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Assimilation, Integration and Colonization

It is important to understand what colonization, assimilation, and integration are. In the context of Indigenous Peoples, colonization means control.

The expression “colonization” has gained a great amount of use in recent decades. At earlier times, peopled debated about assimilation and integration. It is important to understand what colonization, assimilation, and integration are. In the context of Indigenous Peoples, colonization has come to mean any kind of external control, and it is used as an expression for the subordination of Indian peoples and their rights since early contact with Europeans. In North America, colonization took the task of subordinating Indigenous Peoples to the political power of Christian European kings. In Spanish colonies, with the appearance of the colonists, the land was immediately considered under the control of the colonizing nations. Indigenous Peoples had only the right to land sufficient for their agricultural subsistence.

After 1763, in British North American colonies, Indigenous Peoples retained the right to sell land to the colonial government, and Indians lived on the land at the discretion of the king. In addition, colonizing powers sought to Christianize Indians, and bring Indians into the fold as subjects to the Christian king. Christian Indian communities and non-Christian Indians alike were considered political subjects of the king. Colonial governments regulated the fur trade, and worked to manage fur trade labor and trade relations with Indians. Indians in Latin and South America, during colonial times, were subject to taxes by the colonial government, and on an annual basis they worked those taxes off by performing labor in silver and gold mines, missions, or as workers appended to large farms of wealthy landowners.

In North America, the fur trade during the colonial and early U.S. periods was a major source of wealth production. Colonial governments sought to exploit the labor of Indigenous Peoples. And if labor exploitation was not possible, to marginalize Indians and move them from control over resources valued by the colonial government. Colonial governments were created to extract resources and wealth from colonial territories and transport the wealth to benefit the mother country.

Assimilation and Integration are expressions that are used in the post-colonial period. Significant changes in relations with Indian peoples emerged after the U.S., Canada, and Mexico reject colonial status, and become independent democratic nation states. Now the purpose of the nation state is to assist in the creation of wealth and protection of the rights of citizens. The Indian problem is addressed in similar ways among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Indians are seen as possible citizens. In the long run, the policies of the nations states was to turn Indians into citizens and invite them as individuals to join the new post-colonial economies and governments of Mexico, the United States, and Canada.

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In the case of Mexico, Indians are granted rights of citizens, but not rights as Indigenous Peoples. Assimilation in the post-colonial nation states refers to socializing and acculturation—Indian people to taking up national cultures and institutions. Integration refers to the process of Indian people abandoning their own nations and cultures, and accepting the government, culture, and property laws of the nation states. Indigenous Peoples are invited to join the modernizing nation state, while abandoning their own tribal political and cultural identities.

In Mexico a majority of people, who are participants in the national government, economy, and culture, are also descendants of indigenous nations. The Mestizo citizens of Mexico have accepted the assimilation and integration path, and reject indigenous identities and culture. Many Indigenous Peoples in U.S., Mexico, and Canada continue to choose to uphold significant aspects of indigenous life, including self-government, control over land, and cultural views. In the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, Indigenous Peoples accept national citizenship, but many also choose to live within and support tribal nations and communities. Indigenous Peoples make choices about their identities, and as a result live in multiple tribal and national contexts, which are not fully captured by the expressions of assimilation, integration, or colonization.