized and who instead understand their/our practices and selves as “a becoming
of something yet to be deﬁned”(99). In other words, at the very moment that a relationship
becomes deﬁned by or attached to the idea of decolonization or policies that purport to do
anti-colonial work, the ability to critically reﬂect upon that work can slip away. We insist,
then, that dismantling colonial work must never be comfortable, must never reach a place of
stasis and, crucially, must never be allowed to be untroubled.
1. “We”are three women who live in northern British Columbia, two of us non-Indigenous and one of us
Cree, who work as professors and/or researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia.
Margo specializes in Aboriginal early childhood development and has worked in multiple venues
and at multiple scales on questions of Indigenous peoples’health in Canada. She is the Scientiﬁc
Director of the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health and is an Associate Professor
with cross-appointments in Education and First Nations Studies at the University of Northern
British Columbia. Sarah is a human geographer whose research program addresses colonialism and
Indigenous people. She is an Assistant Professor in the Northern Medical Program at the University
of Northern British Columbia, the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Northern British Columbia
and an Afﬁliate Associate Professor with the School of Community and Public Health at University of
British Colombia. She is a Research Associate with the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal
Health. Nicole is a PhD candidate in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. Her
research is focused on discourses of neoliberal development, colonialism and resource extraction,
and she is also a Research Associate with the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health.
2. Sincere thanks to Patrick Wolfe for assistance with ways to articulate precisely how this paper inter-
venes into existing bodies of knowledge. Thanks also to two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful
feedback and suggestions.
3. For notable and important published exceptions, see Patrick Wolfe, ‘Against the Intentional Fallacy:
Legocentrism and Continuity in the Rhetoric of Indian Dispossession’,American Indian Culture
and Research Journal 36, no. 1 (2012): 1–46; Elina Hill, ‘A Critique of the Call to Always Indigenize’,
Peninsula : A journal of Relational Politics 2, no. 1 (2012).
4. Len Findlay, ‘Always Indigenize!: The Radical Humanities in the Postcolonial Canadian University’,
ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 31, nos. 1–2 (2000): 308–26.
5. Sarah Ahmed, On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (Durham: Duke Univer-
sity Press, 2012).
6. Sara Ahmed, ‘Declaration of Whiteness: The Non-Performativity of Anti-Racism’,Borderlands
E-Journal 3, no. 2 (2004), http://www.borderlands.net.au/vol3no2_2004/ahmed_declarations.htm
(accessed September 7, 2012); Richard Dyer, White (New York: Routledge, 1997); Sarah de Leeuw,
Margo Greenwood, and Emilie Cameron, ‘Deviant Constructions: How Governments Preserve Colo-
nial Narratives of Addictions and Poor Mental Health to Intervene into the Lives of Indigenous Chil-
dren and Families in Canada’,International Journal of Mental Health and Addictions 8, no. 2 (2010):
7. See A.L. Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s“History of Sexuality”and the Colonial
Order of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995); Dyer, White.
8. Sarita Srivastava, ‘You’re Calling Me a Racist? The Moral and Emotional Regulation of Antiracism
and Feminism’,Signs: Journal of Women and Culture 31, no. 1 (2005): 30.
392 S. de Leeuw et al.
9. Srivastava, ‘You’re Calling me a Racist?’
10. Ahmed, ‘Declaration of Whiteness’; Ahmed, On Being Included.
11. Sara Ahmed, ‘Who Knows? Knowing Strangers and Strangeness’,Australian Feminist Studies 15,
no. 31 (2000): 58.
12. Ibid., 57.
13. de Leeuw, Greenwood, and Cameron, ‘Deviant Constructions’; Anne M. Stoler, ‘Tense and Tender
Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American History and (Post) Colonial Studies’,The
Journal of American History 88, no. 3 (2001): 829–65.
14. Vincent McNally, Lord’s Distant Vineyard: A History of the Oblates and the Catholic Community in
British Columbia (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2000); Brett Christophers, Positioning the
Missionary: John Booth Good and the Conﬂuence of Cultures in Nineteenth-Century British Columbia
(Vancouver: UBC Press, 1998).
15. de Leeuw, S., S. Maurice, T. Holyk, M. Greenwood, and W. Adam, ‘With Reserves: The Geographies
of Colonialism and First Nations Health in Northern-Interior British Columbia’,The Annals of the
American Association of Geographers 102, no. 5 (2012): 904–11. Special edition on health.
16. Mary-Ellen Kelm, Colonizing Bodies:Aboriginal Health and Healing in British Columbia, 1900–
1950 (Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 1999).
17. Sarah de Leeuw, ‘Intimate Colonialisms: The Material and Experienced Places of British Columbia’s
Residential Schools’,Canadian Geographer 51, no. 3 (2007): 339–59; Sherene Razack, ‘When Place
Becomes Race: Introduction’,inRace, Space and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society, ed.
Sherene Razack (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002), 1–21.
18. See John S. Milloy, A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential Schooling
System, 1879–1986 (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999).
19. James R. Miller, Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools (Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 1997); James R. Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White
Relations in Canada, 3rd ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001).
20. de Leeuw, Greenwood, and Cameron, ‘Deviant Constructions’.
21. Tania M. Li, The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).
22. Stephen Hui, ‘Shawn Atleo Criticizes Stephen Harper over “No History of Colonialism”Remark’,
Straight.com, October 2, 2009, http://www.straight.com/article-261089/shawn-atleo-criticizes-
stephen-harper-over-no-history-colonialism-remark (accessed September 5, 2012).
23. Stephen Harper, ‘Prime Minister Harper Offers Full Apology on Behalf of Canadians for the Indian
Residential Schools System’,Prime Minister of Canada, June 11, 2008, http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/
media.asp?id=2149 (accessed September 5, 2012); Marv Waterstone and Sarah de Leeuw, ‘A Sorry
State: Apology Excepted’,Human Geography, A New Radical Journal 3, no. 3 (2010): 1–28.
24. Sarah de Leeuw, ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass: Emotion, Personal Connection, and Reading
Colonial Archives along the Grain’,Journal of Historical Geography 38, no. 3 (2012): 273–81.
25. Carole Pateman, ‘The Settler Contract’,inContract and Domination, ed. Carole Pateman and Charles
Mills (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), 73.
26. Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, ‘Decolonization is not a metaphor’,Decolonization: Indigeneity,
Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 1–40.
27. Lorenzo Veracini, ‘Isopolitics, Deep Colonizing, Settler Colonialism’, Interventions: International
Journal of Postcolonial Studies 13, no. 2 (2011): 171–89; Deborah B. Rose (1996) in Lorenzo Veracini,
‘Isopolitics, Deep Colonizing, Settler Colonialism’,Interventions: International Journal of Postcolo-
nial Studies 13, no. 2 (2011): 171–89.
29. Veracini, ‘Isopolitics’.
30. See, for example, Mary Gilmartin and Lawrence D. Berg, ‘Locating postcolonialism’,AREA 39, no. 1
(2007): 120–4; Wendy Shaw, ‘Decolonizing Geographies of Whiteness’,Antipode 38, no. 4 (2006):
851–69; W.S. Shaw, R.D.K. Herman, and G.R Dobbs, ‘Encountering Indigeneity: Re-Imaging and
Decolonizing Geography’,Geograﬁska Annaler Series B: Human Geography 88, no. 3 (2006):
31. See, for example, Keith James, ‘There are Doorways in these Huts: An Empirical Study of Educational
Programs, Native Canadian Student Needs, and Institutional Effectiveness in British Columbia and
Ontario, Canada’,Journal of Native American Education 40, no. 3 (2001): 24–35.
32. Ahmed, On Being Included.
Settler Colonial Studies 393
33. Statistics Canada, ‘Canadians in Context –Aboriginal Population’, http://www4.hrsdc.gc.ca/.3ndic.1t.
4r@-eng.jsp?iid=36 (accessed February 28, 2013).
34. David Holmes, Redressing the Balance: Canadian University Programs in Support of Aboriginal Stu-
dents. Report prepared for the Associations of Universities and Colleges of Canada (Ottawa: Associ-
ation of Universities and Colleges of Canada, 2006), http://www.aucc.ca/_pdf/english/reports/2006/
programs_aboriginal_students_e.pdf (accessed September 5, 2012).
35. See Scott L. Morgensen, Spaces between Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decoloniza-
tion (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011) and Audrey Kobayashi and Sarah de Leeuw,
‘Colonialism and the Tensioned Landscapes of Indigeneity’,inThe Handbook of Social Geography,
ed. Susan J. Smith, Rachel Pain, Sallie A. Marston, and John P. Jones III (London: Sage, 2010),
36. Ahmed, ‘Who knows?’, 56.
37. Ibid., 183.
38. Gibson-Graham, J.K., A Postcapitalist Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).
394 S. de Leeuw et al.