The mentality of colonization runs deep in our culture, particularly deep in those who benefit the most from the colonization. While I like to think of myself as a non-racist, I still have the mindset of the colonizer that prevents me from seeing my own racism and prejudice. For a while now I’ve grappled with this. I think one of the first steps in de-colonizing my mind involved recognizing that I live on stolen land. This scared the hell out of me.
My friend Eugene has a theory that white people have fear over this because they are scared of being treated the same (in whole or in part) as the others and or losing any of their privileges (especially the latter). He loves to bring up a time when, during a conversation about this, a white guy shouted out “What about me!?” If we white people acknowledge that we live on stolen land, then we white people think that means we have to give it back to the Native cultures here. If I have to give it back, then where do I go? Back to where? Ireland? Germany? Russia? I’m a “Heinz 57”. Where do I go back too? WHAT ABOUT ME?!? My feelings embarrassingly, perfectly expressed Eugene’s hypotheses. I felt afraid of having what I consider my land taken from me and experiencing the same kind of treatment they received. Of course, to get over this I had to have a long talk with my white, colonized mind.
“Well, my ancestors moved here after the genocide.”
Yes, but the power structure still exists. The colonizers have become us, still colonizing here and now. The genocide continues (only more invisibly), the occupation continues (even more invisibly), and we make up a part of the culture of occupation. If you live here and make up a part of civilization, you live as a privileged member of the culture of occupation. Civilization uses military force that your tax dollars go to, to keep this land occupied. Your ancestors didn’t start it, but they continued it, and we continue it today.
“Well, no one can own anything, so you can’t call this land stolen.”
The word stolen doesn’t imply ownership. It refers to the action of someone taking something from someone else without asking, trading or courting for it, and generally taken by force. No one owns a child, and yet when someone takes a child from a family we say that the person stole the child from the family. This reveals more about the relationship to the land that Native cultures have, but we’ll save that for later.
“Well, we are all one. We’re all from Africa anyway.”
We do not all live as one and in this culture of occupation and slavery we certainly do not share equality. With DNA studies we have learned that race does not exist. More racial diversity exists between neighboring hunter-gatherers in Africa than throughout the rest of the world. However, we have created a culture based on the falsified belief in race. This means that race does exist, culturally. And so, privileged white people using the “we’re all one” excuse to not acknowledge the past basically looks like saying, “Hey Native Americans, we’re all one. Get over it.” or “Hey African Americans, we’re all one. Get over slavery.” These ideas come from the upper class of privileged people who, from their point of privilege, cannot put themselves in the shoes of the less privileged.
“We need to acknowledge that we live in an ever-changing reality.”
Okay, let me tell you a story about kinship. A woman has a baby. It nestles in her arms breast-feeding. A man comes up and beats up the woman, steals the crying baby out of her arms. The man enslaves the child and beats it everyday. The man’s family directly benefits from this enslavement. The original woman says, “Hey, that’s my child!” They turn to her and say, “You need to acknowledge that we live in an ever-shifting reality.”
The people here lived in a family with the land. They didn’t “own” the land. They lived on a familial basis with the land. 10,000 years of their bodies rest in the ground here feeding the life that still lives today. They still live: as the salmon, the cedar, the camas, the oaks and the firs. The white imperialistic culture of occupation stole this land from the Native cultures here the same way as the man stole the child from the woman in the story above. We continue to benefit from its enslavement today. In order to move forward, we need to acknowledge that native people here have a familial and ancestral connection to the land. Yeah, all humans have a relationship to the land in the most generic sense possible. But we have no ancestral connection to this land and have totally fucked it up in 200 years. If we want a healthy relationship to this land, we need to court its kin. The Natives culture live as their kin. Courting them requires acknowledging their familial and ancestral relationship to this land, and helping them reclaim and restore that.
“You keep talking about genocide and slavery but you know, the Northwest Coast tribes had slaves.”
So that makes what civilization has done to them totally okay? Where does this logic come from? Yeah they had “slaves”. Although, they had a different kind of hierarchical system and using the word slave doesn’t exactly mean the same way that we use it today, but that obscures the point. Sure, let’s say a few of the Northwest Native cultures had slaves. What does that have to do with the relationship between our civilization and their cultures? I want to talk about our relationship, not their own interpersonal relationships. That has nothing to do with this conversation. It reminds me of the time I brought up an abusive behavior with an ex-girlfriend of mine and she brought up something from the past, “Well you did this once” as though that somehow excuses or evens-out the current situation. Their own culture had its own customs (that I don’t think I have any business judging). The conversation I want to have here doesn’t have to do with that. The conversation I want to have involves talking about the current relationship, the relationship between my genocidal culture of occupation and this land and its family.
“Well, I don’t identify as a member of this culture.”
During the physical enslavement of African Americans, white people who disagreed with slavery, because of their privilege, could help slaves escape slavery. While those white people disagreed with the enslavement of those people, they lived as members of the culture of enslavement. They worked to change the culture they lived as a part of. They could help the slaves escape precisely because they lived as a part of the culture of slavery.
While I don’t identify with Civilization as my culture (i.e. I don’t think of Obama as “my president”, the troops in Iraq as “my troops”, the police force as “my police force”, etc) I make up a part of this culture. I have a job, therefore I pay taxes, which go to support the military that keeps us all occupied. Even if I didn’t pay taxes, I still buy food from the grocery store, pay for movies, coffee, clothes, etc. etc. etc. All of which help the economy stay in place. While I may not feel like part of this culture (I certainly don’t!), I live inextricably as a slave to it, and therefore a member of it. It doesn’t matter what people believe on a personal level, but what we do as a whole culture. The personal level provides a platform for abandoning this culture; it stands as a starting point, but not yet differentiated from it.
For example, I don’t think of myself as a racist. I don’t care about race. And yet, while physical slavery of African Americans ended (in this country), the culture of occupation and racism did not. 2/3 of men in prison have black skin. Why? Because racial profiling by police officers and cultural racism that keeps black people in the lower class. The fact that we have a black president shows that race, while historically connected to occupation and slavery, has less to do with the occupation, than the occupation itself. This culture cares less about race, and more about forced hierarchy. But race has an inextricable connection to the hierarchy of our culture. White people receive an insane amount of privilege as the minority of those who sit at the top of the pyramid fall under white and the majority of humans (and other-than-humans) who fill the rest of the pyramid fall under not-white. I don’t think of myself as racist, but I live in a hierarchical culture of racism.
I don’t identify as “white”. One of my Native mentors says, “White people is a myth created by White people.” While I don’t identify as a white imperialist, 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. This means I can, like the white people who helped slaves, leverage my status in this culture to assist Native cultures in maintaining their traditional lifeways and they can help me in creating a new way to live, in this place.
We all live as members of this culture of occupation, regardless of whether we identify with it or not. Even the homeless DIY anarchist kid who doesn’t participate in the economy what-so-ever still lives as a member of civilization because, like their upper class counter-parts called “Trustafarians”, they live off the excess of civilization and not in a culture apart from it. Claiming you do not live as a member of this culture, while benefiting from it because of your race and or class, come from a place of ignorance. Basically it amounts to pretending your privilege doesn’t exist. To take the first step towards an alliance with these people (and the land), you must acknowledge your privilege, and that means accepting that they come from a historical and continued genocidal occupation.
My great great grandfather moved to Portland in 1880 (50 years after the malaria outbreak that killed 90% of the Kalapuyans & Chinook indians who lived here at that time). I have 3 generations buried in the ground here now. The land speaks to me, I feel I belong here. I’ve tried to leave and been pulled back every time. I have a personal relationship to the land but not a cultural one. I cannot call myself indigenous. I can label myself a native but not a Native. I will never live as a Native here, but I strive for my children, or their children’s children to have such a connection, such a kinship with the land. I cannot call myself a Native because my culture doesn’t try to have a kinship relationship with the land, but one of ownership by occupation. I will spend my life working towards assisting in the dismantling of occupation and the restoration of and the creation of Native cultures here. Regardless, I will probably spend most of my life as a privileged “free” slave to civilization.
Moving through this fear and entitlement requires a mind change. One that no longer sees ownership, but kinship. I can’t “give the land back” because I have limited control over the occupation. But more importantly, that I would even jump to thinking about giving the land back shows my own ignorance and the deep-seatedness of my colonized mind.
While I have a lot of privilege, I still live as a victim of this occupation as well. Acknowledging that we live on stolen land, acknowledging that the people here live as part of the land shows the first step to stopping the occupation. They can help us decolonization of ourselves. Creating a non-hierarchical sustainable culture starts with building alliances with cultures that still remember how to live that way. Obviously not all Native Americans still live traditionally or even want to. Find and ally with the traditionals in rewilding: reclaiming language, land and culture.
Rewilding requires making alliances with Native people and cultures to recreate the hunter-gatherer-gardener way of life that we all once held. I owe everything I know about rewilding to the wild cultures of humans. I owe the majority of what I know about my own place, to the Chinook, Kalapuyan and Molalla Indians. I owe their ancestors my life. I honor them and my own ancestors by rewilding. I honor the local cultures by allying with them and cooperatively rewilding. For any rewilder who does not have Native ancestry on the lands where they live, we owe the Indigenous cultures who lived here and we have a duty to build alliances with the ones who wish to return to or continue to live traditionally and help each other rewild. In order to do this, we must first see how the deep the colonizers mind sits within us.
Special thanks to Eugene Johnson and Shusli Baseler for continuing to pull me through this process!
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