Decolonization highlighted

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Sean Tambour Marshall, a member of K'atlodeeche First Nation, is encouraging a discussion of decolonisation on the Hay River Reserve.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Sean Tambour Marshall, a member of K’atlodeeche First Nation, is encouraging a discussion of decolonisation on the Hay River Reserve.

A new voice is being heard in K’atlodeeche First Nation.

The voice belongs to Sean Tambour Marshall, who is explaining and promoting the need for decolonization.

Marshall recently began hosting a discussion group on the Hay River Reserve to talk about decolonization.

“It’s not about pointing the finger or shaming or causing guilt,” he told The Hub. “It’s about honesty, and at the end of the day in regard to decolonizing oneself or decolonizing one’s nation or homelands, it comes down to love and respect, and holistic viewpoints on history, on politics, on all of that because we’ve been fed one side that glorifies the conqueror, which is not reality.”

Although he was born and grew up in San Francisco, Marshall is a member of K’atlodeeche First Nation and part of the Tambour family on the Hay River Reserve.

His late mother, Florence Rose Tambour, had moved to San Francisco after marrying an American. In 2015, she returned to the Hay River Reserve, where she died in a vehicle accident in April of this year.

Over the years, Marshall has often been to the Hay River Reserve.

Now, he is dividing his time between the reserve and San Francisco, where he earned a degree in film at San Francisco State University.

Marshall has been back on the reserve since June, working on producing four videos for the First Nation and archiving footage.

And he wants to be an active band member.

“I’ve always wanted to come up and contribute to improving the conditions of life on the reserve because I’ve grown up seeing self-destruction left and right,” he said, listing things like domestic abuse, child abandonment, drug abuse, alcoholism, self harm and suicide.

Marshall feels the underlying cause of those problems – colonialism – is not being addressed.

“Even leadership is dealing with PTSD from being colonized from the residential schools and a lot of times I feel like they are unable to see things,” he said. “And for me as both an insider and an outsider I bring a different perspective.”

Marshall’s message about colonialism is straightforward and blunt.

“For me, it’s been a journey, an internal process, and it involves recognizing the effects of being colonized, recognizing the mechanisms which are used to colonize us and healing from those effects and empowering ourselves on mental, spiritual, physical levels,” he explained. “Some of the spiritual levels are regaining our culture. Physical levels are reaching strong physical health. Mentally would be learning a true history that’s not whitewashed by the government stamp of approval of maintaining a watered-down history that glorifies genocide, a genocidal history on First Nations peoples. There’s a lot of truth to it and it’s breaking away from the mainstream perspective of the history of invasion and colonialism.”

Colonialism and genocide were used to destabilize First Nations and to get control of land and resources, he said, adding the assimilation phase involved brainwashing in residential schools and traumatizing children.

“When we were forced to assimilate through punishment, through the organized kidnapping of thousands of children and the brainwashing in those schools, it’s created serious conflicts, and created a generation gap between our elders where they could not share the lessons, thousands of years of culture, thousands of years of meaningful identity with the next generation,” he said.

The informal discussion group started in July and has attracted up to a half-dozen people.

“It’s to get these conversations flowing and to get people to think about these things that are ignored and not acknowledged, and to counter the glorifications that were drip fed from media and the mainstream education system,” said Marshall.

In addition to the discussion group, he has started a martial arts group called Dene Wolf Combatives, which attracts up to a half-dozen people.

“It’s about fitness, number one,” said Marshall, who is trained in kickboxing, jujitsu and judo.

“Martial arts are great and they touch on a lot of balancing and healing,” he noted, explaining fitness helps the mind and inspires self-confidence.

Marshall also hopes to revive and honour the concept of the Dene warrior.

“One thing that has been suppressed in our culture is the warrior culture, and not seeing yourself as a passive actor where things are done to you,” he said. “Whereas in the act of self-defence, dignity lies within that and self-determination, and I think those things can revitalize the spirit in the face of adversity.”

Marshall said the warrior spirit can mean many things from defending the land to peacekeeping and conflict resolution.

“To me, a warrior is a person who defends himself,” he explained. “That can be on any level. And to defend yourself you have to recognize the problem. If you defend yourself, it means you’re being attacked.”

Marshall said many non-aboriginal people may claim that they’re not involved in colonization and oppression.

“But they are,” he said. “They’re involved through their complacency and their actions.”

Marshall recognizes how some non-aboriginal people might become defensive upon hearing his message.

“It’s not adversarial, I guess,” he said. “With decolonization movements, we need to work together as everyone. Everyone is in the boat. It’s about solidarity.”

–Paul Bickford