The topic of decolonization will most likely become a common word in many social discussions given the social-political experience we have come through in 2020. It has been a collective thought followed by action among numerous Indigenous scholars across the country over the last two decades.
Again, we must focus on what we are doing locally and the actions and/or lack of actions we have applied in our community and institutions. You are probably asking yourself how decolonization applies to Bemidji and our regional community. Significant thought has been given and applied to improving the race relations in Bemidji to reflect racial equity both in the past and present.
In addition, there are a number of groups and organizations that have and are working to build a better and righteous community environment, they are examples of the decolonization process.
Andrea Smith shares in her article "Decolonization in Unexpected Places: Native Evangelicalism and the Rearticulation of Mission," that “decolonization is the intelligent, calculated, and active resistance to the forces of colonialism that perpetuate the subjugation and/or exploitation of our minds, bodies, and lands, and it is engaged for the ultimate purpose of overturning the colonial structure and realizing Indigenous liberation.”
These words should not come to the public as a surprise or a threat, given our geographical and demographic location but as an attempt for our community to heal itself. If we do not address our realities, then it will remain impossible to lift ourselves up and improve our present and future basic living conditions and governments.
Historically, colonizers were representative of the dominant white racial group in this country, and today as a result of being colonized we find colonizers among most racial groups including Black, Indigenous, and people of color also referred to as BIPOC. Out of this BIPOC mindset we become aware that the issues related to lateral violence, internalized hatred, prejudice and conformity to the dominant society are very real, and demonstrate the effectiveness of dominant assimilation via colonization.
Colonization is multi-faceted and includes both the informal and formal way of understanding its meaning. For instance, in the informal context colonization demonstrates that the power of the colonizer comes at the expense of Indigenous lands, resources, lives and self-determination. This unequal balance of power between the colonizer and the colonized has resulted in modernity struggles such as poverty, family violence, chemical dependency, suicide and the deterioration of health.
In the formal sense of colonization, we are looking at behaviors, ideologies, institutions, policies and economies, and an over-representation of an American image that does not or minimally includes BIPOC. Colonization is permeating and an ever presence in all of our lives.
Colonization is present globally as well and includes, for example, Canada’s First Nations, the Indigenous people of Mexico, Central and South America, Indigenous Peoples of Africa, the Aboriginal people of Australia and the Maoris of New Zealand. Recognizing the injustices that are central to colonization one will eventually arrive at ways to resist and challenge colonial institutions and ideologies with intentions at improving Indigenous lives and communities.
Decolonization is not passive nor is it radical it is as Paulo Freire would term “a reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” One must understand that when Indigenous peoples accept colonization and work toward decolonization that they are not taking the victims role. We must understand that Indigenous people are advancing toward their own freedom to transform their individual lives, families, communities and the world around them.
Most human beings understand that intentional and mental transformation has enormous power and potential to change the world, it is a gift of humanity. Colonization and decolonization are words that have become a standard part of the Indigenous vocabulary when discussing racial equity and social justice. The wellbeing of the human race and our natural environments deserve to be decolonized.
Vivian Delgado is a professor of Native American studies at Bemidji State University.