Book Chapter

Decolonization has thus far mostly failed – drawing from Canadian lessons



Engstrom S & Choate PW (2023) Decolonization has thus far mostly failed – drawing from Canadian lessons. In: Baikady R, Sajid SM, Przeperski J, Nadesan V, Islam MR & Gao J (eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Global Social Problems. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Colonial processes shaped the development of Canada and its relationship with the Indigenous peoples. This has led to systemic and racist based systems of child protection, health care, justice as well as ecological and land policies that disadvantage First Nation, Métis and Innuit peoples. This has meant, for example, that Indigenous children are overrepresented in foster care; Indigenous adults overrepresented in jails; diminished access to health care and education and high rates of poverty and denial to social determinants of health. The colonial system is, therefore, working exactly as designed. Structural inequity is the cumulative result. Pressures to change exist and some efforts are underway. These include some application of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission along with other public reports and inquiries. For example, Canada introduced An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families (known colloquially as Bill C-92) which is designed to transfer responsibility for child welfare to Indigenous communities. The Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan is the first to achieve this transfer which includes the implementation of its own laws. Several more nations are in the process. However, The Bill C-92 was also meant to shift the practice of provincial and territorial governments towards a more Indigenous focused set of practice standards. Thus far, the courts have been resisting full implementation and the Quebec Court of Appeal has held parts of the law violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which illustrates how systemic structures intersect as barriers for change. This chapter argues that the inequities arising from the ongoing impacts of colonialism require Canada to no longer attempt change through tertiary actions. It must dismantle and disempower processes and institutions that sustain colonialism ending the inequities. For social work, this also means that education cannot be rooted in theories and practice parameters that are meant to assess, intervene and manage services from such places as Euro-centric beliefs, tools and frameworks. Yet, the profession has beliefs that underpin the work. In particular, beliefs that humans are inherently worthy of dignity, with their diversity to be respected and their human rights upheld (Choate & Engstrom 2023).

PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Place of publicationCham, Switzerland

People (1)


Dr Sandra Engstrom

Dr Sandra Engstrom

Lecturer, Social Work