Where do we gain our moral conscious? Where do we acquire our moral guide? I bring these questions up to ask two other questions: Why are so many Native people still absorbed with colonization and decolonization in 2016? How do we ensure that our children and grandchildren aren’t still dealing with this polarizing issue 20 years from now?
Let me start with a quote from the late, great John Trudell of the Santee Sioux Nation from his book featuring a lifetime collection of poetry called Lines from a Mined Mind published in 2008. “The miners are mining our human being as a way of eating our spirit. These lines from a mined mind could be about spirit making an escape. Or these lines could just be some of the crazy falling out of my head.”
It’s hard to argue with facts of Native American history – attempted genocide upon our people, our outrageous higher than average incarceration rates, our poverty rate, our low lifespan level, our every negative statistic you care to delve into – that is a given. I want to explore what it is that produces a mindset within our younger generations of the affects of colonization that permeates through their pores.
Colonization can be described as, according to Wikipedia, “an ongoing process of control by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components (people, animals, etc.). The term is derived from the Latin word colere, which means ‘to inhabit’. Also, colonization refers strictly to migration, for example, to settler colonies in America, [Africa] or Australia, trading posts, and plantations…along with ruling the existing indigenous peoples of styled new territories.”
What? There is no mention of slavery, ethnic cleansing or genocide committed by the white man against the Native peoples of the Americas. There is no mention of small pox, boarding schools or the reservation system put in place by the U.S. government that was so admired by Adolph Hitler. In fact, when I looked up colonization on the internet it was mostly celebratory towards the colonizers, not questioning them and their motives.
When you ask Native people, “what is colonization?” You get a variety of responses. Do we have to come to some sort of agreement about the term? I believe Native people have to have a conversation about colonization before we pursue a conversation about decolonization. There’s a divide within Native people. But that doesn’t mean we’re necessarily confused, but our experiences and outlooks are different.
Some argue that if you raise your kids the right way and teach them about truth, justice and righteousness –that will promote and achieve decolonization. But it seems to me technology promotes an inherited mindset. I know young Native people who have both parents in the home, who live comfortably, go to private schools, etc. But they still develop a militant attitude towards the white man and our combined histories.
Let me be clear. I know there are still lingering effects of colonization within our government and educational systems. The poverty that exists on most reservations cannot be ignored. As a friend of mine mentioned the other day, there are “other psycho/social manifestations like dysfunctional and self destructive behaviors” that are the part of the overall peripheral damage caused by colonization.
Others argue that some, not all, Native people use the “term colonization as a crutch, an excuse or justification for not stepping up and moving forward. As long as there is ethnic diversity there will be oppression, and history that cannot be forgotten.” Is the term too convenient to use in order to justify lack of progress? Let’s think about it and talk about it before we dismiss this question.
Back to my original question about how we eradicate this from our future generations. Will assimilation finally conquer our cultural ways and languages? Do we start new conversations with our children and grandchildren that take colonialism head on and gift to them our historical teachings about freedom being our inherent right to determine our own destiny? Maybe we should embrace the past rather than be angry about it. I’ve always argued that the history of Native peoples in this country is not about tragedy but resilience, tenacity and triumph.
Here’s another quote from another friend: “Yes, damage has been done but we continue to be strong, which should give us the vision to reevaluate the past/history so we can rebuild our strength to provide our children the culture, language, and arts that is their heritage.”
Our children and grandchildren will gain their moral guides from us. I end with this quote: “We need to move forward and heal. Colonialism and recognizing it is the first step, but we also must create pathways for healing.”
Harlan McKosato is a citizen of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma. He is the Director of NDN Productions, an independent media production company based in Albuquerque.