Tag Archives: colonialism

Return Fire on Colonisation

A glossary entry to accompany the U.K. green anarchist zine Return Fire, Volume 3 (PDF)

Imagine existing under occupation. Imagine life after the invasion of your home; the boots on the street, the suppression of differential ways of being, the erasure of potentials. Imagine you, the next generation, the one after, as compelled to abide by new strictures and disciplines, learning to call new and old phenomena by unfamiliar terms, both living in and understanding your bodies and surroundings in set and prescribed ways, contributing daily to a project not your own.

Is this what the term ‘colonisation’ evokes to you? For many of us, the initial connotations are the same: expropriation, persecution, enslavement, loss of culture and meaning, apartheid. For some, depending on one’s starting point, this picture will feel painfully present and fresh; an open sore not given respite to heal, a torment without end in sight, as the circumference of your life shrinks to fit your ghetto, house-hold, reservation, labour-camp or mental ward. For others, the impression would be like traces of a lingering nightmare – collective grief buried under daily survival; echoes of the kitchen-table laments of neglected elders or whispers of half-forgotten rebels. For others still, this will feel like the stuff of wide-screen dystopias or foreign dictatorships; figures from the past, maybe, without bearing on or relation to our ‘individually determined’ existence in The Free World.

The common usage is deceptively simple; one kind of culture invades and overwhelms another. The basis for this hostility towards the ‘other’, and the complex mindsets of differentiation and superiority within which it exists, is rooted in the settling of certain concepts and assumptions in the consciousness of its hosts. Often, however, discussion of the phenomena of colonisation stays hemmed into limited readings on the theme of race, or the moves of one specific culture on the stage of History, or even just to shrewd geopolitical calculations set apart from ideology. The truth is that contributions from such discussions continue to inform our perspectives on the matter, yet our use of the term conjures a logic far deeper and wider. We who are writing feel that opening out our understanding of this dynamic can equip us to better comprehend the indignities in all our lives, and the axes along which they intersect. This is why we wanted to dedicate this space to the topic.

Some of the descriptions to follow are straight from our own experiences, or those shared with us by others on a separate footing within the colonisation process, but some will be what has in one way or another been served to us as History (even in its antagonist version). Because this History is a slippery tool to wield, and more than a little implicated in the very process of worldview-shaping we’ll critique, we will at least be making more abundantly clear than usual which key sources we’ve worked from or what conversations we’re following in this line of inquiry.

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White Allies, Let’s Be Honest About Decolonization

How can settler allies move beyond being sympathetic beneficiaries of colonialism? What approach is legitimately decolonizing? (Photo by Josué Rivas.)

How can settler allies move beyond being sympathetic beneficiaries of colonialism? What approach is legitimately decolonizing? (Photo by Josué Rivas.)

I want to experience the solidarity of allied actions that refuse fantastical narratives of commonality and hope.

By , Yes! Magazine

Indigenous environmental movements in North America are among the oldest and most provocative—from the Dish With One Spoon Treaty between Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples to the Mni Wiconi (“Water Is Life”) movement of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. As a Potawatomi environmental justice advocate, I often get asked by other environmentalists in the U.S. to share my views on what they can do to be good allies to Indigenous peoples. Those who ask usually identify themselves as being non-Indigenous, white, and privileged. They are U.S. settlers: people who have privileges that arise from the historic and ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples.

Whether one participates in settler colonialism is not entirely a matter of when or how one’s ancestors came to the U.S. Having settler privilege means that some combination of one’s economic security, U.S. citizenship, sense of relationship to the land, mental and physical health, cultural integrity, family values, career aspirations, and spiritual lives are not possible—literally!—without the territorial dispossession of Indigenous peoples.

How then can settler allies move beyond being sympathetic beneficiaries of colonialism? What approach is legitimately decolonizing?

Click here to read the full article…

Sage Against the Machine: Being Truth to Power

Hwy401 Blockade

By , Indigenous Nationhood Movement

In the wake of two horrific world wars, American Quakers coined the phrase “speak truth to power” as part of a campaign for peace. The truth they wished to voice to the American public, its leaders, and to power itself was a familiar one: “love endures and overcomes.” Speaking truth to power stood in contrast to the silence of cold obedience as exemplified by the professional soldier. Here, the Quakers follow a long-standing tradition in western political thought of identifying speech with agency and disobedience.

This view of politics extends back to the ancient Greeks and reflects the guiding intuition behind contemporary democratic institutions. Throughout that long history, the disruptive potential of speech has been a mainstay of emancipatory movements, struggles for the full inclusion of the marginalized, and the fight for basic equalities that have been historically denied. Dominant communities have accordingly sought to protect their privilege by limiting the ‘voice’ of groups who seek to speak their truths.

But a very different strategy of power is deployed when contending with groups who seek collective autonomy as opposed to equality and inclusion. In the past half-century, settler colonial society has come to realize that excluding Indigenous peoples and their perspectives from public discourse has not stopped them from speaking to one another or from strengthening their nations. These nations are, of course, rooted in the very lands over which dominant society unilaterally asserts its claim of sovereignty. Formal exclusion has proven a limited strategy. And so Indigenous nationhood movements have inspired a distinctive and seemingly counter-intuitive response from dominant society: an invitation (sometimes even a demand) that Indigenous peoples speak truth to power.

Why would colonial institutions accommodate and in some cases encourage the voices of Indigenous peoples? Because at its core, what settler society fears more than the disruptive potential of Indigenous speech is the inevitability that Indigenous peoples, once released from an imposed duty to justify themselves to the colonizer, will turn that massive investment of energy back into being truth to power. Being truth to power is reflected in those embodied practices of love for community and for the land, diverse practices that undermine the homogenizing violence that sustains colonial privilege. Accordingly, colonial power increasingly works through sites of dialogue designed to sap the vitality from these embodied practices of autonomy. The goal is to lift Indigenous peoples out of communities and off the land and drop them into a permanent state of explanation, a limbo wherein they are compelled to talk endlessly to settlers about community and about land.

When Indigenous peoples are not engaged in being truth to power, then, it is often because they have been induced to explain and justify themselves to a colonial audience. They have been tireless and resilient at the podium, these elders, activists, advocates, academics, lawyers, artists, teachers, and children. They have tapped every shared register and common understanding available in the hopes that genuine reciprocity might drip, however slowly, into the rusted tin can of colonial institutions. They have argued for nationhood through the abstract lens of high philosophy, through the concrete immediacy of violence against women, and from every location in between. They have deployed the arcane legal language that colonial courts revere as authoritative and they have attempted to transpose Indigenous perspectives into every idiom that the general public might understand. They have been repeating the message at every opportunity and in every institution be it the media, grade schools, universities, courts, legislatures, international governance bodies, conferences, committees, commissions, corporate boardrooms and negotiating tables.

Indigenous peoples are prompted to reach across the colonial abyss by the urgency and immediacy of threats to health and well-being. Despite the fact that these efforts have led to some important gains, from the perspective of settler colonial power there are advantages to promoting still more dialogue. For one, such exchanges are an important method of maintaining surveillance and control. As mentioned, they also sap and divert vital energy. But there is another, less obvious reason why settlers champion more robust discourse: Indigenous ‘voice’ is the primary source of narcissistic settler redemption.

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Monstrous Settlers: Zombies, Demons, and Angels

From Settler Agrarian:

I am a monster (but I’m working on it).

With the birth and growth of Idle No More, now more than ever, lots of settlers are understanding colonialism as a problem, and trying to think through our relationships and obligations to Indigenous peoples, the history of colonization, and what all that means for us as settlers.  This shifts colonialism from an “Indian problem” to a “Settler problem.”  In spite of the mainstream media, many Canadian settlers are learning that they are implicated in an ongoing colonial relationship.  For me that’s encouraging, because I didn’t grow up in a context where colonialism is actually something discussed and debated, where settlers see colonialism as a problem that involves us.  I move through some spaces like this now, and they continue to challenge me.  This is about how settlers respond to these challenges.

I’m a white, male, educated, cis-gendered, able-bodied, hetero-sexual, middle-class settler, so I basically benefit from every major axis of oppression.  What follows is a reflection of my own experience with the politics of colonialism, decolonization, and settler solidarity efforts with Indigenous peoples, over the past few years.  I’m drawing on some feminist, queer, trans, and anti-racist writers and activists here too.  Even though dynamics are always different and complex, I think there are also some similarities in terms of the way privileged folks (like me) conduct ourselves across these struggles, especially when we’re trying to to prove that we’re good, in spite of our privilege.  When I use “we” and “us” I’m talking about other white settlers who benefit from ongoing white supremacy and settler colonialism in Canada.  I am glossing over lots of complexities and nuances of colonialism and decolonization.  I’m experimenting with monster metaphors in hopes of getting at some of these issues in a different way, but I recognize that this is serious shit.  And I want your feedback, critical or otherwise.

Upsettlers, Monarchists, and Manarchists are monsters that plague settlers in Canada, making it difficult for us to grapple with our colonial privilege, engage with other settlers, and effectively support Indigenous struggles.  I started out as a Monarchist, had stints as an Upsettler, became a Manarchist, and now I’m trying to avoid relapsing into all three monsters.

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Spaces Between Us: Queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization

Morgensen, Scott Lauria. Spaces between us : queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

From Settler Agrarian:

I skipped over a chapter in this summary and I found myself quoting Morgensen extensively as I tried to summarize, because so many of his claims were quite complicated and nuanced.  I’m still digesting this book; I might be able to say more about what I actually think about it later…

Morgensen’s book tracks what he calls “the biopolitics of settler colonialism” in queer movements.  He shows that the biopolitics of settler colonialism structures Native and non-Native queer movements, and their interrelationship.  Colonialism is always there; it structures desires and relationships, and it tends to remain naturalized in settler society: the targeting of indigenous communities for death seems natural, necessary, or already-accomplished.  In the intro, he advances three claims:

1)   “In the United States, modern queer cultures and politics have taken form as normatively white, multiracial, and non-Native projects compatible with a white settler society.

2)   Within broad transnational alliances (focused here in the United States), Native queer and Two-Spirit activists directly denaturalize settler colonialism and disrupt its conditioning of queer projects by asserting Native queer modernities.

3)   Settler colonialism and its conditioning of modern sexuality produce an intimate relationship between non-Native and Native queer modernities that I interpret as conversations (ix).

Thinking settler colonialism ‘biopolitically’ means “reading ‘modern sexuality’ as the array of discourses, procedures, and institutions that arose in metropolitan and colonial societies to distinguish and link primitive and civilized gender and sexuality, while defining racial, national, gendered, and sexual subjects and populations in biopolitical relationship.  The colonization of indigenous peoples was a “proviing ground for the biopolitics of settler colonialism,” which, he argues, “defines modern sexuality as ‘contact’ between queered indigeneity and its transcendence by settler sexuality” (23).  In short, settler colonial biopower affects all modern sexualities (32).  Heteropatriarchal settler colonialism sought “both the elimination of Indigenous sexuality and its incorporation into settler sexual modernity” (34).  He argues that the sovereign power of death and the relegation of indigenous people to a state of exception worked in tandem with “a modern and siciplinary education of desire that produced normative subjects of life” (34-5).  European sexualities fostered misogynist hierarchies and ‘queered’ indigenous peoples, interpreting transgressions of heteropatriarchy not only as abnormality in individuals, but as symptoms of a flawed society, requiring heteropatriarchal interventions and discipline (36-7).  This is part of a shift from the singling out of individuals (the regime of sovereignty) towards their subjection “with their communities to military attack, containment, or removal” (38).  Thus residential and reserve schools “used disciplinary education to try to break Native communities, languages, and cultural knowledges” without the need for “brute violence” (39).  This is part of the “deadly logic of regulation,” which never precluded overt and extreme violence, but nonetheless represents a distinct and pervasive aspect of colonialism (40-1)

So what are the implications of biopolitical settler colonialism for settlers?  Morgensen situates the subjugation of indigenous peoples as “proving ground” for the sexual regulation of settler societies and modern sexuality more generally.  Colonial settler subjectivity was still in formation, not yet naturalized: “far from reflecting the finality of conquest, this period was one of tense negotiations of active and contested settlement.  Any iteration of modern sexuality in this time that placed Native people in the past knew itself to be a contingent claim that remained open to challenge” (42).

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Lexicon: Colonialism

By Maia Ramnath, from the IAS Lexicon pamphlet series, February 2012

(Download it in PDF format for pamphlet printing)

The Lexicon pamphlet series, a new project of the Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS), aims to convert words into politically useful tools—for those already engaged in a politics from below as well as the newly approaching—by offering definitional understandings of commonly used keywords. Each Lexicon is a two-color pamphlet featuring one keyword or phrase, defined in about 2,000 words of text, and all pamphlets are available for free from the IAS, or can be downloaded here for printing and sharing. The first five pamphlets, designed by Josh MacPhee of Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative and printed by P&L Printing in Denver, are: “Power” by Todd May, “Colonialism” by Maia Ramnath, “Gender” by Jamie Heckert. “Anarchism” by Cindy Milstein, and “White Supremacy” by Joel Olson. Stay tuned for more titles in this growing series.

Colonialism can refer to a transnational process of domination, the policies by which it is carried out, and the ideologies that underwrite it. Modern colonialism has taken various forms since the Iberian, British, and French (and later German, Belgian, and Italian) incursions into Asia, Africa, and the Americas—whether for armed trade, armed missionizing, or armed settlement—began to escalate from the late fifteenth century onward.

In its “classical” historical form (roughly the late eighteenth to mid-twentieth century), the colonial relationship consisted of a metropolitan center ruling its conquered satellites from afar, through a combination of proxy rulers and local colonial administration answerable to the “home” power. For the metropole, holding colonies maximized its advantage relative to other so-called Great Powers by securing access to resources and strategic points. Meanwhile, a colony would be cemented into a position of economic dependency by which the metropole sucked surplus value from its claimed possessions in the form of plundered raw materials (mineral wealth, flora and fauna, and plantation cash crops), while selling manufactured goods back to them. The residents of a conquered region thus played the roles of superexploited cheap or coerced labor and captive consumer markets, while their own prior modes of subsistence and production were decimated. This economic pattern required colonial rulers to maintain a strong military presence as well as a trained class of native collaborators to make its local administration and policing feasible.

The act of initial takeover, from the perspective of surplus wealth extraction (aka developmental aid), is sometimes called the moment of primitive accumulation, or accumulation by dispossession. The latter term makes it clear that this wasn’t just a singular, originary event long in the past but rather a process that constantly continues to expand, regularized through a symbiotic combination of direct governmentality and subsidized corporate activity.

This kind of formalized system collapsed when the two world wars broke up the European imperial powers. New superpowers, however, were already emerging to take their place as global imperial rivals. As international politics froze into their cold war polarization while the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa attempted to maintain their hard-won independence outside either bloc, Kwame Nkrumah popularized the phrase neocolonialism to describe the situation they now risked. What he meant by calling neocolonialism “the highest stage of imperialism” (in reference to Vladimir Lenin’s famous formulation of imperialism as “the highest form of capitalism”) was that even if formal political independence was recognized, “freedom” was in substance meaningless if global economic power imbalances still replicated or even exceeded those of the classical colonial period.

Nkrumah was Ghana’s first democratically elected leader, and one of the key figures in both the Pan-Africanist movement and Non-Aligned Movement of decolonizing countries in Africa and Asia as well as in India, Egypt, Indonesia, and Yugoslavia. Joined by Latin America— which by then had already been struggling for almost 150 years against exactly that kind of relationship to the United States—the countries of what we now call the Global South formed the “Tricontinental” alliance against recolonization in all but name: by proxy in local conflicts, covert ops to install dictators subservient to the desired interests, or economic domination.

More recently still, what’s been called globalization since the 1980s and 1990s manifests as more of the same, but in a drastically intensified form. With the Soviet Union out of the way, the Washington Consensus laid out the principles of neoliberalism to be exercised on the same regions, now primarily through mechanisms like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, G20, and World Economic Forum. The conditions for International Monetary Fund loans required adherence to structural adjustment programs demanding that the entirety of a recipient country’s social programs be eliminated, privatized, and deregulated, and that all its financial resources previously geared toward public goods like health, education, housing, and transportation be moved toward servicing debt—that is to say, wealth redistribution toward a transnational capitalist elite, or a tiny point of a pyramid supported by a vast base of the dispossessed.

In this way, decolonizing or “developing” countries have been locked in perpetual debt, sacrificing collective welfare to the demands of corporations and their sponsors—by no coincidence, the same pool of corporations that have profited the most from the U.S. occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq over the last ten years. What we’re now seeing in North America and Europe—the widespread loss of homes and livelihoods—are the effects of neoliberalism, or exactly what’s been going on for decades in the Global South. (Here’s a parallel: when fascism overtook Europe in the 1930s, many recognized that the same genocidal logics and draconian techniques had long been routine in the colonies. What was new was the application of these dehumanizing techniques and ideologies to the metropoles, to people previously classified—though in some cases precariously—on the near side of the racial and cultural divide instead of to those conveniently far away.)

Hence, what North Americans now experience resonates in form with the most recent manifestation of colonization. But there’s an important difference: history, along with our resulting locations, literally and figuratively.

The continued expansion of capitalism has always depended on colonialism—that is, on externalizing its costs and reaching ever farther afield for inputs. This means that a political entity with an interest in generating profit has to project its power outside its territorial jurisdiction in order to do so—and that’s imperialism. This may occur through economic or military means, hard power or soft, or some combination thereof.

Furthermore, colonial projects and imperial projections require some form of racism as a legitimizing base. The stability of all colonial systems has ultimately depended on maintaining, at great effort, a strict line, supposedly existential but in truth ideological, of which one side must be portrayed as irredeemably alien, primitive, inferior, evil, scary, and/or less human. That was the only way to create justification for enslavement or genocide, whether to a public whose participation was required or another power. Some forms of this have included Christian missionary efforts, Orientalism, racialist pseudoscience, and the liberal civilizing mission, aka the white man’s burden. This is why anticolonial resistance movements in the Global South have so often been interconnected with antiracist mobilizations in the Global North; they were both linked manifestations of the same phenomenon, same logic, and same historical processes.

Two of these processes—two related techniques of colonization—are of particular relevance to contemporary repertoires of civil disobedience and their relationship to space. The first is military occupation, in which an imperial power moves its army into a place to demand its submission by brute force. The second is a subset of the colonial enterprise known as settler colonialism—in which an imperial power engages in what amounts to ethnic cleansing or a massive population transfer, by moving its own people permanently into a region, rather than just defending bases or enclaves. Occupation in these contexts means the illegitimate claiming of space: invasion, conquest, sanctioned vigilantism against prior residents. That, of course, is the dirty open secret on which the United States was founded: there is no unoccupied land here.

This is why decolonization may actually be a more accurate term for what protest movements that utilize occupation as a tactic intend to do when they establish a sustained presence in a space claimed by government, military, or corporate entities, such as (to name just a few examples) the American Indian Movement did at Alcatraz, the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters, and elsewhere since the 1970s; students did at universities throughout California and New York in 2008–9; and Argentinean workers did in their factories in 2001. The first example is certainly a more direct opposition to explicit colonization and conquest in the textbook sense. Nevertheless, all such actions are essentially moves toward reversing the process of dispossession; dismantling relationships of inequity and the legal/governmental structures that protect them; halting the suck of wealth extraction from the bottom to the top of the pyramid; restoration of the commons; and refusal to sacrifice the priorities of collective social well- being to the profits of an elite few. When externalized and mapped onto racialized divisions between an elite and a population to which it is seen as external, these grievances are all aspects of the colonization process.

To struggle against it, then, must also include historically contextualizing our own economic, political, and geographic locations. This enables us, among other things, to understand the connections between the rights of immigrants and indigenous peoples, both forcibly displaced by the demands of the global economy and militarization of borders, and recognize, unweave, and replace persistent racism, sexism, and all other related patterns of oppression by which colonial dominion has been justified.

Introducing Unsettling America!

Welcome to Unsettling America, a new blog documenting the praxis of decolonization in the “Americas,” with an eye on occupied Turtle Island, colonially known as “Canada” and the “United States.”

We are not here to document Statist, top-down legislative/governmental “decolonization” from above, but rather the mental, spiritual, and psychological decolonization and liberation that can only come from below and within, and does not seek sanction or legitimization from abstract (and fundamentally illegitimate) external power structures in seeking true sovereignty and self-determination for ourselves and for all people.

Want to join us and contribute to the project? Contact unsettlingamerica@riseup.net for more information.

This site is under development. Stay tuned for updates!

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