Colonialism on the Ground
At one time our ancestors would have had difficulty imagining living in a state of unfreedom. Now we have difficulty imagining living in a state of freedom. This is perhaps the most profound impact of colonialism in our lives. It reveals a limitation in thinking so severe that it prevents us from reclaiming our inherent rights as Indigenous Peoples of this land, even in our dreams.
Colonialism is the massive fog that has clouded our imaginations regarding who we could be, excised our memories of who we once were, and numbed our understanding of our current existence. Colonialism is the force that disallows us from recognizing its confines while at the same time limiting our vision of possibilities. Colonialism is the farce that compels us to feel gratitude for small concessions while our fundamental freedoms are denied. Colonialism has set the parameters of our imaginations to constrain our vision of what is possible.
To be sure, the brand of colonialism in the United States today differs from the brands of earlier times when imperial forces from Europe established colonies in the “New World” as a means of expanding the wealth and power of their nations while also battling with competing imperial nations over pieces of the global pie. Thus, in the United States American schools teach our children that the “colonial era” ended when the United States gained its freedom from Great Britain. However, this denial of itself is simply one of colonialism’s myths. This denial is so extreme that even today the United States government insists on the language of “possessions” rather than “colonies” to identify its holdings outside the contiguous land base it claims in North America, despite the fact that many of them fit classic definitions of colonies precisely because they have not been absorbed into the state. But, the interest in domination and control over territories was established even before the entity of the United States was born. As American colonies gained their independence from their Mother Country, they sought to further expand their wealth and influence through the continuing invasion and acquisition of other Peoples’ lands and resources and the subjugation of the Original Peoples. The shedding of the constraints of their Mother Country simply facilitated and hastened that project. The United States soundly expanded its empire and is now so deeply entrenched in its colonial acquisitions that to anyone but the most conscientious observer, those roots have been lost in obscurity.
The hope, perhaps, is that Indigenous Peoples will eventually be incorporated into the lowest rungs of society enough to forget our colonized status. When we have forgotten, the United States and its citizens are ameliorated of wrongdoing and there will be no need for restitution for the crime against humanity that is colonialism. Indigenous Peoples, therefore, must be conscientious observers because the colonizing society will exercise all means to compel our historical amnesia.
For Indigenous Peoples U.S. colonialism meant the invasion and subsequent large-scale theft of our lands and continuing domination over the meager lands we retained. It meant the systematic interference in Indigenous ways of being and assaults on all aspects of Indigenous life including our physical bodies, our means of sustenance, our spirituality, our languages, our gender relations, and our kinship, economic, and educational systems as well as both natural and human laws.
In America, the process of destroying indigeneity was dramatically accelerated by the monumental loss of life that occurred as a consequence of exposure to new diseases. While colonizer scholars and popular culture suggest that loss of life due to disease was either inevitable or unavoidable, this too is a colonial myth. The reality is that Europeans and later European Americans understood that their presence in the Americas triggered pandemics that were devastating Indigenous populations. Yet, they chose to keep coming because they held no regard for the lives of Indigenous Peoples and massive die-offs of the populations clearly served their colonial interests. Not only were they unrepentant about their participation in our microbial slaughter, they were often celebratory. Thus when our populations were already severely weakened, the process of colonization was implemented much more effectively.
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