Colonialism And Decolonization

There’s a point at which one knows something so well that they just assert it to be true. I’m going to make an assertion: The United States is currently colonizing tribal nations and this is grossly unjust. I have argued this in the past; for example, in my 2004 undergraduate philosophy thesis. These days, however, I just assert it.

The solution to colonialism is the ending of colonialism, known as decolonization.  

Decolonization is not merely a shift in consciousness in the colonizer, although that may happen, too. It’s a real, material thing that happens.

Tribal nations are nations as such. They just don’t seem that way to non-Natives because non-Natives are quite used to looking at things through a colonialist lens. When decolonization occurs, tribal nations will be able to enjoy full independence, if they so choose, and define themselves as they wish.

If you are a non-Native reader, these things may surprise you. And if you are a person of conscience, you may feel the desire to hate yourself, to hate the United States and wish to see it’s (and your) demise.

I would never advise anyone to hate themselves. And I don’t wish the demise of the United States. The ending of British rule over India didn’t, as we know, result in the demise of the UK. It simply resulted in the independence of India.  

What will decolonization look like for tribal nations? Well, we simply do not know. Some tribes have a defined landbase and may assert whole, completely sovereign control over it. A great many tribal nations do not have a defined landbase and may move toward a totally new definition of nationhood. In short, the United States may come to look a bit different on a map. But some changes may not be so obvious on a map. Just as one could argue that Facebook is its own nation, with no definable landbase, so too could tribal nations develop a concept of nationhood where having a landbase is not a necessity.

However, it is well-known that Native people often long for the lands that were stolen–yes, often stolen–from them. And this claim may tug on us colonizers. We all need somewhere to live and physical locale is necessary for that. I have never argued that all colonizers must remove themselves in order for decolonization to happen. But we can move toward a consciousness where, for example, we, if we live on stolen Native land, will our land to the rightful tribe. We can begin to transfer lands to tribes.

If you occupy a colonizer’s space in life, like I do, know the history of your area; know the history of the land you live on.

Unfortunately for me, I currently occupy land whose original inhabitants are all now deceased. There’s no way for me, even if I owned the land, to give it back to them. 

(This essay was initially printed in my new book Revitalizing A Failed Tradition: Essays On Native American Issues, which you can purchase here.)

Author: Jennifer Lawson

Philosopher. That is all.

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