Category Archives: Decolonization & Unsettling

Born on the Fourth of July: Counterinsurgency, Indigenous Resistance, and Black Revolt

Commissioned by St. Louis beer-maker Anheuser-Busch in 1889, Otto Becker famously depicted “Custer’s Last Fight” for beer advertisements, adding to the myth of a valiant last stand scenario and the self-defense of an invading settler nation.

Commissioned by St. Louis beer-maker Anheuser-Busch in 1889, Otto Becker famously depicted “Custer’s Last Fight” for beer advertisements, adding to the myth of a valiant last stand scenario and the self-defense of an invading settler nation.

By Nick Estes, The Red Nation

On June 25, 1876, an alliance of Lakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos blew out the candles on the United States’ birthday cake. A week before celebrating one hundred years of “liberty,” at the Battle of Greasy Grass the historic Indigenous alliance wiped from the earth lieutenant colonel George A. Custer, a less well-known Civil War officer, and more than 250 of his men of the Seventh Calvary. Knocked from his horse by the Northern Cheyenne warrior woman Buffalo Calf Trail Woman and killed while running away, for his bravery Custer was promoted to the rank of general after his death and inglorious defeat.

Natives made Custer famous by killing him. To empire’s chagrin these same nations still celebrate this historic victory as a declaration of their prior and continuing independence, a week before the US’s own self-described “independence” from the British Empire. But a false image of Custer making a heroic last stand still lingers and does important political work. A last stand reverses the role of invasion and self-defense. It’s as innocent as playing cowboys and Indians, right? Who wants to be the Indians? (Put your hand down, Johnny Depp.)

Settlers often see themselves as victims, who are, just like Custer, surrounded by hostile, dark nations. Such depictions litter the genre of Western films. But a move to innocence isn’t harmless Americana. It’s the founding doctrine of the US and its counterinsurgency programs. It has been the justification for slavery, genocide, and war. One only need to read the Declaration of Independence to understand the origins of this clever inversion of history where aggressors become victims and where colonialism looks like self-defense.

The Declaration of Independence is an unlikely yet foundational location for US counterinsurgency doctrine. In the same breath that the “founding fathers” condemned arbitrary rule by an overseas sovereign, they called for the defense against those whose bodies they stole and those whose lands they took or intended to take. King George, they wrote, “has excited domestic [slave] insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes[,] and conditions.”

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Resistance 150: Why Canada’s birthday celebrations aren’t for everyone

Warrior Publications

No Justice Stolen Land logoby Jackie Dunham, CTV News, June 27, 2017

As organizers ramp up anticipation for Canada’s big bash honouring the 150th anniversary of Confederation, indigenous activists are rallying their own counter-celebrations.

The #Resistance150 movement was created nearly eight months ago by Anishinaabe traditional storyteller and teacher Isaac Murdoch, Michif visual artist Christi Belcourt, Cree activist Tanya Kappo and Métis author Maria Campbell while they were discussing the government’s planned festivities for Canada 150.

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Enrique Dussel: Without Epistemic Decolonization, There Is No Revolution

Professor Enrique Dussel speaking at Eco-socialist School of Critical Decolonial Thought of Our America held in Caracas October 7-14, 2016. (AVN)

Professor Enrique Dussel speaking at Eco-socialist School of Critical Decolonial Thought of Our America held in Caracas October 7-14, 2016. (AVN)

Via Venezuela Analysis:

Renowned Mexican-Argentine philosopher Enrique Dussel was in Caracas October 6-10, 2016, as part of the first ever Eco-socialist School of Critical Decolonial Thought of Our America. A founder of the Philosophy of Liberation movement, Dussel has played a protagonist role over the last decade as one of the key theorists and public intellectuals of the so-called “Pink Tide” of leftist and center-leftist governments that came to power across Latin America. In conversation with journalist Clodovaldo Hernandez, the philosopher stresses the urgent need to decolonize epistemic frameworks in order to learn from the series of recent defeats suffered by progressive forces across the continent. 

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What is Cultural Appropriation?

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By Pegi Eyers, Stone Circle Press

To understand how cultural appropriation shows up in our environmental movements and spiritual life, we need to look at the backstory, or how cultural appropriation came to be.  About 50 years ago a strange phenomena began to happen.  In mainstream society young white people were rebelling against the imperialist machine, while in a much less visible sphere, First Nations were just starting to recover from the dark ages of genocide, oppression, residential school displacement and segregation.  In the dominant society of the mid-20th century, our ties to a genuine spiritual life had been broken, organized religion was on the decline, and all of a sudden young white people were reconnecting with nature. This was a wonderful thing – but they had no role models to follow so they turned to First Nations, freely adopting these cultural tools and spiritual traditions, and some going so far as to create a whole new indigenous identity for themselves.  Without proper boundaries, the whitewashed genre of “Native Spirituality” was born, and cultural appropriation became imbedded in the flourishing New Age Industry.

Of course we owe a huge debt to the original rebellion of the hippies and the counterculture that gave us the alternative choices, sexual freedom, new spiritualities, holistic self-care and healthy life-sustaining practices we enjoy today.  These are features of society we now take for granted, but unfortunately within  the massive self-help, transformational and New Age marketplace the genres of “Native Spirituality” and “Shamanism” have been normalized. Being exposed to this material for so long, many New Agers are shocked to find these genres being questioned, yet an interrogation is exactly what is needed. Not only are white practitioners of “Native Spirituality” on shaky moral ground, First Nations have made it abundantly clear that they are completely opposed to the theft of their cultural and spiritual property.

Today, cultural appropriation occurs on a continuum from relatively harmless practices, to serious mental disorders such as identity theft. Having moccasins, native jewellery, native art, or a drum in the privacy of your own home (acquired from native artisans) can be considered good Allyship by supporting the livelihood of First Nations.  But in mainstream industries like fashion, fine art, entertainment and home décor, items like dreamcatchers and headdresses are big business, and these cultural signifiers are casually used by white people for fun and self-expression. Many of these symbols, often products made in China, are the sacred property of First Nations!  We can just imagine how deeply hurtful this must be.

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How academia uses poverty, oppression, and pain for intellectual masturbation

By Clelia O. Rodríguez, RaceBaitR

The politics of decolonization are not the same as the act of decolonizing. How rapidly phrases like “decolonize the mind/heart” or simply “decolonize” are being consumed in academic spaces is worrisome. My grandfather was a decolonizer. He is dead now, and if he was alive he would probably scratch his head if these academics explained  the concept to him.

I am concerned about how the term is beginning to evoke a practice of getting rid of colonial practices by those operating fully under those practices. Decolonization sounds and means different things to me, a woman of color, than to a white person. And why does this matter? Why does my skin itch when I hear the term in academic white spaces where POC remain tokens? Why does my throat become a prison of words that cannot be digested into complete sentences? Is it because in these “decolonizing” practices we are being colonized once again?

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We need decolonization before reconciliation, argues Ryan McMahon

From CBC Radio’s The 180 with Jim Brown:

“I would argue that before reconciliation, we really need to look at decolonization,” he says. “Decolonization starts with land. It starts with the question of land. Do indigenous people have the ability to live freely on and with relationship to the land, as we did prior to confederation? And the answer right now is no.”

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Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention

By Jaskiran Dhillon, University of Toronto Press

In 2016, Canada’s newly elected federal government publically committed to reconciling the social and material deprivation of Indigenous communities across the country. Does this outward shift in the Canadian state’s approach to longstanding injustices facing Indigenous peoples reflect a “transformation with teeth,” or is it merely a reconstructed attempt at colonial Indigenous-settler relations?

Prairie Rising provides a series of critical reflections about the changing face of settler colonialism in Canada through an ethnographic investigation of Indigenous-state relations in the city of Saskatoon.  Jaskiran Dhillon uncovers how various groups including state agents, youth workers, and community organizations utilize participatory politics in order to intervene in the lives of Indigenous youth living under conditions of colonial occupation and marginality. In doing so, this accessibly written book sheds light on the changing forms of settler governance and the interlocking systems of education, child welfare, and criminal justice that sustain it. Dhillon’s nuanced and fine-grained analysis exposes how the push for inclusionary governance ultimately reinstates colonial settler authority and raises startling questions about the federal government’s commitment to justice and political empowerment for Indigenous Nations, particularly within the context of the everyday realities facing Indigenous youth.

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Cultural Appropriation and the Gypsy Industry

Time and time again, Romani people are the targets of cultural appropriation, with various levels of offenders to tackle. On Etsy, Ebay, and Pinterest combined, one can find over 498,000 objects tagged “Gypsy” which includes items such as dangly jewelry, hippy/Boho skirts, colorful bedsheets, and even pet supplies with tags such as “ Vintage gypsy”, “Bohemian gypsy ”, and “Gypsy Junk” while fashion designers label their companies and collections using comparable terms and are relentless in their use of racially stereotypical themes. There are also appropriators of our music and dance, who name their bands and dance troops using various forms of the term “Gypsy” with not one Romani person to be found among them, such as Toronto, Canada’s “Travelling Gypsy Market”  or the Vancouver B.C. based “gypsy performance troupe, Roma Gry” (Gypsy horse). Groups like these escalate their appropriation by not only claiming to be Roma, but are also hired, open to taking educational funds and teaching the public their version of Romani history and culture.

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Decolonisation in Europe: Sámi Musician Sofia Jannok Points to Life beyond Colonialism

Sofia Jannok at Standing Rock. Photo: Jeff Schad

By Rut Blomqvist, Resilience

The European core nations have colonised the world. This system is not only based on the unequal exchange of land and labour—as the anthropologist Alf Hornborg has shown in Global Ecology and Unequal Exchange—it is also on the verge of making the planet uninhabitable. So the world must be decolonised. But what would it mean to decolonise Europe? How do we decolonise the core of the world system—the area of the world that gave birth to colonialism itself?

Another world exists

In the north of Scandinavia, there is an Indigenous culture that has persisted against colonisation. The land is called Sápmi. The Sámi, like all Arctic Indigenous peoples, are experiencing the severe effects of rapid global warming and decolonisation is now more than ever a matter of survival.

Sofia Jannok is a songwriter, yoiker (yoik is a traditional Sámi vocal style), and pop singer; activist, environmentalist thinker, and reindeer owner. Through her words, melodies, activism, and existence, Jannok pushes for decolonisation. The title of the last song on her latest album ORDA: This Is My Land is “Noaidi,” a Northern Sámi word that means shaman but that she also translates as “Decolonizer.” The noaidi drives out the colonisers and their mentality. The noaidi reveals another world, a story that has been silenced in the history of the Swedish nation state.

For me, the encounter with Sofia Jannok’s music and stories opened the door to a new world-view. I am an urban middle-class Swede brought up to think that industrialisation is necessary and that this mode of production combined with better welfare distribution means progress for all. I have always had a nudging feeling of something being wrong with the story I have been told but other narratives are rarely given space in the media, nor in the academic contexts or political organisations I have been part of.

I was able to interview Jannok to explore the connection between her music, the decolonisation of Sápmi and of Europe, and the necessity of Indigenous rights and Indigenous peoples’ perspectives for all of humanity. This article tells the story of the other world that already exists in Jannok´s Sápmi. I weave a pattern of our conversation, her songs, images of what her stories make me feel, and examples of colonisation past and present.

Jannok and I begin by talking about music. I ask her about the role of music in Sámi decolonisation work and she emphasises that the increased focus on Sámi musicians and artists in the Swedish media often misses the historical ties between artistic expression and political struggle in Sápmi.

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From Standing Rock to Resistance in Context: Towards Anarchism against Settler Colonialism

Image by Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Image by Pax Ahimsa Gethen

By Adam Lewis, E-International Relations

The direct action at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline has captured a wide range of political imaginations under the #NODAPL banner. People from over 100 Indigenous nations, as well as non-Indigenous/settler allies/accomplices, have travelled to the site where the US Army Corps of Engineers has attempted to place the pipeline under the Mni Sose (Missouri River), and right through Oceti Sakowin (The Great Sioux Nation lands). The resistance at Standing Rock has included a range of camps and tactics, as well as heavy handed police/security responses. Though the Army Corps of Engineers decided to withhold the easement permit for the last stage of the pipeline in December 2016, pending an environmental assessment, few see this as the end of the resistance.  Many pointed out that this is not a commitment to stop the pipeline as a whole, but rather an attempt to seek out other means of ensuring its completion. Donald Trump recently signed executive orders to revive both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects, prompting renewed calls for resistance.

This article asks how events like the resistance at Standing Rock relate to broader struggles of Indigenous autonomy and decolonization, and how such events are seen by, and interact with, radical anarchist politics. I consider how an anti-colonial perspective within anarchism could be further developed in particular local contexts with specific reference to structures of settler colonialism and ongoing histories of Indigenous resistance. This article details and expands upon some of my previous work on anarchism and its relationship to settler colonialism and Indigenous struggles (see Lewis 2016a, 2016b, 2015).

By ‘anarchist’ I mean those people, theories and movements committed to the destruction of the state, capitalism and all forms of oppression. Anarchist politics seeks to end domination through direct action and militant or revolutionary struggle, while also working to ‘build a new world in the shell of the old’ here and now. Anarchists aspire to create anti-authoritarian, non-hierarchical and direct-democratic forms of relating. Anarchism as a movement began in late 1800s Europe, but has since spread and developed through a range of actors, spawning a variety of tendencies and perspectives around the globe (for a good introduction to anarchism see Milstein, 2010, also Dixon 2014). For my purposes here, I speak to those movements who call the settler states of Canada or the United States home, and who tend to be dominated by non-Indigenous peoples, and often white settlers.

I begin first by laying out the settler colonial context that is crucial for understanding all struggles in North America. I then move to a discussion of how anarchists, and all those interested in transformative radical futures more broadly, can incorporate such a context into their own resistance and put the creation of alternatives into conversation with projects of Indigenous resurgence and decolonization. How can radical futures be imagined given the context of both continued structures of settler colonialism, as well as Indigenous resurgence that is intimately and directly tied up in relationships to land?

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