In our turbulent times there are so many problems that need to be addressed. So many issues that need to be considered and a great many changes that need to be made. We see North America, namely the U.S. and Canada devolving. Sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, violent crimes, and lies plague our society. Yet, how can we possibly address all of these problems? Each one, to our colonized minds, seems like its own separate problem. In fact, while speaking with my mother recently, I was talking about a Convergence I had recently attended and I mentioned how things like Climate Change, sexism, and racism are related. Her response was a common one, “It seems to me those are very separate problems.”
On the surface, this may seem to be the case. That each problem is its own island that must be addressed. However, looking at the problems in this way takes each issue out of its context, as if it existed in a vacuum. Without context we cannot possibly understand the problems we are facing as a society much less solve them.
Rather than looking at the issues we face as secluded and unrelated we have to take a more holistic approach and look at society itself, its roots, how these roots have led us to where we are, and how by recognizing the cause of the problems rather than the separate symptoms we can truly build a better life. A better life for all of us, not just one segment or class. As the Lakota say, when we pray for ourselves, we pray for everyone and everything.
Our American society, as we know and recognize it, began with a system of colonization. Colonialism is defined by Merriam Webster as the control of one power over a dependent area or people. Colonization occurs when one power subjugates another. During this process one power conquers, enslaves, and exploits those they seek power over, this includes forced assimilation. Forced assimilation aims to make the cultural norms, languages, religions etc. of the colonial power onto the people it subjugates and exploits. Least we forget the Boarding Schools that wanted to “Kill the Indian and save the man”. Colonial powers use ethos or policy of using power or force to control another nation or powers. Colonialism cannot be seen as a single event, but as a process and a system which always aims to eliminate indigenous populations and take their land. It is an ongoing process within a system of Eurocentric values and culture.
The impact of colonialism has been and continues to be, the degradation of the environment, the spread of disease, economic instabilities, ethnic rivalries, and human rights violations to name a few. 1 Colonization has never been friendly, as the story we are taught in school about “Thanksgiving” suggests. It is violent, genocidal, and brutal. Our colonial foundation is based on exploitation, slavery, racism, sexism, and white supremacy. Thus, in order for us to get to the root of these issues we have recognize the foundation of our current society and that it has led us to our current state.
Colonialism makes many assumptions, and we are indoctrinated with these assumptions. For example these assumptions include things like, that one must comodify their labor and themselves in order to be valuable, that people and our environment are not inherently valuable, that the lives of women are worth less than the lives of men, that the lives of people of color are less valuable than the lives of people who are white or Caucasian. Such assumptions have led us to the issues we face today including, white supremacy, climate denial, of thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, fake news, and so much more.
In Whose Land is It Anyway: A Manuel for Decolonization, Arthur Manuel tells us that there are three basic components on which colonialism is founded. Firstly is dispossession. Dispossession is the action of depriving someone of land, property, or other possessions. With the colonial invasion comes dispossession. When colonizers arrived in the Americas, they claimed the land they now stood on as their own and treated it as such. Because the land they “discovered” was now arbitrarily “theirs” they would exclude anyone else from the use of it. By doing so the First Nations, who had been on this land for thousands of years, became excluded from the use of their ancestral lands where they lived and all that it provided them. The land that the Native Americans had always used, always lived on, and preserved was stolen due to the assumption that the white Europeans who arrived were superior to those who had lived on this land for so many years.
In fact, the colonizers found that because the people who already lived in the Americas were so different from them, that they must be worth less and not people at all. Some of the reasons colonizers came to this conclusion was that the Native Americans were much too generous. They lived in a gift economy, where giving is better than having and generosity is supreme. In short, one of the main reasons colonizers concluded that Native Americans were less than was because they were too generous and did not horde things in order to have it all or in order to have more than someone else.
The second component of colonization is dependence. Dependence is the state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else. In order to control others one must keep them dependent on the colonizing power. Dependency keeps people impoverished and dependent. After all, it is harder to rise up if you are looking for your next meal and are impoverished than if you are rich and have the time and energy to expend on resistance.
Colonialism leads to complete dependency. As soon as the dispossession kicks in dependency is right there. Once colonizers began to steal the land, they were able to force the dispossessed into dependency. The people who lived here before colonization depended on the land on which they lived for survival. The land provided food and clothing and shelter and medicine. Their land provided everything they needed to survive and flourish. However, when that land was taken away they no longer had their independence, because the land was the source of that independence. Once this has happened, one becomes dependent on those that dominate and dispossess them.
The third element of colonialism is oppression. It is prolonged cruel or unjust treatment. We can see the oppression of Native Americans everywhere we turn. For instance, the poorest counties in the U.S. are not in the deep south as one may suppose. The poorest counties in the United States are those located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the American Southwest. This is no accident. When Native Americans were rounded up onto reservations, they were told to use the European farming techniques taught to them by their colonizers. However, the usable land, that is land that can be farmed, is not nearly enough to support the population. This means that they must depend on “State” support because food needs cannot be met. In addition, there are very few employment opportunities in this area, which means finding a job is nearly impossible. This forces residents to dependency and treats them unfairly. This is done through policies and regulations that continue. In addition, the fact that each family and each tribe was forced onto reservations in the first place is cruel and unjust. Native Americans were killed as if their lives did not matter, enslaved as if they were not people, and forced to abandon their land, and controlled.
Our colonial systems were are based on dispossession, dependency, and oppression. Built into these elements are white supremacy, sexism, ableism, homophobia, Climate Change etc. In order then, for us to address the problems we face as a society today we cannot face each problem out of context and separate. We must attack the root from which all of these issues grow out of. This root is the system of colonization and all that it entails. This means we must decolonize! We must reject colonization and everything it stands for. We must question those values and ideals indoctrinated into us by our colonial governments and cultures.
*This is the first part of a series on colonization and decolonization.