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Social Science Native American Studies

Unsettling Spirit

A Journey into Decolonization

by (author) Denise M. Nadeau

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2020
Native American Studies
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2020
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    Publish Date
    Apr 2020
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What does it mean to be a white settler on land taken from peoples who have lived there since time immemorial? In the context of reconciliation and Indigenous resurgence, Unsettling Spirit provides a personal perspective on decolonization, informed by Indigenous traditions and lifeways, and the need to examine one's complicity with colonial structures. Applying autoethnography grounded in Indigenous and feminist methodologies, Denise Nadeau weaves together stories and reflections on how to live with integrity on stolen and occupied land. The author chronicles her early and brief experience of "Native mission" in the late 1980s and early 1990s in northern Canada and Chiapas, Mexico, and the gradual recognition that she had internalized colonialist concepts of the "good Christian" and the Great White Helper. Drawing on somatic psychotherapy, Nadeau addresses contemporary manifestations of helping and the politics of trauma. She uncovers her ancestors' settler background and the responsibilities that come with facing this history. Caught between two traditions – born and raised Catholic but challenged by Indigenous ways of life – the author traces her engagement with Indigenous values and how relationships inform her ongoing journey. A foreword by Cree-Métis author Deanna Reder places the work in a broader context of Indigenous scholarship. Incorporating insights from Indigenous ethical and legal frameworks, Unsettling Spirit offers an accessible reflection on possibilities for settler decolonization as well as for decolonizing Christian and interfaith practice.

About the author

Denise M. Nadeau is affiliate assistant professor in the Department of Religions and Cultures at Concordia University.

Denise M. Nadeau's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Through stories with embodied practice and relationships with indigenous communities, Denise Nadeau brings light to the complexity and joys involved in shifting ways of being in respectful relationships with the earth and all living beings. Unsettling Spirit is a valuable read and resource for white settlers trying to engage meaningfully with decolonization." Juli Rees, director of education and human rights, Hospital Employees' Union

"Denise Nadeau is fierce in Unsettling Spirit. Her pilgrimage through her faith journey shows the way to decolonizing with deep honesty and truth, laying a path for anyone brave enough to do the work that needs to be done." Marjorie Beaucage, Métis artist and community educator

"I was both thrilled and unsettled to find such an honest account of another white woman settler's efforts to excavate her own relationship to colonial history, Indigenous ways of knowing. and political struggles. Unsettling Spirit reminded me once again that decolonization is a life-time endeavour filled with difficult conversations, beautiful encounters, humble moments, and new understandings of spirit. Denise Nadeau gives us the courage to be there, in the discomfort and openness, that is an inevitable part of any reconciliation process." Deborah Barndt, professor emerita, York University

"Complex, engaging, and thought-provoking, Unsettling Spirit is a sophisticated story of an unfinished journey into decolonization." Michel Andraos, Catholic Theological Union

"Nadeau turns her spiritual quest into a public pedagogical goal, engaging her activist and embodied experience with unrelenting courage through dialogue with a solid array of interdisciplinary research." Marilyn Legge, Emmanuel College of Victoria University