Contemporary Canadian Indigenous Peoples on Tribal Justice as Decolonization: “Not All Narratives Begin in 1867”

  • Carol A. MullenEmail author
Living reference work entry


“Not all narratives begin in 1867” was a statement made by a Toronto-based Indigenous exhibition directing attention to colonialism, including Canada’s ongoing denial of its colonial legacy. In 2017, the country was celebrating its 150th birthday even though Indigenous peoples (also known as the First Peoples of Canada) had been inhabiting the old world for hundreds of years before European settlers arrived. The celebratory proclamation prompted an Indigenous exhibition targeting the false claims about the nation’s age and political concerns extending to health and the environment.

Indigenous agency for tribal justice through creative artistry and scholarship is the subject of this exploratory qualitative study. The perspective taken informs global trends and accountability, with relevance for social justice in education and curriculum. Guiding this inquiry was the research question, “How does Canadian Indigenous creative artistry within public spaces inform global trends and forces of accountability for Canada?” The theoretical framework is organized around ideas of colonialism, tribal (in)justice, education, curriculum, and Canadian multiculturalism. Publically displayed creative artwork was a data source as was the contemporary literature on Indigenous issues in Canada. Toronto’s 2017 “Reframing Nationhood” exhibition held at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) was approached as an innovative space–place for exercising the public imagination. Art galleries and museums (nontraditional places of education) stimulated thinking about Indigenous-based creativity in relation to tribal justice, a type of justice that is often bypassed in the social justice literature. With this critical aesthetic in mind, tribal justice is positioned as public curriculum for aiding readers in recognizing colonial injustices, reimagining mainstream education and curriculum, and forging bridge-building calls to action. Based on analyses of 200 art productions, 6 of which are featured, politics of water and land emerged as germane storylines of tribal injustice specific to health and the environment and political activism. Together, the AGO displays are a window onto an aesthetics of crisis expressed as toxic (baby) bottles and stolen lands. These are prevailing themes of the artwork and analysis. Because the environmental metaphors of land and water in select art productions as well as publications voice modern-day universal concerns in Indigenous culture, these political images are centerpieces of this writing.

An overarching idea establishes Indigenous creativity as political truth-telling about, and tribal protest of, colonialism as a problem of humanity. In the analysis, the argument is made that curriculum must incorporate Indigenous knowledge and values in order to foster justice beyond tolerance, acceptance, and engagement. Examples include curricular interventions by educators who work for justice, which are widely applicable to teaching, learning, and leading. It is concluded that Indigenous-based art informs forces of accountability specific to tribal justice and decolonization. Futurity, an Indigenous construct in art and scholarship, is raised to incite introspection about the future of humanity and what it will take to dismantle colonialism and unsettle for change.


Accountability Activism Art Gallery of Ontario Art Artwork Canada Canadian multiculturalism Colonialism Colonialization Creative Canada Creativity Cultural inequality Culture Curriculum Decolonization Dispossession Diversity Education Fulbright Scholarship Environment Environmental justice Exhibition First Nations Futurity Genocide Global forces Governance Government Identity Indigenous Indigenous communities Indigenous creativity Indigenous culture Indigenous peoples Indigenous reserve Indigenous scholarship Justice Land Leadership Minoritized Politics of land Politics of liability Politics of water Public imagination Racism Recognition Repatriation Revolutionary impulse Rights Schooling Settler Socialization Social justice Solidarity Stories Tolerance Toronto Tribal justice United Nations White privilege 



In the capacity of a Fulbright Scholarship, this work was supported by the World Learning: Global Development & Exchange: A Program of the US Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (grant number FSP-P000185). Another funding source was Virginia Tech’s Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment, Global Issues Initiative Research Support Program.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Education, VTCRCVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Fenwick English
    • 1
  1. 1.Ball State UniversityMuncieUSA

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