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Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Native American's Perspective on Colonialism


I found this forthright message buried in comments on racialicious. Emphasis is mine.



"I am a Native woman
reading this posting and it's fascinating. Practically, we need to understand what colonialism means to the average American and how it works in your life right now in very simple terms, then we really can start asking bigger questions. Knowing how you passively (and aggressively when you say that the issue is too old to do anything about) protect the status quo, the very same status quo you say you want to change, we can finally see the hegemony that never gets pointed out and really throw it out.


We buy into colonialism most easily and pervasively in these ways:


1. A belief that
Native peoples are extinct or decimated or have no influence today. ---- This simply is not true. There are over 500 tribes still here in the US alone, nearly every single major city has meeting houses, centers, coalitions that work with the State, city and county governments. Native peoples are struggling with protecting land sites in practically every state in the nation, or are fighting for the right to be recognized as Nations by the State or Feds, or are protesting offensive mascots, misappropriation of religious beliefs by ignorant fiction writers, fake shamans, and young republicans, the list goes on. If you want to help any of these causes there is one in your back yard to get involved in.
Who reading this is still a fan of the Atlanta Braves or Washington Red Skins? Confronting a massive money making organization like a sports team, who has the balls to do that? Just Google it to see the death threats and violence over the years perpetrated again Native people fighting just one simple injustice. We could use the help.



2. A belief that
Native/indigenous cultures are primitive, ie, the beginning of the Darwinian scale of evolution. If Europeans had never "found" the western hemisphere the people would have inevitably evolved into cultures and technologies like Europeans --- This is the basis for the ability to discount Indigenous people’s intelligence (around the globe) and therefore any and all ability to make decisions and participate meaningfully in Western society and therefore the reasoning for laws enacted to take away basic rights. Just think about how Native people figure in your mind? What happens when you think of the word “tribe”? Can you consider changing your automatic mental assumption that goes with that word? By the way Native people are NOT a version of European or Asian culture. If one can allow one’s brain to wrap around this concept, it is a civilization of its own World View--- a World View based on a massively intelligent understanding of the concept of “relationship.” This is why we have thousands of words to describe relatives, friends, and our relationship to the world around us. This is why we didn’t deforest the N. American continent, or make animals go extinct. (If you immediately think of the Wooly Mammoth, or “the Mayans,” there you go again protecting your status quo!) In contrast, Europe had/has a basic world view concept of valuing things, and having dominion over things rather that having relationships. English has thousands of words to describe quantify and value--- interesting that capitalism evolved from that mind set.



3. A belief that only
Native culture changed because of Euro contact --- Both cultures had an influence but no one ever acknowledges just how much European culture changed and adopted Native practices and ways of looking at relationship with their fellow human. Europe was steeped in the feudal system when contact with Indigenous peoples happened. This truly was the first time the average Joe saw what the word “freedom” actually meant, soon to follow were revolutions of class and gender in Europe. European culture drastically changed because of being exposed to a new World View that valued people over things. When the US formed its constitution it was heavily borrowed from the living example of the Iroquois and other tribes, not really as much from the dead distant recreation of the Greeks. When the rules of congress where being created, the founders decided to not do what happens in the British parliament, where everyone argues points at once while the main speaker is talking. They decided to follow the Native American example of allowing one person to speak uninterrupted. What we’re doing in this blog today. The society we live in today is much more Native in root than we are ALLOWED to believe. Nativeness is encouraged to be invisibilized.



4. A belief that
"I" have no relationship with Native Americans right now, especially if my ancestors weren't historically involved in "Indian wars" or are "new" immigrants --- The status quo benefits from the silence and ignorance of Native people, Native issues, and those who have been trained to believe that this issue is too hard to understand. Native people only got the right in 1978 to practice our religion, to not have our children unjustly placed in white homes, and to speak their language. At 34, I am the first generation in my family to not have a government program dictate major life choices. If you want to help Native people and issues, write to your congressman and ask them to support treaty enforcement and basic human rights for Indigenous people in this country and globally. To stop upholding the status quo on colonization in this country and around the world, know the fights Native people are currently engaged in. They are human rights struggles.



If you do nothing else, start seeing Native people, start seeing Nativeness. It’s everywhere. Stop supporting movies and images and sports teams that continue to perpetuate stereotypes and make money off the image, story, oppression of Native people. Write to Disney, say stop selling Pocahontas dolls, etc. Say something when you see something.

If you’re on the east coast practically every street, highway, city, county, state is a Native American word. Now ask when you see those things, what is the truth? What language is that? What happened here? Who are/were the Native people living on the land I’m on now. And this, my friends, is really what understanding a small piece of Colonization 101 is.


-Rhiana