I’ve been writing a lot about colonization for awhile because Thanksgiving/Truthsgiving is a time when people may think about Native Americans: https://jeffkisling.com/?s=decoloniz
I was glad to come across a series of articles from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) that discuss decolonization so you can hear about this from someone else. Denise Altvater serves as Coordinator as the Wabanaki Youth Program in Maine. She has created a supportive web of connection and communication in a region where Native Communities have been isolated and abused. With her leadership, the American Friends Service Committee’s Wabanaki Program (Maine) was instrumental in developing the first Truth and Reconciliation commission between a sovereign Tribal nation and a U.S. state and she recently has become focused on offering decolonization workshops for faith communities.
Here is the link to the video DAWNLAND that features Denise and her work with the Truth and Reconciliation commission. The video is available online during November, which is National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month: https://www.pbs.org/video/dawnland-t0dsij/
Following are some excerpts from the first article in the AFSC series about decolonization, Thinking about decolonization as Thanksgiving approaches: A conversation with Denise Altvater part 1, Acting in Faith by Christina Elcock, Nov 21, 2017. Lucy Duncan is a friend of mine.
Christina Elcock: As you know, Lucy and I wanted to explore the theme of decolonization with you, particularly around the work that you do as Wabanaki Program Coordinator. Now, the holiday period is approaching and I’m interested to hear from you, what is your take on Thanksgiving?Thinking about decolonization as Thanksgiving approaches: A conversation with Denise Altvater part 1, Acting in Faith by Christina Elcock, Nov 21, 2017
Denise Altvater: Well, you know, I really don’t focus so much on Thanksgiving myself. We usually have seafood just because of the significance of having a turkey (an American tradition started by colonists). I think last year my husband and grandson and I went out to dinner in a restaurant, but we’re the minority in the community as far as that goes. A lot of Wabanaki people still celebrate Thanksgiving.
Lucy Duncan: Wow – really? Interesting. What would you want European-Americans to think about on Thanksgiving?
Denise Altvater: For me, I want people to focus generally everyday about this stuff [decolonization practices], every single day, and to work on it. I know that there are things like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day that are a good time and opportunity to have people focus on what decolonization means and how to turn around how colonization has really destroyed so many things. But, I really have become broader in my thinking than that because it just is such a daily thing for me now that when these days come up for me, it’s just another day to practice this “every single moment” thing. It isn’t any different than how I want it to be on those other days. Do you know what I mean?
Lucy Duncan: Yeah. So, what is that every single moment thing? It seems that it’s both a spiritual practice and a practice of mind. What is it like for you?
Denise Altvater: Well, in my program, the core work that I do includes decolonization, racism, and looking at colonization altogether. For me, decolonization is a framework for transforming the domination of Christianity. For me, colonization is a shift of the different parts of time. Colonization becomes parts of institutions, illegal frameworks, social services, economic structures, and all those things require social change. They act against us, the framework of oppression. So, when I work, I really have to acknowledge that racism on the individual level and colonization on the systematic level are really intertwined, they’re locked in place with each other. Anti-racism efforts are not successful if they’re not paired with decolonization practices. I used to do anti-racism work for a long, long time without doing decolonization work. I now find that it’s more effective and powerful when they pair with doing work around decolonization.
Lucy Duncan: What does that look like? How would you describe the different aspects of doing anti-racism work and decolonization work, specifically?
Denise Altvater: Well, all people of color (POC) live with the effects of both institutional and individual racism daily. The attention in the past several decades has been on individual racism, but, it’s the institutional racism that specifically excludes POC by adopting policies that result in our exclusion that is much more devastating. So, when we go and we work around racism and decolonization we, (meaning white people from here on) have to reconcile what the dominant society has done and the fact that people exist on the territory of Native people. The person with the decolonized mind can accept the past and love their present and create their future regardless of what stands in their way. As long as they understand that all of these systems are in place to devalue and eliminate all of these groups of people and they accept that, they can reconcile that within themselves, move forward and really make huge changes. We present the truth and ask that the people in our workshops accept the truth. When they do that, we can begin to move forward toward decolonizing hearts, minds, and hopefully eventually, the land.
If you are able to see the video DAWNLAND before your family gathering, you will have more knowledge and stories to share.
Here are the links to the five parts of this AFSC series:
- Thinking about decolonization as Thanksgiving approaches: A conversation with Denise Altvater part 1, Acting in Faith by Christina Elcock, Nov 21, 2017
- Decolonizing our hearts and minds as people of faith: A conversation with Denise Altvater, part 2
- Healing does not require forgiveness: A conversation with Denise Altvater, part 3
- Colonialism and late stage genocide: A conversation with Denise Altvater, part 4
- Acknowledging the full truth of our past: A conversation with Denise Altvater part 5