Why Everyone Should Decolonize Themselves (Including White People)
No matter who you are, it is critically important for all people on this planet to understand the ramifications of colonialism on the human spirit, the damage that has been done to the indigenous people, the planet, and also to the souls of those who were otherwise involved. It’s important to know that healing can and sorely needs to take place for all, if the world is ever to be a better place.
As part of that healing, it’s important for people from colonizer societies to realize how they themselves were at one time colonized and how they came to be colonizers. That will go a long way towards reflection and healing for them, ending the current state and reversing the effects of colonialism, being allies to indigenous people, and at the end of the day, saving our own planet, our species and life generally. This may well depend on all of us reconnecting with our ancestors in a process we call decolonization.
A couple of centuries ago, my ancestors in Scotland were fighting the last war on their own soil for their sovereignty against the English. They lost. Slowly and steadily their indigenous culture was eroded by the colonizing English over many centuries. Their spiritual beliefs were colonized away starting with Romans who brought Christianity by force. After the Battle of Culloden, the hammer of law came down strictly outlawing the Highlander culture, including their clothing, language and other practices.
Those forces of colonialism eventually caused a dramatic exodus from the Celtic Isles (decolonized term for the British Isles) to the Americas. As is often the case, the abusers were once abused. The colonized became the colonizers. This was also true of the English themselves, having also once been Celtic indigenous peoples who were colonized more brutally by Roman and Saxon colonizers. The Scottish and Irish Celts managed to keep some of their culture longer, including the Gaelic language in some places.
The pattern here suggests that healing societies from colonization must be a two-part process for those who have participated in colonizing. It must become a recognition of the wrongs your people have committed towards indigenous people, and the recognition of rights of the indigenous people who have been colonized; AND it also must involve coming to terms with your own precolonized identity in order to heal the conditioning that colonizer society has had on your mind and soul. Regardless of where your ancestors originate, this process applies to you.
Decolonization May Save Us All
At Omega, we find it vital to make a direct connection between the ongoing forces of colonialism and the ongoing destruction of the planet. Yet for indigenous people everywhere, that’s been the reality for centuries. It is only from a privileged settler perspective that the dystopian fears of societal collapse and natural habitat destruction is something that could happen some day… when for indigenous people for the most part, it already has. The apocalypse already happened for many indigenous cultures.
That is why we say decolonization is the only real answer to both environmental issues and healing the human spirit. Life on this planet is not compatible with colonial-growth society, particularly the industrial kind. Decolonization is a way towards healing for millions of people harmed by colonization’s vast cruelty. If people from colonizer societies want to stand in solidarity with the planet and indigenous people, this must be your path as well.
What is Colonization?
“Colonization has taken place all over the globe, through the stealing of lands; the raping of women; the taking of slaves; the breaking of bodies through fighting, labor, imprisonment, and genocide; the stealing of children; the enforcement of religion; the destruction—or attempts to destroy—spiritual ways of life. All of these things have left a psychological, spiritual, and physical imprint on indigenous peoples, and a governmental ruling system that we did not create, that was not made for us. These are the things we need to heal from, where we need to start reclaiming.”
Colonialism has happened everywhere. It’s been perpetrated primarily by people from the European and Asian continents. There are indigenous people in Asia, Africa, Australia, the Americas and even in Europe who have and are still suffering from the past and present effects of colonialism and its aggressive “take what you want by any means necessary” way of thinking. Therein is the real enemy of humanism and life generally. The entire world needs healing from this, even if that carries monumentally different meanings for different people. Healing from this “taking” way-of-life is the definition of the ongoing process of decolonization.
Who Can Decolonize?
There are many specific ways to decolonize, and there are generalities as well as individual journeys. We recognize we aren’t comprehensively discussing all ways here, and offer only our perspective on some of the ideas that might help you get started down your own individual and community’s path. This can and should apply to anyone living on this planet, for it is likely you either suffer or benefit from colonialism, and possibly both. Either way, everyone suffers from the environmental impact of colonization. Decolonization, therefore, is a process you want to go down no matter who you are, because it is one of righting wrongs and reconnecting with our identity as human beings.
The perpetrators of colonialism and their beneficiary descendants must see and reject the ideas and ways if they are to ever end. Historically, there may even be an element of the victim turning into the abuser in the case of settlers. Some settlers may find that their ancestral culture was assimilated, colonized, etc., and they too can reconnect with their roots in healing. That path may also be important if depossessed lands are ever to be returned to indigenous peoples.
Ways To Decolonize
As you start and continue down the path of decolonization, keep in mind there are physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual strategies since the body, the mind and the soul are affected directly by colonialism.
One thing that colonialism does is persistently and violently try to break people of their identity and replace it with one that is imposed. They want you to identify as some nationality, like American, Japanese, Mexican, etc. This element is still in widespread use by colonizing societies. Colonizers get angry when people try to identify differently. “Speak English!” and “Why do you have to divide us?” That is one of the most psychologically damaging aspects of colonialism today. Reclaiming your ancestral identity is one way of removing that aspect of colonial brainwashing.
Answering the question “who am I?” can be very healing, but also challenging. What if you have mixed heritage? What if you don’t like what your ancestors have done, particularly in the case of settlers? These are tough questions. Here are a few thoughts:
First, you may look to DNA as a guide. Descendents of African slaves in the United States may not know much about what peoples they came from in Africa, because records for slaves were often not kept. DNA may offer some evidence more specifically about what part of the continent, and sometimes more specific to tribes of people.
Even if you have a DNA analysis, it still may be mixed, and you have to figure out how you identify. It is possible to be at peace with all of your ancestors like Kayla (https://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/decolonize/native-and-european-how-do-i-honor-all-parts-of-myself-20180424) who is native and Celtic. It’s also possible to identify more with a particular tribe or nation because of the environment you were raised in. There’s no right answer, but the more you can contemplate your ancestors, the more connected to your identity you will become. Some people even suggest that your ancestors will help you in the process. We will leave that up to you to consider.
Native tongues are one of the first elements of societies that colonizers will try to vanquish. It’s part of breaking the identity with the ancestral society. Therefore, where possible, recapturing your native tongue is another excellent way to decolonize and reconnect with your identity.
This may not always be possible. Some languages are gone forever. In most cases though, there are similar languages from the same family of languages. Many indigenous people in South America speak the colonizing language of Spanish. Learning the language of your ancestors or peoples closely associated with your ancestors who may have a common tongue may help you reconnect and decolonize.
A person of English ancestry could even learn Breton, or any of the other Celtic languages of their own ancestors who were colonized and assimilated by Romans and Saxons many centuries ago. That would serve as a step in removing the bad apples from their own history, and reconnecting with the ancestral ways that lived in greater harmony with nature and life on this planet.
At the root of the Crusades and colonizing of the Americas and other places around the world was a Christian “moral” that the savages must be converted by any means necessary. One must question the underlying worth of a religion with those sorts of ingrained values. This is no slight on the person called Jesus, but it is a telling truth about the institutions and followers who came after. The emphasis on manifest destiny, aggression, patriarchy and toxic masculinity have left a trail of blood and destruction.
Reconnecting with the beliefs of your ancestors can serve as a way to reconnect and heal, and free yourself from one of the ways of colonizer assimilation. The person of English/Scottish/Irish ancestry may consider the effects of Roman Christianity on their ancestors too. Celtic people, like most indigenous societies, revered Earth as mother, as opposed to God as father. The emotional/spiritual implications of that value has a direct role in how we treat nature and life on this planet… as well as each other. It becomes a relationship of nurturing rather than domination. Learning to live as a community with nature instead of defeating nature puts us in a better place for sustainability.
Colonizers use their own legal systems to justify their newly found sovereignty in taken lands. Rejecting that sovereignty of settler cultures is vital. That may present new challenges, but they will be worthy challenges.
If you are an indigenous person, reject settler sovereignty and recognize indigenous sovereignty in its place. As Irish revolutionary Éamon de Valera said: “we must act as if the (Irish) Republic is a fact. We defeat the British Empire by ignoring it.” If you are a settler, do the same. Recognize you are an uninvited visitor on someone else’s lands who have been depossessed to your privilege. Certainly stop trying to continually force your culture on others. Support and celebrate the reconnecting of indigenous people with their ancestral culture. Most importantly, take action in solidarity with indigneous people to regain their sovereignty.
You can also recognize the sovereignty of your own indigenous culture in your ancestral lands. For Spanish folks, that might be your Basque (or insert other cultures) homelands. For a Scot, perhaps it’s the sovereignty of the Scottish in Scotland, instead of the British. That might/very likely is the reason one of your ancestors colonized elsewhere in the world is because they were depossessed themselves. Support ending that for your ancestral people.
This goes along with language, but this is an important thing for others not learning the local native language to respect the local indigenous naming conventions. It’s Denali, not Mount McKinley, for example. Renaming places is an ongoing effort settlers can take action on in solidarity with native people. Insisting that colonized names stay is participating in colonization.
From Decolonial Atlas, Scotland in Gaelic.
The food, art, music, stories, clothing and even ways of living are all things that colonizer society attempts to supplant with their own culture. Take them back. Sing the songs, eat the foods, reintroduce the custom rites of passage, wear the clothing, celebrate your identity. Again, this is a process that does not happen overnight, but you can continually learn and then teach the culture of your ancestors in your communities.
We recognize the challenges all of these endeavors present in different ways for different people. Everyone has a different path. At the root of decolonizing yourself is the process of reversing the cultural assimilation that was used as a way to control/dominate indigenous populations. There is an obvious value and power to these cultural means of identity, else the colonizers wouldn’t have worked so hard to remove them.
It is our belief that the more humanity reconnects with its own ancestral ways, the more respect for life and each other will grow and pervade all of humanity. It may also be the way to save our species and other life from total destruction in the coming years.
Solidarity And Action
As indigenous author Kyle Powes Whyte points out, it’s not some romantic deference to indigenous spirituality that will save the planet, and reverse the centuries of cruelty and destruction. It’s solidarity among diverse people who take action for the planet that will be effective.
It’s important to note that the idea that we reconnect with our ancestors isn’t a mode to separate us. It isn’t uncommon for the colonizer society to call this “divisive.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Reconnecting with our ancestors is a way to decolonize us and reconnect us with each other in a more fundamental way that doesn’t involve forced assimilation in order to come together. After all, our ancestral path eventually takes us back to each other. We all have the same ancestors. We are all relatives. We are humans. That is our real connection… not fake, forced national identity.
We also recognize that no matter who we are, our ancestors were not perfect. That’s not the point. We just recognize that our ancestors lived for thousands of years without destroying the planet and each other. We recognize that identifying ourselves as a part of the ecosystem and each other was better understood by our ancestors than it is today. We advocate for a return to our identity that is thousands of years old rather than the artificial ones imposed on us today by power constructs.
This fundamental shift in perspective among all humanity would literally heal the whole planet, physically, spiritually and in every way. There’s no need for “us vs them,” taking and fighting that has dominated the history of civilization because of a philosophy of “might is right.” Perhaps by becoming more uncivilized, we will be much more civil to each other and to our beautiful planet. Here’s to that.
Sealbh math dhuit!
(Good luck! in Gaelic)