On Decolonizing: What It Is and What It Isn't

Uncategorized May 01, 2023

Hello All,

Paperbacks & Frybread offers a beautiful “Decolonize Your Bookshelf” Reading Challenge for 2023. 

And we are excited to be collaborating with them on a Teen and Adult Book Box!

The Institute’s mission is creating anti-racist classrooms with decolonized curricula.

So, what is decolonizing? And what is it not? 

In Decolonization is not a metaphor, Unangax╠é Scholar Eve Tuck writes: “When metaphor invades decolonization, it kills the very possibility of decolonization; it recenters whiteness, it resettles theory, it extends innocence to the settler, it entertains a settler future. Decolonize (a verb) and decolonization (a noun) cannot easily be grafted onto pre-existing discourses/frameworks, even if they are critical, even if they are anti-racist, even if they are justice frameworks.” This instagram post breaks down the article. 

Decolonize All the Things writes: Decolonization starts with a recognition of your relative social position in the systems we talk about so often about abolishing. Decolonization starts with working out all the different ways we can interact with others without denying their self-determination... Decolonization doesn’t mean ‘diversity’, it means a process that generates actions towards the goal of not having to use that word anymore. Decolonization is asking yourself every day if what you think something “is” &/or “ought to be” is yours or colonialism’s. Decolonization is not a metaphor. How do your words & actions seek to address what has been stolen, lost, & how we can heal? Be careful with the words you use. when we don’t honor words with the respect (attention) their meaning demands we make foolish decisions.” 

Dr. Autumn BlackDeer writes: “Decolonization is not just inclusion. You can add more underrepresented folx into a broken system and the system will just break the people, not fix the system. Decolonization is the mechanism to address the underlying systems of oppression, not just include more folx into it.” 

We cannot “decolonize” Thanksgiving, and doing so serves to assuage settler feelings and doesn’t help Indigenous people. 

We know that buying books is not decolonization. It is an ongoing process of reflection and action to unsettle our notions of space, place, ownership, and power. Constanza Eliana Chinea reminds us “decolonization is a lifelong journey with no end point.” 

Sogorea Te' Land Trust, an Urban Indigenous women-led land trust on Oakland/SF EastBay /Huchiun, unceded Lisjan Ohlone territory, recently shared:  “No amount of money will undo the damage of colonization or will bring back the lost lives or erase the suffering of the people. But contributing resources to Indigenous work is an essential component in a long-term process of healing, a way guests on Indigenous land can support the self determination and sovereignty of the local Indigenous community.”

Decolonizing means asking ourselves hard questions about our relationships, travel, resources. It means (re)discovering and recovering the indigenous wisdom of a people and place. It means mourning the losses of life, of knowledge, of possibilities due to colonialism. It means dreaming from a stance outside of scarcity, imagining wholly. It means committing to action, to abolishing the rotten fruits of a myth of meritocracy. It means not hoarding resources. It means rematriation of Indigenous land. It means listening, believing, and aligning one’s choices to be in right relationship with those most impacted. 

It means teaching students about the ways the United States is both a product and producer of settler colonialism. It means doing the extra work to ensure testimonies and primary sources are not from settler perspectives. It means criticality. 

If you want to start your decolonization journey by reading theory or testimony, great. But if it ends there, it was actually colonialism. 


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