Native Liberation, Colonization, and Genocide

I am excited that so many people are discharging and trying to think well about Native liberation, colonization, and genocide, as well as about racism. Without talking and discharging, things won’t move! I think everyone has been confused about Native liberation, how the oppression of Native people works, and, in particular, what that means in relation to other groups of people targeted by racism.

I think about these issues because we face them in our Filipino/a and Pacific Islander workshops. I led a workshop last year on discharging the effects of colonization, militarization, imperialism, racism, and attempted genocide. (It was a great workshop and not as heavy1 as the title sounds.) I have been learning by working on these issues wherever I can—doing topic tables, talking to other leaders, leading workshops, and so on. I want us all to reclaim our thinking about them.

This matters to me because I have Native heritage from the North American continent (Cherokee and Osage) and Ilocano heritage (one of the Indigenous heritages of the Philippines). People in my constituencies have experienced genocide and colonization from different angles. For example, there is a huge range of ways Filipinos/as look and feelings they have about who is the right2 one. There are Filipinos/as with African heritage (one of our roots) and light-skinned “mestizos” who clearly show the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. I’m trying to think about liberating all of my people. It is clear that I can’t move things forward without looking at, in addition to skin color, feelings about who is “fully” Filipino/a, who speaks the right language, who looks the right way, who is good enough. With my people, skin color alone doesn’t tell the whole story. I have to take into consideration something bigger in order to think about our liberation.

I think of colonization as the taking over and the taking of a people—their land, their culture, their language, and all of the other resources they have, including the people themselves (attempting to get their minds)—and ultimately the “genociding” of the people if they get in the way of the conquest. The people are another resource to use, use up, and destroy if necessary. Colonization is the maximum manifestation of classism (greed, the taking of resources) and racism (the targeting of people based on skin color) and can (maybe always does?) include militarization, imperialism, and genocide.

Colonization as a policy, as a set of patterns, pre-dates what we think of today as racism. Over time, racism developed as another justification for colonization. There are few groups of people who have not been colonized at some point. Many countries without dark-skinned people are colonized (such as Ireland), but certainly in most currently colonized countries racism has played a role.

I have been getting Filipinos/as, Pacific Islanders, and other people to discharge on colonization and attempted genocide, and their relationship to them. Not surprisingly, a lot of discharging needs to be done. Many of us in RC, including people targeted by racism who have been affected by colonization, have almost never done any sessions on colonization and genocide. I counseled someone who had grown up in Africa under heavy colonialism and then lived in the United States and been in RC for years, and she had never had a session about colonization. No one had ever asked.

It’s hard to get people to discharge on genocide and colonization. Especially for those whose people were colonized, it is a lot like working on early sexual memories. There isn’t yet a lot of free attention around it. At the beginning it can feel heavy and overwhelming, so people aren’t always eager. Once they get a little attention for it, however, things do shift and begin to make sense. People even get hopeful!

I think being in the United States, on the North American continent, we have to work on and understand what has happened to the people who were Indigenous to this land. Colonization, with attempted or actual genocide at its core, laid the groundwork for everything that came after it, including the enslavement of African-heritage people. (And, of course, it was the colonization of Africa that set up the slave trade to begin with.)

These are complex issues. Each group (each person?) will have a unique relationship to colonization and genocide, based on its own history. Most of us haven’t worked on these issues—including non-Indigenous-heritage people who are targeted by racism. Anyone living today on the North American continent has benefited materially from the genocide of Native people and the enslavement of African-heritage people. We all have to look at our own histories.

People often say, “This is a country of immigrants.” That expression is exactly what colonization is about. It excludes and makes invisible a whole group of people who are not immigrants, who are native to this land. We are a country on land that has been inhabited by people for tens of thousands of years. Some of us have immigrant ancestry or are ourselves more recent immigrants (often because of colonialism and imperialism in our home countries).

Genocide is an important part of colonization. The attempt to kill and silence all the people of a land is a centuries-old patterned act that terrorizes whole groups for generations. People have an easier time saying and thinking about the word colonization. The word genocide is overwhelming, for both the killers and the attempted-to-be-killed. Even racism can feel easier to say and think about. We have to discharge and reclaim our thinking about people who have been targeted with attempted genocide, to know how the genocide shows up3 now in them and in their communities, including how they run it4 at themselves and each other.

In order to think about Native people in the present, we all need to look at and understand what genocide is, how it has been carried out, and what the current effects of it are. The genocide continues, internally and externally.

Teresa Enrico
International Liberation Reference
Person for Filipino/a-Heritage People
Cherokee, Osage, and Ilocano
Portland, Oregon, USA 

1 In this context, heavy means solemn, serious.
2 In this context, right means legitimate.
3 Shows up means appears.
4 Run it means act it out.

Last modified: 2015-06-19 20:57:48+00