Settler Colonialism and the White Settler in the Karuk Ancestral Territory
By Laura Hurwitz, Humboldt Journal of Social Relations (Issue #36, 2014) [PDF]
From the time of European invasion of what now constitutes the United States, the settler colonial system has aimed to exterminate Indigenous Peoples and replace them with settlers on the land. While settler colonialism benefi ts the settler at the cost of the Indigenous, all life on Earth suffers from the continuation of this system. This research examines how white settlers living in the Karuk Ancestral Territory, located in Humboldt County, California, understand our role in the settler colonial system. The goal of this study is to begin a collective pursuit of a white settler ethic of accountability, which is a difficult task even in preliminary stages, as it requires the admission of being a beneficiary of and acco mplice to the vicious system of settler colonialism. This could bring about the loss of an already fragile identity and an insecure settler future. Yet settler society has a responsibility to face our role in the settler colonial system.
This article is written from the perspective of a white settler. For nearly two decades, I have lived in the Karuk Ancestral Territory, situated on the Klamath River in Humboldt County, California. Many of the people currently living in this place, both Indigenous and settler alike, are interested in living a sustainable lifestyle and surviving amongst the environmental, social, political, and economic uncertainty of the times. Here some bridges have been built between Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents and a somewhat cordial coexistence exists; nevertheless, tensions do stem from a settler colonial system that benefits one group of people at the expense of another. The acute awareness among members of the Karuk tribe of displacement from their ancestral territory can be read on the T-shirt of one Karuk elder: “Got Land ? Thank an Indian!”
I came to live in the Karuk Ancestral Territory in search of a better life, one that was not destructive to, but rather more connected with land and life. I did not realize I was moving to a place where Indigenous Peoples had remained in their aboriginal territory and retained connection to their traditional way of life, in spite of European invasion. Neither had I considered that the neighborhood in which I grew up was also occupied Indigenous land. In fact, growing up, I largely thought a bout Native Americans as a “thing” of the past. I learned in school, on television, in movies, through the media, and from accepted social discourse that the original people of North America no longer existed. As a child, I had a thick cardboard book that depicted a ball, a book, and an “Indian” together on the “things” page . My indoctrination to view Indigenous Peoples as less than human began quite early. This is no accident, but rather part of the justification of the settler colonial system.
In the first section of this paper, I carry out a review of existing literature regarding settler colonialism, the settler, white privilege, and white supremacism. Next I discuss the methods used to conduct this research. Thirdly, I unpack white settler identity and how settlers comprehend their position within the settler colonial system, which manifests itself as a complicit settler subject in the Karuk Ancestral Territory. In the concluding segment, I outline some unsettling ideas and situate the white settler in the complicated conundrum within movements for decolonization.
This research seeks to find a starting place from which to collectively pursue a white settler ethic of accountability—a difficult task, even in preliminary stages, as it requires the admission of being a beneficiary of and an accomplice to the vicious system of settler colonialism, and could bring about the loss of an already fragile identity and an insecure settler future. Settler society has a responsibility to acknowledge our role in the settler colonial system.