When I began writing about colonization a few days ago and again here, I realized that a desire to live a decolonized life is the thread that binds together so many of the most important issues and topics of social conversation in my life. I mean, like, for decades.
It’s just that until Standing Rock, I didn’t really know the word for it, let alone how to discuss it intelligently. In fact, it not being “my story to tell” is what made this normally rabid writer remain silent for months on the subject of my experiences there. Until I realized the story is all of ours, that is.
The fact is that I’ve rallied against the forces of colonization my whole life. And more specifically, a deeper examination of the concept began showing up in my life big time for the year or two before the protection of North Dakota from an illegal pipeline began. Learning more about colonization long before I understood the term has actually fueled years of self-education and discovery.
As linked in the first sentence, I talked about my experiences with Arabian culture and horses in the previous post on the violent forces fighting back against our evolving consciousness, as well as on the one before it looking at the trauma our Lakota relations have endured. On the more metaphorical side, I have experienced both big and small colonizing events in my life.
My personal 35-year mission in Integrative Medicine has been a personal decolonization. I recognized quickly in 1985 that no doctor, hospital or insurance company could dictate how I healed from a life threatening illness. Their recommended treatment, moreover the entire institution of modern healthcare in the 1980’s, was both self-serving and self-protecting – inherently. Profit-driven mega-corporations insuring our health and peddling pharmaceuticals to frazzled doctors are dictating how illness is treated. None of this really has anything to do with how the body actually heals and thrives. (Don’t get me wrong. If you’re in a car wreck, modern medicine can save your life. Hence my belief in integration, but that’s another post.)
Thankfully, I knew the moment I regained consciousness that how I got well was strictly up to me. So I’ve spent 35 years learning for myself what things I need to do to stay healthy. And now there are doctors that agree with me. The blessing of this experience is that I now help these decolonized doctors themselves reject the conventional healthcare system and practice in ways that are healthier and more empowered for both patients and their staff.
And that’s not the only way I’ve rejected colonization, or a metaphorical “rulership” in my own life. Don’t get me started about several family battles with my children’s schools over the past 30 years. I had to set several people straight who had the crazy idea that my children were individual units of revenue, rather than human beings and mine to raise as I see fit. That one’s pretty simple: my kids, my choices.
“No, thank you,” I said to the room full of school representatives trying to strong arm me into drugging my active 5th grader. Just because both of his classroom teachers, his counselor, and his principal all used Ritalin in their family didn’t mean I thought it was a good idea. “He’ll probably grow out of it when he gets to junior high and you stop making him sit still in one room all day,” I said. He did.
This one was pretty frequent with four kids: “No, I don’t have a doctor’s note for Mary’s absence. I don’t need to pay 70.00 for a doctor to tell you she was sick. I know what a fever looks like.” They seemed to think that threats to mark my child “unexcused” would scare me. That’s extortion. And it didn’t.
Then there was “No, I don’t care that the dairy lobby and their cronies convinced Texas lawmakers serving milk to schoolchildren was a must, you can’t serve my child milk. She’s allergic but loves it and she’ll drink it and get sick if you put it on her tray.” That one took a while, a couple of doctor’s notes, and the threat of a lawsuit to finally handle.
Then, this classic, “No, I won’t see you in court tomorrow about Johnny missing school to attend a literacy event with me and our horses. His selling programs, making change, caring for horses and handing out children’s books was very educational. I’d be happy to have him write a report about it. No? Yes, I realize that with all of those no-doctor-note illnesses he’s over your unexcused absence limit.” That one actually required sending their father to the superintendent’s office to tell them we would skip the hearing in favor of a press conference on the superintendent’s front steps.
Problem solved. They didn’t seem to want to meet me on the school district office steps for a press conference. Someone must have remembered the successful press campaign I waged against Wal-Mart 10 years earlier for selling lead-tainted products to local families with children without posting warning signs.
I think you get the picture. These are just a few of the ways I had to constantly assert my personal rights as a mother with regard to my children. Thank goodness I’ve been able to hang up that hat. They’re all launched into the world now. They are my greatest gift to humanity – and not because of any government-run educational system, but perhaps, at least I hope, it’s because of the way I railed against the same. It was exhausting if you want to know the truth. So I celebrate with a self high-five every time one of my friends on Facebook laments about school district drama. So. Over. It. Have the tee shirt. Now it’s someone else’s job.
Fighting the concepts of colonization, manifest destiny, and fascism is also behind my vehement and fairly regular opposition to the lawmakers in my state. The mostly white, male, and Christian Texas legislators have a long history of rabid colonial behavior around voting rights, redistricting, and corporate collusion, so this is an ongoing battle. I stood with Wendy in 2013 to defend my rights as a woman to determine what I can do with my own body. Around that same time several legislators actually walked out of a voting session when it was a Muslim’s turn to lead the prayer. Really.
The concept of an unholy alliance between money and the law towards the destruction of human rights also colors the Justice for Megan campaign which broke in national news about two weeks ago. A dear friend’s daughter was raped by a member of a powerful family in Alabama. He was protected by both law enforcement and her university where his family are rich donors and was never seriously investigated. She was treated as a criminal for stealing $3.00 from his car in an attempt to get home after breaking out of the second story bedroom where she was being held against her will. She tragically took her own life a year later after valiant efforts to heal and move on. In the aftermath, a massive date rape drug ring well known to law enforcement, and collusion between the ruling families and local government has been uncovered by a local legal advocate determined to see justice done.
I have to diverge for a side note here: The monster/architect of the North Dakota social and environmental justice tragedies at Standing Rock is a Texan and was actually appointed to a seat on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission by our current governor. Yes, the man is on the board that approves pipelines, land sales/acquisition, and conservation research for our state-owned lands. They are currently spending money to determine whether pipelines will eradicate an endangered turtle in Big Bend. Who built the pipelines that are endangering this turtle? He did. And in another unimaginable detail, Megan’s rapist enjoys a similar position with the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board, similarly appointed by his governor.
I truly don’t understand why megalomaniacs have a thing about holding power over fragile wildlife, but apparently they do. Okay, back to my list of personal examples of decolonizing my life…
When I first began studying the Inka earth-honoring spiritual tradition a few years ago, I bristled against the effects of commercial intellectual property interests and the tourism industry on the spiritual legacy of the Q’ero people. And I rejected several organizations with whom I could have studied because they were committing cultural appropriation in the worst way. Thankfully doing so paved the way for me to finally connect personally with my own indigenous teacher.
Had you told me a few years ago when this happened that I would eventually leave a related spiritual community and fire a client for the very same reasons that I sought them out (colonial behavior) I probably wouldn’t have believed it. You see, last fall I was shocked to have to sit through several days of observing my beloved teacher being mistreated in a way that was uniquely polluted by the mindset of colonization and white privilege. It sickened me to witness it. In spite of my love for my teacher, I’ve left that particular community of his students. Thank goodness this comes at a time when he is increasing his trips to the U.S. and expanding his network. His sense of urgency about helping people connect with and protect Pachamama (Mother Earth) has increased.
More recently, a 3-month hibernation post-Standing Rock was spent glued to my computer at all hours of the day and night researching my children’s indigenous Mexican heritage. If I’m honest with myself, the obsession was fueled by my inability to deal with life away from the exquisite experience of spending several weeks being a part of a living prayer field.
This led to studying the history of the region their grandmother and her ancestors inhabited for more than 300 years. This came just a few years after undertaking research on the Inka civilization after meeting my teacher. In both cases it was literally impossible outside of deep academic-level research for me to find the legitimate cultural history of the Inka or of the many various indigenous tribes in Mexico. The colonized, Spanish narrative in both Mexico and Peru is simply too deeply entrenched. And in both countries, indigenous spirituality has become almost completely syncretized with Spanish Catholicism in even the most remote regions.
Even escapist obsessions pay off. My children know who they are because of the way they were raised. And when they want to dig deeper into this side of their heritage one day, I’ll have a lot to share with them.
So back to my original question. Is there hope for tackling this pervasive colonized landscape that we all face daily?
The world is getting it. I don’t feel as alone as I used to. Many among my thousands of Facebook friends are talking about it. Blogs on the topic are everywhere. Naming and recognizing a problem is the first step to solving it. The idea of decolonizing is spreading. How do I know this?
- The amazing Native water protectors of Standing Rock are putting this concept front and center in our world again. They are leading the way, inspiring unity and an awakening for all of us.
- Combat veterans themselves are coming forward to expose the true causes and costs of our wars in the Middle East.
- Megan’s family has bravely filed suit and told her story to the world, naming her attacker. The stories about her have received millions of hits and counting. Other victims are coming forward in spite of the old power structure in Alabama closing ranks around their cronies. One local attorney had vowed not to rest until the old power structure in Tuscaloosa is dismantled and multiple arrests are made.
- The incomprehensibly ridiculous and fascist behavior of the man we elected president (and his minions) will ensure we don’t stop monitoring and talking about exploitation and the misuse of power for a long time to come.
Lastly, conversations with one of my own enlightened millennials over our morning coffee regularly yield a gold mine of insights and encouragement to my battle-weary brain. What I have to work at to understand is simply part of her daily life within the social justice-minded community of her generation. Concepts I had to learn new words for are an inherent part of her thinking, thanks to the evolution of consciousness.
So how do you begin if the idea of decolonizing is a new thing for you?
One step at a time.
You may not be able to give back stolen tribal lands, stop a billion dollar pipeline, or control every aspect of how you treat your illness if you can’t afford private pay; yet you can refuse to appropriate or assume dishonest ownership of anything from another person or culture. And you can refuse to allow anyone to take away from you the only thing you are really ensured in life – your own personal power.
Here are some easy things to get you started:
- Refuse to allow yourself to become “occupied” by anyone else’s value system or expectations.
- Google “decolonize” and learn to be a good ally to Native Americans and people of color.
- Remove culturally insensitive nomenclature from your vocabulary. This includes terms that deride Native, disabled, LGBTQ, persons of color, or other nationalities. If in doubt, just be nice with your words, duh.
- Don’t fall for those “Native American” t-shirts on Facebook that are in actuality made in Vietnam, or that fake “Native-style” jewelry or dreamcatcher at the mall (it’s probably made in China!) If you’re drawn to an ethnic or tribal style find artists and designers from these cultures to support with your purchases. They’re all over Etsy. Look for “native-made” rather than “native style” legal terms on the items. Or try the Unicef Market for ethically honorable and diverse crafts from around the world.
- Find out what tribe’s unceded territory you live in and get to know something about their history. Even better, volunteer in any of their ongoing tribal campaigns for clean water, mineral rights, or social justice.
- Protect the natural resources (water, trees, air quality) in your neighborhood.
- Watch the film The Land Speaks Arabic for free on YouTube and this piece by Democracy Now. Be aware of the massive and well-documented public relations propaganda campaign that has shaped your perception of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is, in fact, a massive genocide for profit. You can even pay-what-you-want to watch the full video of The Occupation of the American Mind if you’re willing to dig deeper.
- Learn the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange.
- If you’re a shamanic practitioner, read Ancient Spirit Rising and construct your own authentic self-identity, examining it honestly for signs of cultural appropriation. Most of what we know about modern shamanic practice has been appropriated from indigenous cultures around the world who received nothing in return for generations of safeguarding their culture’s sacred practices against genocide and encroachment by colonial entities.
- Try some of the things on this list of 16 Ways to Decolonize the Mind
- Watch this simple video about how to personally “release from rulership” in your own life.
- Read all the posts on Decolonize All The Things. Try How to Be an Ally & Not an Asshole first.
Make a personal decision not to be a part of the problem anymore. Please. The world needs it.
Photo, main :: Meme adapted from a graphic found on Decolonize All The Things. Thanks, Shay.