Decolonizing Evaluation Week: Who Tells the Story? Decolonizing Dissemination by Sheri Scott and Coco Villaluz

Greetings from Sheri Scott and Coco Villaluz. Coco is Hidatsa, Assiniboine and Chamorro. CoCo considers herself a student and her main mission is to honor her ancestors’ teachings to continue a good way of life. Sheri (she/her/they) is an evaluation consultant, writing from the beautiful lands of the HoChunk near the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers. She is a 4th generation descendant of white settler colonizers and painfully wonders why her Irish ancestors left their own colonized land only to participate in colonizing another. 

We worked together for over a decade, partnering with Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and Dakota Nations to build our understanding of the complex issue of tobacco for Indigenous peoples. 

A fundamental tool of settler colonization and white supremacy is extraction – of land, resources, and knowledge — with no acknowledgement or gratitude. One component of disrupting this extractive nature is challenging the status quo on dissemination, which posits the evaluator as expert and generator of knowledge. Evaluators disseminate findings through reports, presentations and manuscripts. But who tells an evaluation story holds power that needs to be recognized and discussed more openly in the evaluation profession. In our experience, sharing this power not only uplifts voices but also engenders deeper knowledge generation. This is especially true within our context of erasure, stolen land and suppressed voices of Indigenous peoples

Lessons Learned

As we began to write up our “findings”, we realized that we didn’t want to write yet another paper that said “they” instead of “we.” It was critical that when we talked about this important work and considered dissemination, it included the communities we were writing about. We needed our advocates to be able to share from their perspectives to tell personal stories, some of which have been passed down through their families and some for the first time being told out in the open.  For many Indigenous communities, some stories can only be shared during certain seasons and this protocol must be upheld with the utmost honor.  Being able to sit in a circle and hearing all the different perspectives of what traditional tobacco is and means to the advocates, their families and their communities only helped to make the work that much more rich. We used our positions to advocate with the funder for a series of writing retreats with Tribal Nations staff. As a non-Indian, Sheri was honored to learn from the dialogue and worked to translate those learnings about the deeper cultural framework for a public health audience. For validity, she continually vetted writings with the group before finalizing. The result was a publication, Why the World Will Never be Tobacco Free: Reframing Tobacco Control into a Traditional Tobacco Movement. (The challenge of getting it published is another blog post!) An additional key effort to decolonize dissemination was giving up evaluator positional power and advocating for tribal Nation staff to present findings at conferences. We offered support –writing abstracts/preparing slides — but funding and opportunities went to community themselves to tell their own story in their own way.

Hot Tips

  • SHARE POWER! Write funding and opportunities for and with community voices into your contracts and be prepared to “give up” professional status opportunities 
  • Use your positional power to advocate for different ways of knowing
  • Do your own self work on decolonizing and decenter whiteness 

Rad Resources

Decolonization includes positive action. Read Decolonizing Wealth and support Tribal Nation sovereignty and the Landback movement.

Move forward with humility, vulnerability and love — embrace the relationships and healing you develop as you decolonize!

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Decolonizing Evaluation Week. All posts this week are contributed by individuals committed to the decolonization of evaluation. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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