The Colonial Problem

To mark the publication of The Colonial Problem: An Indigenous Perspective on Crime and Injustice in Canada, the author, Lisa Monchalin, provides a few thoughts on the impetus behind the book as well as its pedagogical features.

Colonial ProblemMy main motivation for writing this book was to make a difference. I want to reduce the criminalization and victimization that Indigenous peoples experience in this country. This motivation stems from personal and family experiences. I went through some traumatic experiences as a child, and endured things that no child should ever have to endure. My father has been targeted and treated unjustly at the hands of police officials. And my Grandma Monchalin—to whom I dedicate this book—is a survivor of violence.

In addition, being Native in our family was always a great source of shame. It was something that older generations tried desperately to hide in their attempt to “protect” the future generations. Thus, this book is also an act of resurgence against this shame. My Grandma Monchalin told me that on the day I was born, and upon her first sight of me, two things came to her. First, she felt that I would be someone in our family who would stand up to the shame, and play a role in making it okay to be who we are as Native peoples, and second, she felt that I would make a difference for our peoples. This book tries to fulfil my Grandma’s vision.

The Colonial Problem came out of the material gathered, researched, and used in courses I teach on Indigenous victimization and justice. I bring together many voices in this book, and present the perspectives of many different Indigenous scholars, teachers, and knowledge keepers from across Turtle Island. I include perspectives of some non-Indigenous ally scholars and others as well, but purposely draw primarily on Indigenous voices. This is because Indigenous voices are not heard enough. Sometimes the excuse is made that there is not enough Indigenous scholarship or writing, but that is a colonial falsehood. Large amounts of Indigenous people’s writings, work, and research exist.

I also wrote this book knowing that I needed to present material in a way that would captivate students who are used to the dominant Western methods of arriving at knowledge and “truths.” I therefore tried to balance the way in which I present material. Throughout the book I draw on a large array of sources, including statistical data, academic literature from across disciplines, scientific reason and at the same time traditional knowledges, voices from the Indigenous community, elder knowledge, and other non-Western resources. At the end of every chapter there are discussion questions, proposed activities, and recommended readings. The discussion questions get students thinking critically about the material presented in the chapters. The activities provide suggestions for related documentaries, YouTube videos and music videos, ideas for class trips, guest speaker recommendations, and in-class activities. Finding the right balance to present material was not easy. It took a lot of writing, and rewriting. But I had to remain optimistic. Whenever I was faced with a struggle, I thought of my Grandma, and the reason I was writing this book—which kept me motivated.

With this book, I am addressing the need for a text written for Indigenous courses offered in criminology, sociology, and victimology programs (and others) across Canada. The broad goal is to provide an expansive consideration of the injustices affecting Indigenous peoples. The purpose is to reach students who might pursue careers within the government, and in the criminal justice system, victim services, or other service provider fields. People need to know true histories and realities. There must be a consciousness raising in this country. Indigenous perspectives and histories can no longer be pushed to the periphery of educational systems. Rather, they must be included within all departments and subjects.

It is my belief that education is a crucial starting point for rectifying the injustices of criminalization and victimization that Indigenous peoples experience daily. The need to educate is one of the reasons I chose to write a textbook because, as Dakota Sioux scholar, visionary, and activist Vine Deloria Jr. says, the “problems” affecting Indigenous peoples “have always been ideological,” so it is vitally important that Indigenous peoples choose the ideological arena as the one in which we make a difference. Textbooks help form ideology, so consider this book a form of “ideological leverage” (Deloria, 1969: 251-252).

Overall, I enjoyed writing this book. At times it evoked emotion, notably when considering the cycle of violence and colonial legacies that have impacted my great Grandma, Grandma, and Father. My passion might stem from a dark place, but it is the driver for change, a drive that seeks to bring light to future generations of university students in Canada.

Lisa Monchalin teaches in the Department of Criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia. She is the first Indigenous woman in Canada to hold a PhD in Criminology. Follow her on Twitter @lmonchalin.


Deloria, Jr., Vine (1969) Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, New York: Macmillan.

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