I thought #DecolonizeYourself would be a two-part series. Now that I’ve realized decolonization is part of my own larger story, and something we all must face – both the privileged and the oppressed – the floodgates have opened. Talking about my experiences over decades of resistance in order to have any hope of inspiring you to do the same dictate that it will take more than two parts. So bear with me. This post is a pause for a reality check between Part 1 and Part 2. A way of defining exactly what I mean when I encourage decolonization…
Kissing cousins, colonialism and fascism were the opposing forces behind the Standing Rock movement. They also inform Black Lives Matter and so many more of the social and environmental justice campaigns designed by an awakening consciousness to inspire unity and cooperation for all who inhabit our planet. And that includes Mother Earth herself, as well as all of the creatures that we share her with. I fell under a pre-reality check delusion that we were much further along in creating a world of inclusion and harmony when in late 2008 and early 2009 the election of a black U.S. president was followed shortly by my own move to a larger, more open-minded city in Texas. A short period of kumbayah-we-are-all-going-to-be-okay ensued.
I know better now. Make no mistake about it – these are increasingly violent opposing forces. This is what happens when change against old power structures is imminent. They fight back. Hard.
The plague of colonization can take many forms and degrees, from genocide to a momentary loss of personal power. To make it truly simple, think of it as any form of rulership of one over another. But before I get to the more metaphorical and less violent forms I’ve experienced personally as a woman (albeit privileged and white) and a mother of children of color, let’s look at the worst forms of this plague.
Further back in my life, needing to put world events around 9/11 into some kind of context, I dove more deeply into a previous interest in Middle Eastern culture. I studied art history decades earlier in college and soon began collecting pieces of North African textiles and jewelry. After a downright mystical experience on the back of an Arabian horse, this interest soon led to several years of Arabian horse preservation and breeding. Even as a broke single mother of four Spirit seemed to have plans for me when a patron of a non-profit foundation gifted me with valuable broodmares.
The shadow of elitism, commercialism, insane economic privilege run amok, and rampant mistreatment of horse nation didn’t make it easy to be a part of that community. But there was a payoff to my subtle inkling that embracing my newfound passion had something to do with understanding the truth of what was happening in that part of our world. Making genuine friends all around the world through my horses helped me come to understand that decades of war in the Middle East are the direct result of Britain and the U.S. redrawing political lines for their own purposes without regard to indigenous tribal territories. When I sold my farm in 2009 to move to the city, I left behind some genuine soulful connections with people who loved and respected their horses and people of all cultures like I did. It had really opened up my world.
So it felt like a coming home last month, all these years later, when I was spontaneously invited to participate in a local event for the Salt and Water Challenge with a Palestinian-American Standing Rock acquaintance. Watching a documentary which features interviews with indigenous Palestinian elders forever changed my understanding about colonialism and the Middle East. It’s far worse and more insidiously evil than I ever could have imagined as an average Texas woman raised on football and CBS News.
In addition to colonial exertion of power, the desire to control and benefit from the world’s petrochemical resources is of course, the other contributing factor behind decades of bloody conflict. Does anyone really think anymore that we’re fighting to protect “freedom” or “jobs” or “good for all” with either our wars or our pipelines?
What does conflict in the Middle East have to do with Standing Rock? A lot. In my own life, the connection was made clear when I met my Palestinian friend at a retreat for Standing Rock alums with Sicangu Lakota elder Cheryl Angel. A small group of us got together to debrief, share stories, and gain inspiration for being “deployed” water protectors. What began at Standing Rock is in no way over.
My friend Haithem spoke eloquently in this live video that night of something anyone who visited the water protection camps felt. It was their most precious gift to the world. “Every man there was my brother. Every woman there was my sister,” he said.
And on the connection between Middle East conflict and Standing Rock, he shared:
As a Palestinian I feel that there is a lot in common with my people and the indigenous people of Turtle Island. So when I saw what was happening it felt like it was happening to my own people. I saw a video…it showed the dogs attacking the water protectors and I knew I had to be there…It was the right thing to do to stand in solidarity.
And it’s not just in my own life that these two causes are connected.
In fact, it was recently announced through the hard work of the activism community that leaked documents confirm the company behind the Standing Rock pipeline employed the most heinous anti-terrorism tactics imaginable against the prayerful men, women, and children trying to protect treaty rights and clean water for millions. The proof that “a U.S. military and State Department contractor helping to execute the global war on terror, worked at the behest of its client Energy Transfer Partners” is damning.
Leaked documents and public records reveal a troubling fusion of private security, public law enforcement, and corporate money in the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Is anyone in America sleeping better at night because a Texas billionaire’s private mercenaries and local law enforcement used the proverbial “cannons against mosquitoes” philosophy against a prayer movement? The residents of North Dakota certainly aren’t now that they have to foot the bill. The security firms working for the pipeline company were denied permits to operate in the state (they did anyway) and taxpayers will essentially pay for the massive protection force for a Fortune 500 company.
Would you like to see a photo of the sniper they deployed over one prayer ceremony? It’s adorning the top of this post.
I wrote in my last post about how the genocide that our Lakota hosts lived through generations ago still colors their everyday lives. Was it any surprise that law enforcement and big business colluded to subject these same people to violence with impunity again? Have we learned nothing?
It’s the disease behind generations of trauma for our Lakota relations.
And it’s what almost a million lives lost in recent Middle East wars, and several trillion dollars in cost to Americans is really about.
It’s what has caused Haithem’s people to experience every possible atrocity that human beings can inflict on each other for almost 100 years.
It’s what that Texas billionaire and his investors perpetuated for months and then accomplished once and for all with the stroke of a pen upon the changing of White House residents. Yeah, the guy wielding the pen is – wait for it – an investor, too.
Let’s start a #DecolonizeYourself movement by understanding the meaning of the term ‘decolonization.’ This article in Unsettling America is a great place to start:
Decolonization is the meaningful and active resistance to the forces of colonialism that perpetuate the subjugation and/or exploitation of our minds, bodies, and lands. Its ultimate purpose is to overturn the colonial structure and realize Indigenous liberation.
Like any difficult societal change, decolonization must begin in our own lives, in our own minds. In the case of white America, we have a lot of work to do, whether we realize it or not. We may think we’re open minded. We may think we’re not racist. I’m here to tell you that our programming runs deep. Deeper than you know.
The next post will tell you more about how.
Photo, main :: This long range sniper was positioned on a hill overlooking a water ceremony at Standing Rock. Crop taken from a Ohio State Highway Patrol photo found here. Official police records also show photos taken from the disturbing perspective of infiltrators sent into the prayer camps to stir up conflict within the movement, a technique borrowed from anti-terrorism training.