Ninanâskomon enahipayik ôta kâwîcihitâsoyân, ôma kahatoskâtamân, kawihtamâtakok niya niteyihcikewin kahkiyaw ohci kiyawâw.
I give thanks for the opportunity to be here, to do this work and to share my thoughts with each of you.
In the spirit of love.
Indigenous worldviews have been rooted in systems thinking for thousands of years. Many Indigenous epistemologies are based on holistic, universalist, and de-centralised modes of perceiving the world and its natural systems. These stand in contrast to dominant Western epistemologies, which are based on linear, hierarchical, and discrete modes of thinking. The creation and imposition of settler colonial systems from these modes of thinking, rooted in values of competition and dominance, bear responsibility for many problematic events that occurred under colonisation, such as the creation of the Indian Residential School system.
Viewed this way, I remember that systemic design is a tool envisioned to leverage social change, but even as a well-intentioned application of mostly Western philosophies for making systems change, I can clearly see the systems it purports to reform have harmed and continue to cause harm to Indigenous peoples today. Additionally, where Indigenous perspectives have informed and shaped Western epistemologies about complex systems, it has often been done without credit. An example of this is in our own backyard, with Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” based in some part (and largely unacknowledged) on the Blackfoot teachings from Southern Alberta (Blackstock, 2011) that Maslow himself experienced.
Given these impacts, we must tread lightly. Social innovation shows promise as an important tool in the reparation of our customary laws, our languages, our kinship practices, and our cultural traditions. It can reform and reimagine policy work in ways that are flexible and adaptable and can support our communities’ and nations’ needs, given the right contexts. It would be a mistake to seek out a pan-Indigenous approach, but engaging in multiple Indigenous epistemologies, building relationships and grounding our work in relational accountability provides a valuable first step in working together under the right relations. As Indigenous communities and the Canadian state untangle complex issues such as child and family service systems, address the needs of nations like constitution-building, or ask ourselves how we might create a fully immersive school system rooted in the land, social innovation represents a way in which Indigenous communities can come together and explore the magnitude of where we are now, how we got here, and what we will need to move forward.
Keywords: systemic racism, colonialism, antiracism, oppression, Indigenous, decolonisation