Nov. 20, 2019

Respect the laws of the people who were here first

Speaker Liz Carlson presents ‘living in Indigenous Sovereignty’ concept at UCalgary events Nov. 28-29

It goes without saying that when visiting another peoples’ homeland, there are laws. As a guest you understand there are expectations, protocols, and cultural practices that you will need to respect.

This idea was lost on the settlers who came to North America, who instead viewed a land ripe for the taking. Instead of honouring the history, traditions and laws of the new land, they imposed their own and tried to make the people already here bend to their ways and laws.

Dr. Liz Carlson, PhD, is trying to reboot this flawed perspective with a notion called “living in Indigenous Sovereignty.”

“Oftentimes when immigrants come to a new land,” says Carlson, “There's this process of wanting to retain who they are, but also expecting to have to fit into the laws, protocols and systems of the new country. But with colonialism the opposite occurred. The people who came decided to impose all their laws and their structures, and said, ‘No, we're going to take over and now it's our way.’ You know? It's not like we can undo that, but how do we change ourselves and our own framework to the way that it should have been when coming to Indigenous lands? Knowing whose lands these are and knowing that these lands have their own stories and their own laws.”

Carlson is visiting Calgary on Nov. 28-29. On the evening of Thursday, Nov. 28, she’ll be speaking at the Glenbow Theatre from 6:30 to 9 p.m. as part of the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work’s Positive Disruption Series, where she’ll address and unpack this notion of living in Indigenous Sovereignty in a free public lecture. To register for the Nov. 28 presentation, click here.

The on Friday, Nov. 29, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the MacEwan Ballroom, Carlson will take part in Walking Parallel Paths, the ii’ taa’poh’to'p journey update event and ceremony that marks the second anniversary of University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy. That event will feature a pipe bag transfer ceremony to President Ed McCauley, an update on the strategy, and keynotes from Douglas White and Carlson.

At Friday’s event, Carlson says she’s going to look at what an institutional strategy like ii’ taa’poh’to'p means for non-Indigenous individuals. “For non-Indigenous people looking at institutional change, I’m going to look at what some of the personal, transformative changes that are going to be helpful for people to undertake, in order to be able to contribute appropriately to institutional change.”

Carlson says the Thursday evening event will allow more time to really get into the implications of what living in Indigenous Sovereignty means for social workers and other helping professions. “On Thursday, I’ll spend some time explaining the framework of living in Indigenous Sovereignty and bringing people through some of the related scholarship, and then make applications for social work, counselors and related professions.”


Liz Carlson is a professor at Laurentian University

Liz Carlson is a professor at Laurentian University

Liz Carlson

Carlson, a professor at Laurentian University, is a dual citizen who grew up in Minnesota where she says she was raised and socialized into what she describes as North America’s “framework of whiteness as the dominant culture.” Along with the cultural norms of whiteness, she says she was raised to understand her own experience as universal. It was only during her education in social work and a subsequent stint working in St. Lucia with the Peace Corps that she became aware of issues facing racially marginalized peoples and she developed a deeper understanding of the impacts of colonialism.

“When I moved back to Minnesota, I got a job at an Indigenous alternative school. And that was really my first exposure to Indigenous people. So that's kind of when that started, it was that background, the connections I made through that school and what I learned there that really set me on this path to learning more about colonialism and how it operates.”

After completing her master of social work, Carlson got a job in rural Manitoba working as a school social worker and made new connections with Indigenous communities as she continued to understand decolonization in different ways. She eventually embarked on a PhD, and her committee included UCalgary's vice-provost for Indigenous engagement, Dr. Michael Hart, who is part of the Faculty of Social Work.

“It’s not like we can immediately change the Canadian state and its stance in relation to Indigenous peoples. Not that we don't continue to try,” says Carlson. “But it's that we change our own framework and live according to Indigenous Sovereignty as the reality on these lands. Because that's my reality. Whether the Canadian state acknowledges it or not. I acknowledge it.”