The Uncomfortable, Unavoidable, Troublesome & Totally Inconvenient Understanding About Indigenous Language, Culture & Identity

From Awakening The Horse People:

Our language is like a pearl inside a shell. The shell is like the people that carry the language. If our language is taken away, then that would be like a pearl that is gone. We would be like an empty oyster shell.
Yurranydjil Dhurrkay, Galiwin’ku, North East Arnhem Land

The understanding shared in the quote above spells trouble for spiritual seeking settlers, neo-pagans, and those pursuing ancestral recovery work.

Indigenous knowledge about the living power and presence of Indigenous languages creates visible boundaries that give us insight into what we have lost as individuals from a people, from a place – and how modern equivocating of spiritual practices or cultural re-imagining based in english are missing an integral component to their wholeness, connection, and honesty.

This is a provocative understanding to take in.  If deeply considered, it will raise unsettling questions about what we think and say we may be doing within a cultural or spiritual pathway like neopaganism or ancestral recovery if recovering Indigenous language and its ways of thinking and being is not a part.

To prevent likely evasions away from this understanding, a whole series of related quotes are shared below from Indigenous elders, activists, and teachers from different nations around the world.  Please read and consider all of them.

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Six Critical Actions for Healing

From Awakening The Horse People:

As settlers on stolen lands, how do we navigate the complicated path of helping to heal the destruction and pain caused by our people’s colonization of other’s lands like Turtle Island, while also doing what is necessary to heal the source of this colonization which is our own broken relationships of culture with our ancestral places, peoples, and lifeways?

The following list provides six critical actions for walking this complicated path. Three of these actions are centered on aiding the decolonization of Turtle Island and other lands by their Indigenous peoples.  Three other actions are focused on creating real and meaningful connection and healing with our own ancestral peoples and places.

Three Settler Actions to Support Indigenous Decolonization

1)   Return Indigenous lands, access, and resources back to Indigenous peoples so that Indigenous lifeway can be lived through real independence, and allowing for Indigenous peoples to heal themselves using their own cultural understandings. Land and resources should be returned to traditional, language speaking peoples if they are available – not those complicit with colonial governments or their tribal surrogates (like U.S. BIA Tribal Governments).

2)   Transform settler positioning: through

a)   Return or immigrate back to one’s ancestral homeplace/s; or,

b)   Develop long-term, trust building relationships with Indigenous peoples.  Based on these relationships, following Indigenous direction including submitting to, and defending, Indigenous jurisdiction and strategically leaving colonial citizenship and jurisdiction.
It should be noted b) applies to all non-Native people, not just people of european heritage.

3)   Leave Indigenous people alone – and strategically defend their right to be left alone.

Three Settler Actions for Our Own Cultural Recovery

1)   Go home. Establish authentic relationships with Life in natural places in your home. Relationships with Life are based in Indigenous language, so….

2)   Learn your ancestral language.  Indigenous language is the primary transformer of consciousness from euro-centric thought and philosophy to Indigenous thought and philosophy. This step cannot be ignored, evaded, or explained away. Learn your language!

3)   Re-unite or re-join your people. ‪We must transform the consciousness of colonial “I” to the Indigenous “We” by reuniting or rejoining our people/s in europe.  Authentic decolonization and cultural recovery cannot occur within the colonial egotism of “I”.  It just doesn’t work that way. This is different than being the sole survivor of a people and working to grow one’s people again.

In the author’s experiences involving both the decolonization of Turtle Island and the cultural recovery for people of euro-heritage, multiple actions from both lists occur simultaneously and strengthen each other.  Other people of european heritage share the same experience – the building of authentic relationships with Indigenous people in resistance provides important experiential growth and motivation to recovering one’s own cultural identity.

Dismantling Columbus and the Power of the Present

Chad Browneagle, Shoshone/Spokane, joins the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Photo: Jaida L Grey Eagle)

Chad Browneagle, Shoshone/Spokane, joins the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Photo: Jaida L Grey Eagle)

By Jaskiran Dhillon and Siku Allooloo, Truthout

Though Christopher Columbus never set foot in what is now the United States, Columbus Day is hailed as a symbol of the founding of the country. And without question, his arrival unleashed the Christian Doctrine of Discovery — a colonial invention of European international law that legitimated genocide, enslavement and the expropriation of Indigenous homelands. This paved the way for violent settler colonies like the United States to dominate “the Americas.” Rejecting Columbus Day is about dismantling this legacy, as well as challenging historical representations that erase Indigenous peoples’ lived experience and make colonial narratives about the creation of the US seem both natural and inevitable. But it is also about more than that.

Instead of celebrating Columbus’s symbolic role in the founding of the United States, we can reposition him as a founding source of colonial exploitation, which continues to this day. Recasting our view in this way reveals the contemporary forms of settler colonialism threaded through social and political life in the US. The growing movement to critically interrogate Columbus Day is not simply to acknowledge the atrocities committed by Columbus and his contemporaries. It is twofold: to affirm the continual presence of Indigenous peoples, and to advocate in support of present-day efforts to eradicate state violence against Indigenous lands and bodies, including the return of ancestral territories. Such an interrogation challenges an innocuous and expressly historical commemoration of Columbus Day, which relegates both colonial atrocities and Indigenous peoples to things of the past.

Centering Indigenous experience and urgent concerns is not a plea for inclusion in US society. It is about making visible the reality of systemic violence and injustice that is part of everyday life for Indigenous communities. It’s also about exposing the inescapable, ongoing fact of settler complicity in reproducing these dynamics.It is a demonstration of our active presence, as well as a call for people to face the political moment in which we find ourselves. Moreover, it’s a call to meaningfully engage the ways that Indigenous nations are raising fundamental, critical questions about justice, freedom and the future of the planet.

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Towards Decolonization and Settler Responsibility

Since 2008, Liza Minno Bloom and Berkley Carnine have worked with the Black Mesa Indigenous Support (BMIS) collective in solidarity with the Dineh people of Black Mesa, AZ who are resisting a forced relocation due to coal mining.  Black Mesa holds the largest deposit of low-sulfur coal in the U.S. It is home to tens of thousands of Dineh and several hundred Hopi people and their sacred sites, burial grounds, animals, farms, and homes. The federal government has relocated between 10,000 and 20,000 Dineh people and several hundred Hopi from their ancestral homelands on Black Mesa since 1974 when the “Relocation Law” (PL-95-531) passed.  This constitutes the largest relocation of Indigenous people in this country since the Trail of Tears and it is ongoing today.

As members of a solidarity collective we are working to synthesize writing, theorizing, and activist scholarship on decolonization from Indigenous peoples and allies in the U.S. and Canada with our experience doing land-based solidarity. At this moment when Indigenous people are making a powerful and unifying stand to protect and life at Standing Rock, we want to share this piece as one of many efforts to raise decolonial consciousness.

This writing and work relates to us—as white settlers acting in solidarity with an Indigenous struggle—proactively pursuing decolonization and anti-colonial work amongst ourselves.  It is one of many attempts to disrupt the narrative that says decolonization and anti-colonial work are solely the job of Indigenous people and to explore what we are calling parallel processes of decolonization. We are thinking through what it means to shift out of a solely solidarity framework to one of joint struggle, wherein we clarify our own sense of having a stake in defending the earth and in confronting systemic violence and intergenerational trauma caused by colonialism.

As both authors identify as white settlers–people of European descent who benefit from both white privilege and settler privilege–we work and write from our perspective. Developing and acting upon a mutual stake in decolonization looks different for non-Native white people and non-Native people of color. Since we are white settlers, we are focusing on the responsibilities specific to that position. We want to express gratitude for the activist scholarship and organizing of Indigenous and non-Native people of color who’ve greatly informed our analysis and have included a list of resources of many of those writings in the Action Steps/ Best Practices.

The four main sections are of this piece are:

1) An Overview of the Terms Settler Colonialism and Decolonization

2) An Exploration of Parallel Processes of Decolonization

3) Lessons from Solidarity Organizing

4) Action Steps/Best Practice

Settler Colonialism

Settler colonialism is the kind of colonial control that exists in “settler states” such as the U.S, New Zealand, Australia, Israel/Palestine, Canada, Argentina, and other countries. It incorporates elements of both external colonialism—in which a colonizing power exports Indigenous peoples (as slaves or laborers), resources, knowledge, plants, metals, and/or animals to increase the wealth of the colonizer—AND internal colonialism—which is marked by the violent management of an underclass of people and lands within the “domestic” borders of the imperial nation via ghettos, reservations, borders, prisons, police, surveillance, and educational systems.  Settler colonialism is unique in that it combines “internal” and “external” colonialism—so the empire is in the same geographic location as the colony/ies.

So when what is now known as the U.S was colonized, settlers came for good, not only to take things and return to an imperial center based in Europe. This is why scholar Patrick Wolfe called settler colonialism a process of “destroying to replace.” Gradually, the Indigenous versions of governance, land management, cultural practices, etc. are destroyed—through violent conquest, disease, land theft, cultural genocide, etc.—and are replaced with the settler version of those things. Therefore, it is vital to understand settler colonialism not as an event that we can neatly box into one historical moment, but rather as a persistent structure that impacts everything in settler states.


Talking about “decolonizing” in a settler colonial context. where the empire and the colonies are in the same location is complicated.  Currently, the phrase decolonization—which has been used in multiple ways by Indigenous communities over the years—is gaining traction in non-Indigenous, leftist communities. We’ve witnessed a proliferation of phrases like “decolonize your mind,” “decolonize your exercise”, “decolonize your education,” and “decolonize your love life.” This has provided opportunities to bring up land-based struggles for Indigenous self-determination in places where those conversations have been absent. This can also encourage us to take a deeper look at the ways that we have all internalized colonial mindsets when it comes to relating to each other, land, work, infrastructure, etc. The popularization of the term decolonization outside Indigenous communities has also, however, raised tensions about the individualization (most problematically, white individualization) of decolonization processes, processes that lack any focus on the material conditions of Indigenous land, culture, and self-determination.

Decolonization is about transforming how people relate to and in place. It is easy for settler identified people to translate “decolonization” into “making spaces more inclusive of Indigenous people.” This can reproduce the idea that settlers are the rightful inheritors of the space to begin with.

Parallel processes of decolonization entail transforming our relationship to the state, capitalism, extractive industries, and modes of thinking that are defined by white supremacy, etc. We need a community in which we can do the work of holding each other and ourselves accountable, reflecting, and finding modes of uniting in the face of divide and conquer strategies without losing our own political compass. We need tools for doing this work with Indigenous communities as well as non-Native communities where, as white settlers, we don’t conflate white supremacy and settler colonialism. We need to build with non-Native people of color who are defining and enacting their own parallel processes. Some of this framing of parallel processes might be useful for non-Native people of color, while much is specific to those of us working to reveal and transform settler and white privilege.

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Abolish Columbus Day Campaign

From the Zinn Education Project: Teaching A People’s History:

As we write, we are witnessing an inspiring struggle playing out in North Dakota as Indigenous people and allies are attempting to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Dave Archambault, chairperson of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, stated, “This is a corporation that is coming forward and just bulldozing through without any concern for tribes.” The “bulldozing” of Indigenous lives, Indigenous lands, and Indigenous rights all began with Columbus’s invasion in 1492.

It is time to stop celebrating the crimes of Columbus and stand in solidarity with the Indigenous people who demand an end to Columbus Day. Instead of glorifying a person who enslaved and murdered people, destroyed cultures, and terrorized those who challenged his rule, we seek to honor these communities demanding sovereignty, recognition, and rights. We encourage schools to petition their administration and for communities to introduce legislation to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Below is information and resources to join the campaign to Abolish Columbus Day.


The Rhetoric of “Self-Determination” vs the Practice of Decolonization

“settler-colonialism can very well, and indeed almost certainly would, continue to be the dominant order of the day following the line of organizations appealing to a rhetoric of self-determination, while enacting a project of genuine decolonization here on A’nó:wara Kawè:note would utterly annihilate it.”

Maehkōn Ahpēhtesewen

My recent burst of writings on this blog regarding the subject decolonization, my responses to varied white “left” reactions to said writings, and subsequent discussions that i have had with various comrades (Indigenous and non-Indigenous; anarchist, marxist and “other”) has caused me to return in my thoughts to a subject i have touched on before. The topic on my mind has been the way that the broad “left,” in particular marxists of a leninist bent of some sort, employ a rhetoric of a right to self-determination as opposed to putting forth a politics based on actual decolonization (1).

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Chicanos as as Internal Colony: Notes from Occupied America: The Chicano Struggle for Liberation (Rodolfo Acuna, 1972) – Introduction

“In discussing the traditional and internal colonization of the Chicano, it is not my intention to rekindle hatreds, nor to condemn all Anglo-Americans collectively for the ignominies that the Mexican in the United States has suffered. Rather, my purpose is to bring about an awareness-among Anglo-Americans and Chicanos-of the forces that control and manipulate both seven million people in this country and keep them colonized. If Chicanos can become aware of why they are oppressed and how their exploitation is perpetuated, they can work more effectively toward ending their colonization.”

Siglo de Lucha


The first edition of Occupied America, the series of Chicano Studies textbooks by Rodolfo Acuna, was written in 1972, during the peak of the Chicano Movement. This edition was titled “Occupied America: The Chicano Struggle for Liberation.” Later editions were simply titled “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos.” The first edition is known for advocating an analysis that the Chicano people were an internal colony. This thesis was downplayed in subsequent editions.

More writings on internal colonialism are being planned. I post this excerpt from the introduction of this book to advance discussion. Posting does not imply endorsement or affiliation with everything said here.

From the Introduction:

“Mexicans – Chicanos – in the United States today are an oppressed people. They are citizens, but their citizenship is second-class at best. They are exploited and manipulated by those with more power. And, sadly, many believe that the only way to get…

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White Fear of Savage Reprisal in the Course of Decolonization

“The kind of unapologetically eurocentric, settlerist, first worldist rubbish demonstrated by the bulk of the north amerikan “left” sadly rules the day. We who see ourselves as part of the Indigenous Liberation/Independence Movement have to come to grips with this unfortunate truth. It also must be noted that most of the people who would claim leadership of our Movement also profoundly miss this. If we sit and wait for even the most “woke” sectors of the settler population to “come to their senses” and “see the real enemy” we’re frankly going to be waiting here for another 500 years. I can’t wait that long? Can you?”

Maehkōn Ahpēhtesewen

Koupe tèt, boule kay
(Chop heads, burn down houses)
Ayisyen revolutionary slogan

After a bit of back and forth with myself on whether or not it was worth it to respond to an article by Ross Wolfe (1), in which a bumbling, offhanded academic attempt is made to paint my  article Decolonization is not a Metaphor: The Basics of a Genuine Anti-Colonial Position as the height of absurdity, i have decided to take the proverbial plunge and jot down a few thoughts. Perhaps against my better judgement, i decided to do this because the article by Wolfe, for all of its demonstrable euro-chauvinist flaws, does provide us with a nice teachable moment—indeed its euro-chauvinism is precisely why it is a useful pedagogical tool.

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On the Concept of Indigenous Assent: A Rejoinder

“We will never surrender. We will stand tirelessly in defense of our Peoples, our Lands, and our Sacred Earth Mother, and for all of our relations. If they want what they they need to feed their living-dead society, they will have to come and take it. We are Earth’s Army. We will be ready, and We will be waiting.”

Maehkōn Ahpēhtesewen

Following the posting of my quite well received article Decolonization is Not a Metaphor: The Basics of a Genuine Anti-Colonial Positionwhich was shared by anarchist communists, maoists, anarcha-feminists and many others i would not normally expect to see digging into the kind  of material i produce—there were a slew of not even sort of surprising, much less interesting, responses from certain sectors of the north amerikan settler left.

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Stolen people on stolen land: decolonizing while Black

Stolenpeoplestolenland - Hari Ziyad (2016)

Stolenpeoplestolenland – Hari Ziyad (2016)

By Adele Thomas, RaceBaitr

Settler privilege, as I’ve understood it broadly, is having specific rights, advantages or immunities granted or available only to a particular group of people (settlers), while the Indigenous groups are excluded from those benefits.  But when you are neither the colonizer nor the Indigenous group, where do you fit in? More specifically, can African Americans claim access to this privilege?

Often, I find myself feeling the guilt of anti-Indigeneity and Native erasure, contemplating my role in systems oppressive of Indigenous people alongside colonizers who are also charged with African genocide. Taken or sold into bondage and used to develop a global economy, most Africans did not arrive in this country by choice but instead for the purposes of chattel slavery, and while it may be arguing semantics, if Black people cannot claim economic, educational, financial, or cultural privilege, what exactly defines our privilege on stolen land?

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