Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
Editor: this article is an excellent primer on how to dismantle the ‘white settler mindset’ in order to work effectively with indigenous peoples on land-based struggles.
Posted on October 4, 2016
Since 2008, Liza Minno Bloom and Berkley Carnine have worked with the Black Mesa Indigenous Support (BMIS) collective in solidarity with the Dineh people of Black Mesa, AZ who are resisting a forced relocation due to coal mining. Black Mesa holds the largest deposit of low-sulfur coal in the U.S. It is home to tens of thousands of Dineh and several hundred Hopi people and their sacred sites, burial grounds, animals, farms, and homes. The federal government has relocated between 10,000 and 20,000 Dineh people and several hundred Hopi from their ancestral homelands on Black Mesa since 1974 when the “Relocation Law” (PL-95-531) passed. This constitutes the largest relocation of Indigenous people in this country since the Trail of Tears and it is ongoing today.
As members of a solidarity collective we are working to synthesize writing, theorizing, and activist scholarship on decolonization from Indigenous peoples and allies in the U.S. and Canada with our experience doing land-based solidarity. At this moment when Indigenous people are making a powerful and unifying stand to protect and life at Standing Rock, we want to share this piece as one of many efforts to raise decolonial consciousness.
This writing and work relates to us—as white settlers acting in solidarity with an Indigenous struggle—proactively pursuing decolonization and anti-colonial work amongst ourselves. It is one of many attempts to disrupt the narrative that says decolonization and anti-colonial work are solely the job of Indigenous people and to explore what we are calling parallel processes of decolonization. We are thinking through what it means to shift out of a solely solidarity framework to one of joint struggle, wherein we clarify our own sense of having a stake in defending the earth and in confronting systemic violence and intergenerational trauma caused by colonialism.
As both authors identify as white settlers–people of European descent who benefit from both white privilege and settler privilege–we work and write from our perspective. Developing and acting upon a mutual stake in decolonization looks different for non-Native white people and non-Native people of color. Since we are white settlers, we are focusing on the responsibilities specific to that position. We want to express gratitude for the activist scholarship and organizing of Indigenous and non-Native people of color who’ve greatly informed our analysis and have included a list of resources of many of those writings in the Action Steps/ Best Practices.
The four main sections are of this piece are:
1) An Overview of the Terms Settler Colonialism and Decolonization
2) An Exploration of Parallel Processes of Decolonization
3) Lessons from Solidarity Organizing
4) Action Steps/Best Practice
Settler colonialism is the kind of colonial control that exists in “settler states” such as the U.S, New Zealand, Australia, Israel/Palestine, Canada, Argentina, and other countries. It incorporates elements of both external colonialism—in which a colonizing power exports Indigenous peoples (as slaves or laborers), resources, knowledge, plants, metals, and/or animals to increase the wealth of the colonizer—AND internal colonialism—which is marked by the violent management of an underclass of people and lands within the “domestic” borders of the imperial nation via ghettos, reservations, borders, prisons, police, surveillance, and educational systems. Settler colonialism is unique in that it combines “internal” and “external” colonialism—so the empire is in the same geographic location as the colony/ies.
So when what is now known as the U.S was colonized, settlers came for good, not only to take things and return to an imperial center based in Europe. This is why scholar Patrick Wolfe called settler colonialism a process of “destroying to replace.” Gradually, the Indigenous versions of governance, land management, cultural practices, etc. are destroyed—through violent conquest, disease, land theft, cultural genocide, etc.—and are replaced with the settler version of those things. Therefore, it is vital to understand settler colonialism not as an event that we can neatly box into one historical moment, but rather as a persistent structure that impacts everything in settler states.
Talking about “decolonizing” in a settler colonial context. where the empire and the colonies are in the same location is complicated. Currently, the phrase decolonization—which has been used in multiple ways by Indigenous communities over the years—is gaining traction in non-Indigenous, leftist communities. We’ve witnessed a proliferation of phrases like “decolonize your mind,” “decolonize your exercise”, “decolonize your education,” and “decolonize your love life.” This has provided opportunities to bring up land-based struggles for Indigenous self-determination in places where those conversations have been absent. This can also encourage us to take a deeper look at the ways that we have all internalized colonial mindsets when it comes to relating to each other, land, work, infrastructure, etc. The popularization of the term decolonization outside Indigenous communities has also, however, raised tensions about the individualization (most problematically, white individualization) of decolonization processes, processes that lack any focus on the material conditions of Indigenous land, culture, and self-determination.
Decolonization is about transforming how people relate to and in place. It is easy for settler identified people to translate “decolonization” into “making spaces more inclusive of Indigenous people.” This can reproduce the idea that settlers are the rightful inheritors of the space to begin with.
Parallel processes of decolonization entail transforming our relationship to the state, capitalism, extractive industries, and modes of thinking that are defined by white supremacy, etc. We need a community in which we can do the work of holding each other and ourselves accountable, reflecting, and finding modes of uniting in the face of divide and conquer strategies without losing our own political compass. We need tools for doing this work with Indigenous communities as well as non-Native communities where, as white settlers, we don’t conflate white supremacy and settler colonialism. We need to build with non-Native people of color who are defining and enacting their own parallel processes. Some of this framing of parallel processes might be useful for non-Native people of color, while much is specific to those of us working to reveal and transform settler and white privilege.
2) Main Components of Anti-Colonial and Decolonial Work
First, we work in solidarity with Native people upholding their responsibility to protect land and life. This means dismantling the structures of settler colonialism, resource colonialism, and border militarism. It means addressing violence and incarceration in towns bordering reservations with the disproportionate violence against Indigenous women and Two Spirit people. It means protecting sacred sites, water, and engaging in just transitions off fossil fuels.
Secondly, we shift colonial relations between Native and non-Native communities or as Nora Burke puts it “cutting the state out of the equation.” Decolonization is about mutual self-determination between groups without the colonial state as mediator. This entails non-Native communities working for self-determination in health, education, food systems, energy, etc. and reinvigorating non-capitalist economies and modes of trade between and within communities and Nations. In the U.S context it means learning to live differently on Native lands. This will mean continuing to dismantle systemic oppressions that prevent the self-determination of people of color and/queer and trans people and/ working class, poor people, and/ migrants and/ people in the global south.
Lastly, decolonizing the mind is about unlearning colonial mentalities of exploitation, domination, entitlement, and individualism that foster disconnection from each other and land. This involves learning our various histories and relationships to colonization and other systems of oppression. For white settlers this might entail learning how our ancestors were first colonized to become colonizers. We can reconnect to what it looked like for our ancestors to have a spiritual and land-based existence in their ancestral homeland. We can envision a sense of identity outside of belonging to a race or empire/nation state. From these places we can deepen our work.
We recognize that decolonization, as a concept, can be difficult to define in a singular way, however an underlying principle of our work is that developing decolonizing practices is as much the job of those non-Indigenous people (with a particular responsibility for white settlers) as it is for Indigenous people. Decolonial practices offer a radical reformation of our relationships with land, with each other, and with the state.
3) Reflecting on lessons from organizing, a few guideposts we have marked are:
Strengthening Indigenous-led efforts for the return of land and resources from illegitimate settler states and corporations, self-determination/sovereignty, cultural preservation, and healing.
The foundation of BMIS’s work is direct solidarity with Dineh communities resisting forced relocation due to coal mining. This entails moving resources, coordinating the on-land volunteer program, co-organizing gatherings and work parties with community members, raising awareness through social media and events, and sharing community members’ statements and requests with the broader solidarity network. Our work is structured in response to requests from the community. We’ve learned to see the continuation of traditional lifeways on Black Mesa as equally significant to the kinds of larger actions that often gain media attention. In BMIS, we are currently thrilled to be supporting a collective of Indigenous youth doing cultural survival work with Black Mesa resistor families.
We see our work strengthening Indigenous-led efforts to protect land and self-determination as extending beyond Black Mesa into a global context. Wherever we live, we commit to learning whose traditional homeland we’re on and challenging the forms of desecration, resource extraction, and violence there, and working to challenge colonialism, capitalism/ resource extraction, and white supremacy globally. We engage in our processes of raising awareness in order to take action in the various communities within which we operate: faith, educational, work, home, activist, creative, and cultural.
Cultivating an ability to be in the uncomfortable space of confronting violent history and complicity with ongoing settler colonial systems. This is a type of confrontation or conflict that is creative and transformative. As Taiaiake Alfred says, “There needs to be struggle in order to lay a path to coexistence, and the process of being uncomfortable is essential for non-Indigenous people to move from being enemy to adversary to ally.”
In 2014, BMIS helped organize gathering on Black Mesa called Decolonizing the Mind/Mine, which brought together representatives from various frontline, land-based struggles (Palestinian Youth Movement, (Un)Occupy Albuquerque, Hawaiian Sovereignty movement, Ka Lei Maile Ali’i, Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival (RAMPS), Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, Sixth World Indigenous Peoples Organization, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and others). Organizer Marie Gladue, from Black Mesa, opened the space the first day by asking participants to share about their spiritual practices and how they connect to justice work.
When asked about her decision to open the gathering that way, Marie said, “It’s an unexpected thing to bring forth to any gathering that is not explicitly a spiritual gathering. I wanted to start with that because the gathering was organized with the Four Directional model. In the Four Directional model, the Spiritual Pillar is the first pillar and should be highlighted. It is the first thing you have to do. There are all kinds of things associated with that. It is spiritual and cultural of course, but it is also associated with thought, speech, and prayer. This is the most important place to start for all of us and this is the place that has been forgotten in our lives and our work. It has been ignored and that is why the world is in the state it is in. We are mostly, as humans now, attuned to the chatter in our heads and we have lost ways to hear other important messages—messages from the land and from our ancestors. We have to re-learn how to tune in to those messages. It is not always going to be a clear voice in your head—the messages can come through our body, because there is spirit everywhere.”
The conversation ended up lasting several hours and included the stories of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Traditional Dineh, Traditional Lakota, Atheists, Agnostics, and self-described Hip-Hop Spiritualists. For many of the non-Native participants it was a chance to push through some of the discomfort with “spiritual talk” and consider how they may engage their movement work from a new, deeper place.
In “Why Indigenous and Racialized Struggles Will Always be Appendixed by the Left,” Zainab Amadahy writes how leftist/Marxist/ anarchist/ rights based frameworks “do not always address the aspirations of racialized communities, which in the case of Indigenous people involves recovering a specific Earth-informed spiritually-infused culture and worldview.” The work of recovering and redefining spirituality is central to decolonization. For non-Natives this might entail disentangling spirituality from religion as to develop new spiritual practices and ways of relating to Indigenous peoples’ struggles for land, peoplehood, and cultural survival.
In order to sit with the discomfort and pain of our inherited history and ways we still benefit from settler colonialism, we have come to understand the deep importance of having our own spiritual practices as non-Natives. This is one way to cultivate resiliency. It is also an important safeguard against spiritual appropriation, which is a common pitfall of non-Native supporters of Native struggles. As Andrea Smith and others clearly state, spiritual appropriation is a contributing factor to cultural genocide and it is important to combat. It is also important to understand that in the context of sharing in a struggle across cultural lines, there are occasions that non-Natives will be invited into ceremony or other spiritual observances. These invitations shouldn’t be considered permission to take up the full gamut of Native spiritual practices as your own. But, this type of cultural or religious sharing that is extended in the context of shared struggle is different than appropriation, which has the impact of invisibilizing Native people and their cultures.
“Unsettling Settler Desires”: As we’ve expanded our understanding of settler colonialism, we’ve sat with the discomfort of seeing how often liberal and even alternative, radical spaces replicate settler logic. As Scott Morgensen explores in the essay “Unsettling Settler Desire,”the desire to replace Native peoples and inherit their land, lifeways, alternative economies, spiritualities, modes of kinship and sexuality runs deep in settler society and permeates various alternative and radical subcultures. These desires for connection to land and land-based practices are often seen as a much needed antidote to the disconnection inherent in settler society. If however, these connections and practices aren’t cultivated in relationship to Indigenous peoples’ struggles to maintain their connections, responsibilities, and traditions, then the forms of connection settlers are fostering can replicate “settler desire” and further entrench colonialism.
Developing new ways of listening. As James Tully says, “We [non-Native people] need to listen differently…we need to shake free from the sediment of colonial history to listen to why First Nations resist.” In building relationships with Dineh communities maintaining their traditional way of life, we’ve learned to listen in new ways. We listen for the significance of place and the stories of places: why they have the names they do, what that says about families’ knowledge of and relationship to such places, what cultural significance do they have? We’ve learned how those stories, place names, great-grandfather’s hogan, canyon where a family hid out during the Long Walk tell us about why people in this struggle say “to relocate is to die.” Existence is interwoven, relational, and inseparable from those places, histories, and stories.
At gatherings with community members and supporters, it is typical to hear a question such as what does the community want to do about the coal mine? In response, an elder may tell the story about the significance of this small valley where the gathering is being held and the spring in the canyon just over the hill and the families who lived nearby and how they related. At first, the response won’t seem connected to the coal mine and the question of resistance, but in fact, in learning how to listen, we know it isn’t just answering our question, it is teaching us the kinds of questions to ask, or to simply wait and listen. These questions get extended to what is sacred, why is water life, what does it mean to have a spiritual connection to land, what does a framework centering responsibility offer up? And for us as settlers, what does it mean to enter every space, every dialogue, and question in a way that de-centers Western dualistic, mechanical thought?
In BMIS, we’ve had to figure out how to listen closely to oral stories, and take seriously protocol for how and why to do things that do not make sense in a Western worldview. We’ve needed to understand the impacts of the military on top of colonial occupation and divide and conquer tactics. We work to make fewer mistakes because the stakes are high and trust between Native and non-Native people already tenuous. When we make mistakes, we’ve had to learn how to not be defensive, and to do everything we can to remedy the impacts as fully as possible.
Shifting our understanding of time frames and how things “should” function in a movement. The struggle on Black Mesa/Big Mountain is connected to a 500+ year struggle against colonialism. Often, we feel a sense of urgency in confronting the systems and structures devastating the planet and so many communities. While things are dire, it is important that, as white settlers, we understand the pitfalls of using ‘urgency’ to push forward processes, and bypassing full community input, thereby missing out on the insight of the impacted community, insight that will most likely offer an alternative framework for problem solving. On Black Mesa, we engage with an Indigenous cosmology and chronology. Oftentimes, the actions of non-Indigenous people—actions that may arise from good intentions to help support the struggle of Indigenous people—can be manifestations of deeply ingrained colonial attitudes. These actions can reflect many assumptions, consciously or not, about the how Indigenous people “should” fit into “our” cultural paradigms and modes of activism or resistance.
We’ve also learned that organizing with people who are upholding their Indigenous knowledge–for Dineh people the Natural Laws–means they will want to begin with prayer, make sure the proper ceremonies are done, elders consulted, and so forth. We have to allow a great deal of time for visits to each family and to organize community meals and meetings. Knowing in what seasons are good times to do certain projects or focus on renewal, or hold a gathering means not imposing our sense of time and productivity.
To shift our mode of organizing from “production” based–linear and outcome oriented–towards spiritually grounded, cyclical, and relationship based means the process must be, as Harsha Walia and others insist, prefigurative. We practice creating the world we want to live in by how we organize.
Another lesson we’ve learned is about the importance of having everyone who comes to Black Mesa spend time with resistor families. At a later gathering BMIS co-organized with Black Mesa residents, we, in BMIS, didn’t think there was enough time to have participants coming from other parts of Turtle Island (U.S.) stay with resistor families. With families, they would wake up at dawn, often cook on a woodstove or a fire, haul water, herd sheep, chop wood, and spend time with family members and elders. As this is a spiritually rooted struggle, one of the main ways people from outside the community can connect to this reality is by being on the land and being guided by the community as they uphold their traditional lifeways, spiritual connection to land, and resistance. As we were taught to begin in prayer, we could perhaps think of the close connecting to families and daily struggle as offering up prayer and action. At this gathering, which was focused on a Western notion of direct action, participants didn’t stay with families and work on projects together. This lack of grounding as well as other mistakes and challenges meant it was harder for us all to move into spaces of dialogue, sharing, and building together. Without the grounding in spiritual practice, there was less of an ability to work across lines of difference and to resolve conflict. This is an example of how we, as BMIS, prioritized our sense of the timeline and desired outcomes, and in so doing, de-centered the land-based nature of the struggle. This took a toll on the entire gathering.
Transforming the normalization of whiteness within land-based Indigenous solidarity. In our work, we’ve come to better understand the history of solidarity with Big Mountain and Black Mesa and its significance. Much of the history is connections between Big Mountain resistance and other Indigenous resistance across Turtle Island, the Americas, the world. There is a long history of American Indian Movement, peace/anti-nuclear organization, migrant farm workers, Japanese anti-nuclear activists, and many others. In the last 10-15 years with the emergence of a radical environmental movement, there has been a shift toward more white activists connecting with Black Mesa. This has changed solidarity from being a practice between communities who understand their mutual stakes in decolonization, to a practice of allyship, where people with privilege work with impacted communities. While those of us with white and/or settler privilege need to engage in this work as well, we need to do so both from a place of defining our own mutual stake, and in such a way that doesn’t center or normalize whiteness/privilege.
Some of the ways that we as white settlers have worked to develop our mutual stake in decolonization is through developing an analysis that understands settler colonialism as the root of violences and oppressions by which we have been impacted: sexual violence, homophobia, transphobia, class divides, etc. We also connect the negative impacts of war and environmental degradation to settler colonialism and seek to understand the ways settler colonialism interlocks with racial capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and other systems of oppression. In this way we begin to develop decolonial aspirations rooted in our own experiences. A big part of this work of developing a mutual stake so as to struggle jointly to dismantle settler colonialism is understanding and working to heal the violence inherited through settler privilege–violence that we enact and violence enacted on our behalf.
In order to help shift away from the normalization/ centering of whiteness in Indigenous solidarity work, we organized the decolonization themed gathering with Marie Gladue and organizers from other frontline communities who’d expressed interest in connecting to Black Mesa. Parallel processes of decolonization are most revolutionary when Indigenous and/or people of color and white folks all of various sexual orientations, class backgrounds, faiths, dis/abilities, citizenship statuses are developing our capacities for self-determination and building collaborative struggles to challenge oppressive systems together. We are seeing this intersectional movement at Standing Rock right now and it is powerful!
We also see that for white folks it is important to take up the work of challenging white supremacy and settler colonialism while not making one kind of struggle superior to another and thereby playing into the “oppression olympics,” which ultimately serve to strengthen white supremacy. Developing a strong analysis around settler colonialism helps us to understand, in a deep way, the intersectionality of struggles.
Upholding our own sense of dignity. In our work, we’ve found it necessary to build our capacity to sit with discomfort, hear difficult feedback, be challenged in various ways and stay committed. We’ve also seen the need to be grounded in our own sense of dignity, humanity, interconnectedness, and radical visions so as to be able to address our own internalized superiority and colonial mindsets. We also know that as relationships are the building blocks of a decolonial future, we must ask people we work with to be accountable to addressing patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of oppression they might have internalized. As settlers, it is easy to assume a lesser-than attitude that comes from shame as we grapple with the enormous weight and violence of colonialism and the ways we have benefited from it. But to allow ourselves to be shamed, taken advantage of, or told to put up with misogyny or homophobia, transphobia, etc. doesn’t rebalance the relationships. It doesn’t serve our visions; it limits our movements and our potential. To bring ourselves fully and to be fully accountable means we create the possibility and eventual necessity (once trust is earned) that respect, honoring, mutuality, and care go both ways.
4) Action Steps/Best Practices
Know whose land you are on. There are plenty of resources out there to help you educate yourself about the land that you–your school, your place of worship–are occupying and its original inhabitants. Here is one. Find out if the tribes or nations are still in that area. If they are not, find out why not. Have they been forcefully relocated? Pushed out in another way? Acknowledge that you are on occupied land when you say where you are or where you are from. This is an important way to disrupt the “myth of the disappearing native.”
Know your family’s history. How did your family end up in the U.S? Was it through a colonial process in another country? If your ancestors are from a colonizing country, what was your family’s connection to land, spiritual traditions, economies, etc. before that country began colonizing other places? Does your family own land in the U.S? If so, how did they come to acquire it?
Learn together. Encourage learning that is personal, emotional, spiritual, embodied, and communal. Host reading groups and discussions that build an understanding of settler colonialism and your and your community’s relationship to it that is tied to Indigenous solidarity. Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States is an enormously helpful place to start and there are numerous resources through Unsettling America, the BMIS Website, Colors of Resistance, Journal of Decolonization, No One Is Illegal, Queer Indigenous Studies, Critical Indigenous studies and more.
Ask Permission. Asking permission fundamentally shifts the entitlement inherent to the settler experience. Cultural appropriation is an extension of genocide, forced removals, and land theft, as settlers take what does not belong to them as if it is rightfully theirs. This can be countered by asking permission to be upon Indigenous peoples’ traditional lands. This practice can be extended in a variety of ways and open up new modes of relating and relationships. As one of the first steps of planning, ask permission for any gatherings, marches, etc. from an Indigenous representative of the land you are on. Invite them to collaborate in planning around gatherings, conferences, actions, campaigns for justice work on their traditional homeland and be open to the work shifting because of such collaboration.
Know where your water, heat, electricity, etc. come from. Lands that were relegated to Indigenous use under the Reservation system often because of their perceived barrenness are now resource colonies for the settler state. Indigenous communities in the U.S are among the hardest hit by the negative impacts of climate change because of the extractive projects and processing that take place on their lands. Coal mining and burning, uranium mining, copper mining, are just a few of the extractive projects that leave toxic legacies for generations to come. The profit from extraction on Native lands is rarely returned to the community who has paid the cost in destruction of lands and sacred sites, damage to health, and devastation of local economies and lifeways.
Take responsibility for Christian hegemony/Doctrine of Discovery. If you’ve come up in Christian culture, you may unaware of all the ways that Christianity is hegemonic in the U.S. Work with your faith community to raise awareness about the violent legacy of Christian hegemony and move resources to shift power. If you are part of a Christian denomination that has not yet repudiated the “Doctrine of Discovery”–the theological justifications for the theft of Indigenous land–start or join a movement to do so. Challenge the notion that the settler church was divinely ordained within your church community. Start conversations about Saints or lauded leaders of faith who were directly responsible for conquest. Learn how your church acquired its land and whose land it was originally. Learn the history of your denomination’s relationship to conquest. Consider that within Christian traditions there are built-in practices for atonement and reparations. Get creative with your spiritual community about what atonement and reparations might look like. If it is possible, try and connect with the Indigenous Tribe or Nation in your area to work on this. The Christian and Catholic Churches are incredibly well resourced not only in cash but also in land. Many, if not all, Indigenous-led movements across Turtle Island call for return of land to Indigenous stewardship. How can the church leverage its many resources in solidarity with Indigenous-led efforts for land return? There is a new project in California that is working for the return of urban land to Indigenous stewardship. Could your church start a conversation about putting land in trust and working with a local Indigenous group to steward it?
Engage in local struggles/ build relationships. There are ongoing Indigenous-led struggles for land and self-determination taking place all over Turtle Island. Not all Indigenous spaces and organizations are looking for outside support, but many are. Educate yourself on this history of the area and current struggles. Reach out and take principled and accountable action by centering relationships in your work. The work will often be request-based and/or take on various forms of asking for permission, seeking guidance, and input. This is a nuanced dance of taking initiative while ensuring there is guidance and the work upholds, not undermines community self-determination. Your participation in decision making and giving input should be determined by the Indigenous people you work with and will depend on the specific goals. For example, an Indigenous community addressing its own Tribal government has different objectives and requests from non-Natives folks than if cross-community power is being built to challenge Federal and or State policies, energy policy, corporate power, etc.
Work for repatriations of land, upholding treaties, and funding Indigenous-led struggles and efforts for land return. This entails supporting Standing Rock, and other Indigenous led struggles in your region, building power to force the state to respect treaties, and doing creative fundraising campaigns such as door knocking for reparations as members of Resource Generation did in the Bay Area in solidarity with Poor Magazine’s “Stolen Land and Hoarded Resources Tour.” Read more here.
If you are already part of an organization, how can your organization work to amplify Indigenous-led struggles and be accountable to their demands?
Incorporate an analysis of settler colonialism into all of your organizing work It’s our responsibility as settlers to work to dismantle the settler colonial project.
If your primary area of organizing is around the environment, recognize that Indigenous cultures and lifeways are deeply tied to land and most contemporary Indigenous-led struggles center around access to land or land return. If you engage in environmental work: consider how the environmental framework of land (wilderness) as separate from people is an inherently colonial mindset that pits environmentalist not only against labor but indigenous people whose lifeways are inseparable from land.
If you engage in climate justice, recognize the ways that Indigenous communities have been disproportionately impacted by extreme extraction and climate chaos, are have been resisting it, and globally, Indigenous communities are living as blockades to the last ‘frontier’ of extreme extraction.
If you engage in anti-racist work: consider doing the work of understanding settler colonialism as a structure and logic distinct from racial capitalism (although interlocking…) that is defined in terms of self-determination rather than solely rights. A stance of self-determination signifies that Indigenous nations pre-date the existence of the U.S and aren’t always looking for recognition from the colonizing force. Rights and “equality” frameworks are most often based in the idea of the individual as the social actor and view equality under the law for all individuals as the end goal. Many Indigenous frameworks don’t fully fit this and are centered more on the ideas of the collective (nation, tribe, people), as opposed to the individual, and prioritize responsibility (to land, and future generations) as opposed to rights.
If you engage in labor justice work, familiarize yourself with the history of exploitation of Indigenous labor in this country and consider ways in which your work for just workplaces may invisibilize the original inhabitants of the land your workplace occupies.
If your queer and trans organizing isn’t yet connected to two spirit/Native queer and trans perspectives and movements, learn from and build with queer and/or Two Spirit Native organizers, cultural workers, and scholars. Learn the history of non-Native (particularly white) LGBTQ appropriation of Indigenous alternative sexualities, genders, and kinship structures. Envision and enact queer and trans liberation that is anti/decolonial.
If you engage in food justice, or permaculture, herbalism, building alternative economies, and more broadly alternatives to capitalist institutions and modes of organizing reproduction and social life, familiarize yourself with existing alternatives Indigenous people have maintained through surviving, resisting, adapting, decolonizing. Consider the potential for connecting your work to questions of land and unsettling settler desire.
Conclusion: Walking the Parallel Paths
For non-Native people, walking a path of decolonization is the work of envisioning and enacting reciprocal relationships. Through this we can be humbled; we can hold discomfort knowing it is part of our work and our process of rekindling our dignity and interconnectedness. We can work to stop violence and environmental degradation. We can organize to build our communities’ capacity for self-determination, while struggling alongside Indigenous communities as they maintain their responsibility to their homelands and future generations. We can shift entitlement and the normalizing of theft, the narrative of ‘disappearing Indians.’ We can move away from Western, colonial modes of existing as we restore traditional economies and modes of relating, community to community, and nation to nation. Moving towards decolonization allows us to reckon with the violence of our collective inheritance and commit to healing, restoring, and transforming our present so to ensure we have a viable and liberatory future.
We want to express gratitude to the families on Black Mesa, the second generation resistors who’ve offered guidance and critique: Marie Gladue, Danny Blackgoat, Louise Benally, Colleen Biakeddie, and Bahe Kateny; thanks to Derek Minno Bloom, Tree Gigante for struggling, learning, and loving with us in BMIS, to Carolina Reyes for all of her work and friendship, to Save the Confluence, and all the inspiration coming from various other land and water protectors, to those at Standing Rock; the mentorship of Maria Brazil, Amalia Montoya, Santhosh Chandrashekar, Melanie Yazzie, and to the fabulous Indigenous Youth 4 Cultural Survival: Cody Fetty, Selest Manning, and MT Garcia. When Amalia gave us feedback on this piece, she shared a story and reminder that relationships based on reciprocity and respect are at the heart of decolonization–thank you to her and to Santhosh for that.
 The Long Walk was a massive forced relocation of Dineh people that began in 1864. Over 10,000 Dineh were forced to march from Arizona to a reservation in New Mexico called Bosque Redondo. The forced march took place over an 18 day period and covered approximately 300 miles. The U.S Army drove the Dineh at gunpoint and shot people who were slow, in pain, had small children, or giving birth. Approximately 1,000 Dineh died on the Long Walk.