Learning Through UnLearning

Diane Obed discusses the importance of decolonizing education through teaching

by Hanna Nicholls 

“It’s not a linear process,” is how Diane Obed describes her journey of overcoming trauma and moving into her role as an educator.

Obed, a 34-year-old Inuit woman from Nunatsiavut, Labrador who recently completed her Master of Arts at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, is deeply committed to decolonization. Her master’s thesis, “Illiniavugut Nunami: learning from the land: envisioning an Inuit-centered educational future,” was undoubtedly informed by her own experiences in working in education, primarily by focusing on decolonizing education, and resisting Eurocentric structures that dictate methods of obtaining knowledge.

For Obed, having the opportunity to work directly with her community of Nunatsiavut and neighbouring settlements gave her the chance to address important issues facing community members every single day, although teaching wasn’t necessarily her end goal.

“Educating isn’t something I set out to do, but it’s unfolding that way where I’m developing these ways, these little ideas and tips that do educate,” Obed says.

Resistance is an important theme that is evident throughout her work. She uses the term “whiteout” to describe the cultural genocide that settler society enacted through colonization and the implementation of the residential schools. For Obed, educating herself and learning how to educate others in the necessity of decolonization, are primary ways that she herself resists narratives that are placed upon her.

“For me resisting shows up in terms of always being aware of a broader narrative that we are being faced with,” says Obed.  “The way that indigenous people are portrayed as victims, I resist that narrative. I’m tired of it.”

In her teaching, Obed deconstructs stereotypical victim narratives that essentialize Indigenous identities, while simultaneously dismantling the Eurocentric values of education and learning by drawing on “the two-eyed seeing approach.” Obed says it blends western thinking and indigenous cultures together, “for the benefit of everyone”.  

Using that approach, Obed teaches from her own lived experiences of adversity; she teaches about the cultural genocide experienced by Indigenous cultures from across Canada; she makes sure to bring Mi’Kmaq and Metis speakers into the classroom, and she focuses on contemporary issues like appropriation, the importance of creating different narratives for Indigenous people, and the importance of resurgence.

“The most important thing I did was allow people to understand that there’s more than just one way of being in the world and existing.

Decolonizing education comes with immense challenges, however, particularly working within an institution like Saint Mary’s where Eurocentric forms of knowledge are entrenched in the university’s teachings and methods of educating. Obed maintains that academia has a specific way of gaining knowledge, which invalidates other methods of learning.

“I had to survive by having relations outside academia,” says Obed. “I really had to draw on inner strength.”

Survival became connecting with the land, and working with other women and elders who helped her to “release, unlearn and reprogram.” These survival skills ultimately helped Obed bring the importance of decolonization to the forefront by confronting such structures.

“It was very important to be stern, to be real, to tell the truth,” says Obed.

Indigenous forms of learning continue to be othered in or contemporary society, but educators like Obed challenge this perception and highlight the necessity of this movement.

“I’m still developing words, knowledge, and the ability to articulate how indigenous knowledge is so needed,” says Obed.“It’s so rich and complex.”

One Response

  1. Hanna – Your article further educates the reader. For me, on a topic furthest from my mind, never to be considered in its Canadian historical and current significance. I emphasise… current. G’dad

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