Category Archives: Indigenous Solidarity

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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Decolonizing the Black Bear Ranch Hippie Commune

bbr-finalBy Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Indian Country Today Media Network

The social revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s was a time of positive change for American Indian people and America in general. Indians got self-determination as official federal Indian policy, ethnic minorities gained a greater degree of civil rights, and the United States got out of the Vietnam War. On the negative side, hippies flocked to Indian reservations searching for Indian wisdom, in the process committing a form of theft Indian people now refer to as cultural appropriation.

During those turbulent times the hippies literally ran for the hills in their attempts to escape a spiritually bankrupt social system and set up communes, inspired to a great degree by what they perceived to be American Indian lifestyles and values. Many of them, such as Black Bear Ranch in Northern California, still survive today.

In 2006 a documentary was made about BBR.

The communes were well-intentioned enough, fueled as they were by a desire to transcend systems of greed, social inequality, and environmental degradation the hippies had inherited from their ancestors.

But what they also inherited was a sense of settler entitlement to land based on that very system of capitalist greed they were trying to overcome. Most of them hadn’t thought twice that the lands they were buying were stolen from the very people they were trying to emulate; they were just looking for good deals. But what they did in the process was repeat the patterns of settler colonialism they were simultaneously condemning. (For more on the topic of hippie communes and Indians see the book “Hippies, Indians, and the Fight for Red Power” by Sherry L. Smith).

Black Bear Ranch was founded ironically on the slogan “free land for a free people,” apparently oblivious to the fact that the land was stolen in the first place. Some of the Black Bear Ranch people are beginning to see themselves as complicit with settler colonialism in their idealist visions.

Recently an open letter was written to the BBR members and “family” from a coalition of former BBR residents pointing out the ways the commune is founded on these contradictions. The letter raises the question, “can it be ‘free land’ if it is stolen land?”

Written by non-Natives calling themselves “Unsettling Klamath River,” the letter skillfully employs the language of settler colonialism:

“[We] are an open community collective of settlers, many us former Black Bear residents, living on the Klamath and Salmon Rivers working to understand and respond to the ‘elephant in the room’: the continued occupation of Karuk, Hoopa, Yurok, Konomihu, Shasta, and Shasta New River Homelands. While we understand that the values of settler society are the problem and not necessarily settler people themselves, we recognize that we have a responsibility to face our position as beneficiaries of settler colonialism (even though we have not intended to benefit in this way).”

Click here to read the full article at ICTMN…

Click here to read the full Open Letter to Black Bear Ranch Commune…

Seeking Settler Re-landing

“The Earth” (Zemliia) Painting by Bohdan Pevny, 1963, dedicated to the memory of the 1933 famine in Ukraine.

Illustration: “The Earth” (Zemliia)
Painting by Bohdan Pevny, 1963, dedicated to the memory of the 1933 famine in Ukraine.

By Pegi Eyers, Unsettling America

We as Settlers have abandoned the land.  We have successfully walled ourselves off.  The wind is something that howls outside, the rain bangs on the roof, the snow is an inconvenience that needs to be shovelled away.  The scents of spring blossom outside our sealed windows as we walk throughout our days on floors that were once magnificent forests.  We complain about the weather, and the so-called “perfect” sunny days are just a backdrop to activities that further our appearance, our ego, our need for acquisition, and the diligent daily machinations of capitalism we enact to perpetuate the goals of Empire.  And even though we have insulted Mother Earth in every way possible, she still nurtures us by providing the green growing things that end up in our tomb-like refrigerators, plastic packages, non-recyclable bottles and sealed cans.

And away out on the land, nothing human is moving, because nothing human is there. We as Settlers manage the land and leave the alterations and artifacts of our passing, but we have no interest in actually placing our frail and delicate bodies in natural spaces. From a bird’s eye view, houses sit like lifeless monoliths on the denuded landscape, with the occasional tiny human scurrying from car-pod to dwelling and back again. The creatures of the air have these ravaged territories to themselves – as does every animal, reptile and insect fully embodying their indigenous knowledge through all the vagaries of atmosphere, light, scent, burrow, and ground beneath their feet.  Blocked in by grids of roads traversed by death-dealing machines – the real life, the true life of Turtle Island keeps thriving to the best of its ability and authentic to its song.

Yet not all Settlers are oblivious to the call of the wild and the potential for indigenous knowledge.  Across all demographics and beyond all expectations contemporary movements1 are flourishing  that share “decolonization” hesitantly with Turtle Island First Nations activists and scholars, who maintain ownership of the term.2 However, if the most important activity of decolonization is rejection, a refusal to participate in Empire any longer, we must unsettle our core beliefs as we transcend the legacy of colonial identity, replace external authority with community, stop scarring the land, and begin to live as earth-centered peoples once again. Along with a self-guided critique of Settler-Colonialism in all of its misguided and toxic glory, we must confront the interloper and examine our status on the land.  How do we re-inhabit these places called “Canada” or “USA,” the ground of our being? Mother Earth is counting on us to get it right.

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An Open Letter to Black Bear Ranch Commune

bbr-finalBlack Bear Ranch is a commune started in 1968 in the mountains of the very rural Salmon River watershed in so called “Northern California.” The commune has a history of radical politics and was an early experiment in what became the “back to the land” movement. The Salmon River encompasses parts of the Karuk, Konomihu, Chemafeko (New River) Shasta, and Shasta Homelands. The genocidal “Gold Rush” ushered in settler colonialism in the area and Black Bear Ranch itself was historically the richest gold mine on the Salmon River. Despite the massive violence, murder and theft, Indigenous people not only survived in place but continue to revitalize their cultures and fight for their land base. This letter is written by Unsettling Klamath River, a group of settlers working to “unsettle” ourselves and attempting to put into practice the truth that “settler emplacement is incommensurable with decolonization.”

unsettling klamath river

To the residents of Black Bear Ranch, current and former, and to all of the Black Bear Family,

Some of you may have heard of the coming of this letter and/or the group delivering it. Many of you have not and this may come as a surprise to you. We want to acknowledge from the beginning that the group of people we are addressing is a diverse one; from original bears, to current and all in between. As a group we are also diverse; in our age, gender, background, and in our relationships to all of you and the land we call Black Bear Ranch. Our commonality lies in our love for life and our deep desire to see it continue and thrive. We come to you from our hearts, our love for the land and for each other. This letter is written from the place within us all that…

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We Can’t Trust White People: On Blood Quantum and Identity Appropriation

Just over 500 years ago, there were these white European explorers who, in the name of god, gold, and glory, sailed west in search of delicious and shiny new things.

After several months at sea, they “discovered” the Americas and claimed them in the names of their Western kings. The problem with their “new world”, besides the fact that it wasn’t all that new to begin with, having been discovered at least forty thousand years prior, is that it was already inhabited—by millions of Indigenous peoples whose love of bathing, science, mathematics, and non-Judeo-Christian spirituality deeply offended the newcomers’ “civilized” sensibilities.

This of course was intolerable to the European emigres; these champions of Manifest Destiny spread a blanket of disease and “democracy” across the continent, transforming the lives and genealogy of Indigenous people forever.

Despite everything, we are still here. Since 1492 we have endured systemic oppression, cultural alienation, genocide, displacement, environmental destruction, banning of our spiritual/traditional practices, hate crimes, rape, and barriers to equal opportunities–atop this, the appropriation of the very identities denied to us.

Identity appropriation, at its best, is a nuisance, whereby people make frivolous claims like “my great grandmother was Pocahontas.” At its worst, it results in non-natives’ unsubstantiated claims to Indigenous heritage in an ad hominem effort to justify anti-indigenous actions and rhetoric.

I’m talking about white people who justify running around in “Native American” headdresses, that they bought at Party City, because they’re allegedly 1/16th “Native American.”

Indigenous appropriation not only belittles our experiences as Indigenous people, it drowns out our voices amidst a sea of non-natives who undermine those concerns with the justification that they have Indigenous heritage and are therefore authorized to to speak on indigenous issues. Indigenous appropriation victimizes and invalidates Indigenous peoples’ voices, which carry the weight of real concerns for our communities.

It’s important that I be clear. I am–not–stating that people with mixed or non-indigenous ancestry cannot claim Indigenous identities. Furthermore, I’m not saying that all people who claim possible Indigenous descent are not entitled to do so.  As an indigenous person of mixed ancestry myself, I understand full well how the issue of identity appropriation is frequently conflated with that of blood quantum: both sensitive topics amongst many Indigenous people.

To understand why these issues are so important and controversial to many of us–let’s talk culture and historical context.

Click here to read the full article…

Decolonizing Permaculture

Herb spiral built during a permablitz in Micmac country near Presque Isle, Maine

This article was originally printed in Permaculture Design Magazine (formerly Permaculture Activist) issue #98, Winter 2015. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this issue.

By Jesse Watson, originally published by Midcoast Permaculture

Exploring the Intersection of Permaculture and Decolonization

This article is meant as a primer on decolonization in a contemporary North American context, written specifically for permaculture designers, teachers, activists and gardeners. It is offered so that we may think critically and philosophically about “sustainability” and our role in our culture as designers of novel ecosystems.

In this article we will seek to answer the following questions: What is decolonization? Why should permaculture designers care? What is my experience with this topic? We will attempt to make a clear critique of settler colonialism here in industrialized North America, and demonstrate how we can simultaneously be both victims and perpetuators of settler colonialism. As a bridge to the challenge of bringing a decolonization framework into permaculture practice and pedagogy, I would like to start by mapping those same questions onto permaculture itself.

As a quick thumbnail sketch, permaculture is an ecological approach to the design of whole systems. It is an ethically bounded framework of ecological design that can be used to design everything from landscapes and farms to business enterprises and other cultural projects, on nearly any scale. On the surface, permaculture is often about designing eco-groovy, perennially edible landscapes, gardens and farms. On a deeper level, permaculture is about the conscious design of ecological cultures. As a design process, permaculture can be used to design both outer and inner landscapes, using observation as the preeminent tool for understanding. We would do well to reflect on our role as ecosystem designers and designers of ecological culture, and to think of ourselves in our design and organizing work as “culture jammers.”[i] What then, are some responsibilities here (vis a vis EarthCare, PeopleCare, FutureCare)? How we behave and interact with our ecosystems matters.

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Settlers in the Land: Decolonising Permaculture

David Pritchett explores how we can ‘read’ the cultural landscape and become more educated about the ‘invisible structures’ that exclude people from the land and from the wider permaculture movement.

“I am a settler in this land, too,” Randy says. We are sitting in a talking circle on the back porch of the farmhouse of Edith and Randy Woodley. This is the beginning of a day-long workshop on forest gardening at the Woodley’s 4-acre homestead. Before I taught about forest garden theory and practice, Randy insisted that we first talk about how we as people relate to the land. I’m glad he did.

Randy is a legal descendent of the Keetoowah Cherokee, while Edith, his wife, is a member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe. They both take their heritage seriously, and with equal gravity they recognize that the land on which they live and make a living belongs to the Kalapuya. When they purchased the homestead in disrepair, the first thing they did was visit the elders of the Grande Ronde, a reservation that is now the living place of many tribes of the Pacific Northwest dispossessed of their homelands. They asked how they could honor the Kalapuya people: “Plant huckleberries,” the elder said. And they did. Since then, Edith and Randy have worked hard to restore the farm, using permaculture principles and techniques as they learned, as well as growing vegetables and medicinal herbs with the methods of their own people.

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Towards an Understanding of Cultural Appropriation in Rewilding

Rewild Or DieFrom Rewilding with Peter Michael Bauer

Dear White Rewilders,

I’m white too. Clearly. No hiding that fact. I have pale skin, blue eyes, and a lot of facial hair. If you are reading this, you are probably white too, as this letter is addressed to you, and the majority of the rewilding community is, at the time of this writing, white. While I (and maybe you) don’t identify as a white imperialist, or identify with “whiteness” at all, I live in a culture of white imperialism and I receive all the benefits of living as a white male in a white imperialist culture. As a white rewilder, I have often been accused of cultural appropriation by both Native and Non-Native people alike. Some of these accusations have been true and some false. The more I learn about appropriation, the more respectful and learned I have become. Rewilding is so important to me, and to our future, that I want to do whatever I can to create deeper connections between Native people and Non-Native people as we rewild. I’ve traversed this road for a while now and learned some things that can help us all work together more effectively. This is an open letter about cultural appropriation, how to avoid it, educate yourself on it, and learn from other cultures in a sincere and respectful way that will create collaborative partnerships. This isn’t a definitive guide. This is an intro to a never-ending conversation about this topic that we need to be having regularly.

[For those randomly reading this: Rewilding is a subcultural movement of people returning to, or attempting to re-create, pre-industrial, pre-agrarian cultures and lifeways of hunter-gatherers and/or horticultural societies. Rewilding takes inspiration from the most modern interpretations of prehistory provided by anthropology, archaeology, and ethnobiology. It is an anti-civilization critique that encourages the un-doing of empire and the culture of occupation. We believe that civilization (not to be conflated with civil societies) is inherently destructive, has caused the sixth mass extinction, and is currently in a state of long-term collapse. We are a niche within a niche within a niche. Here in the Americas, the dominant, popular culture continues to rob and mine Native Americans for everything they can, while continuing to treat them like they no longer exist, or only exist as historical stereotypes. It makes sense then, that if we want to rewild, to create sustainable cultures, to reclaim the inherent indigenousity that exists within everyone, that we need to create understanding between rewilders and the Native cultures that have lived here in this way for time immemorial. Most importantly we need to tread lightly and learn how to be respectful, and mutually beneficial as we rewild.]

I should make it clear right out that I am not speaking for Native people. I’m speaking along side them, and sharing what I have heard and learned from close friends and strangers alike. Native people speak for themselves, if you listen. However, they do get tired of having these conversations over and over again, so I thought I would address them from what I understand. Also, I’ve been told that white people tend to listen to other white people so it’s important for us to talk to each other about these issues as well.

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From Truth Telling to Land Return: 4 Ways White People Can Work for Indigenous Justice

By , Everyday Feminism

It’s important that when talking about Indigenous justice, we talk in specifics because of how colonization has impacted different Indigenous people in varied ways.

This article will focus on the context of colonization in what we now refer to as the United States, and it is informed by the activism and expertise of one Dakota person, Waziyatawin, Ph.D.

Thus, while there are surely ways that this article can inform activism outside of this context, it should be understood to be limited in this way.

In their seminal work linking Critical Race Theory to education entitled Toward a Critical Race Theory of Education, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and Dr. William F. Tate, IV explain how the United States is founded fundamentally on property rights rather than human rights.

If human rights were central to the constitution (rather than property rights), it would have been far more difficult for European colonists to continually legally justify slavery, genocide, and the theft of virtually every acre of land in North America.

Thus, the mark of success in the US constitutional system is ownership of property. Whether we’re talking abstract “assets” like stock, the ownership of people, or ownership of land, the longest-running “smart investment” for those legally and financially able to access it, property, drives wealth and prosperity in the US and most Western, capitalist societies.

As a result, any conversation about Indigenous justice threatens the positionality of all settlers — non-Indigenous people — because, in the words of Dr. Wazayatawin, “[W]ithin Indigenous worldviews, land is life. Colonization, in its fundamental sense, involved disconnecting [Indigenous people] from our homelands (so our homelands could be occupied by settlers instead).”

And in my experience, any time we start talking about land return or reparations, White folks (those settlers like myself for whom this property-based system was built) collectively freak out.

If we’re going to talk about what justice actually can and must look like, we have to start talking about the decentering of settler identities and people and about the recentering of Indigenous people and struggle — no matter how uncomfortable that may make us.

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Counter Columbus, Confront Colonialism, Capitalism & Climate Crisis

v28 n4 OCT-DEC 2015 frontBy Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the US Civil War and the triumph of incipient industrial capitalism over earlier, deeply-rooted mercantile and slave-based and land-based forms of capitalism. It set the stage for what is coming to be known as the “Anthropocene.” This is a period of bio-geological development in which human activity is shaping the atmospheric, oceanic and planetary ecological systems in ways that the pre-existing natural systems can no longer contain or accommodate. The consequences of the ensuing 15 decades of intensive exploitation of carbon-based energy resources for warfare, agribusiness, industrial production, and transportation are becoming increasingly undeniable.

We are facing a climatological catastrophe, global mass extinctions, and a possibly irreversible environmental transformation that will mark the end of the 10,000 year period, the Holocene, during which human civilization, based on agriculture, has developed. Global warming, ocean acidification, melting of polar ice, sea level rise, extreme weather events including super-storms, floods and droughts, may soon make the planet unrecognizable, and possibly uninhabitable for humans and thousands of other species whose physical evolution and life cycles cannot keep pace with these transformations.

It behooves us, if we have any hope of staving off such calamities, or of surviving them if and as they occur, to analyze the roots of the social, political and economic behaviors and practices that have brought them about. We must also understand and undo the reasons for the failures of previous efforts to transform human society.

To do so, we must look further back in time, first to the birth of capitalism as a particular form of class society and of exploitation of nature and of humanity within nature, further into the beginnings of history and class society, and then into the entirety of the geological and biological development of earth including the emergence of our species. Doing that in a page or so of this newspaper, 2000 words, is an ambitious goal, so bear with me if what follows is particularly dense. It is also, though I begin by quoting Marx, not going to be the typical “Marxist” presentation of what purports to be class analysis or dialectical and historical materialism, because that has proven insufficient.

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