Category Archives: Indigenous Sovereignty

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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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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Decolonization Not Inclusion

Indigenous Resistance to American Settler Colonialism

By Erich W. Steinman, Department of Sociology, Pitzer College, Claremont, CA, USA, via Sage Journals

American Indians experience forms of domination and resist them through a wide range of decolonizing processes that are commonly overlooked, misidentified, or minimally analyzed by American sociology. This inattention reflects the naturalizing use of minoritizing frameworks regarding tribal members and ethnic rather than political conceptions of American Indian nationhood, membership, and identity. Drawing upon a settler colonial framework, the author uses an analytic typology to identify particular dimensions of settler colonialism, their manifestations, and indigenous action addressing those forms of power. Implications for race and ethnic scholarship and for indigenous participation in racial politics are considered.

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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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