This is another of those times, and there have been many, when I’m beginning a journey into something I want to know more about. That is, I’m likely to make some errors, but that is how I/we grow.
The concept of decolonization isn’t new to me. But as Denise Altvater says below, “it can’t just be about learning from visuals and from presenters and from workshops, it has to be from the heart.” That is why walking and sharing stories on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March was so profound for me. That was an opportunity to build friendships with native people. As we opened our hearts to each other, I began to learn how colonization effected, and continues to effect the lives of my friends. I can feel it in my heart. I’m not talking about any kind of equivalency, but have come to find White people have also been negatively affected, although we often don’t realize it.
As I’ve worked on thinking through the diagram below, “Colonize” is at the top and impacts all that is found below it.
There are so many ways the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives and our environment. I think some of the most significant changes are the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the improvement of air and water quality.
Another is the exposure of how unjust and fragile capitalism is. Referred to below as a “framework for oppression.”
At this same time, indigenous leadership is arising all over the world. Ready to reinstate a culture and way of living that can heal Mother Earth and ourselves. I pray my White friends can embrace this opportunity. One of the best ways to learn more is by listening to indigenous people talking about what they are working on in this series called SHIFT, Seeding the Hill with Indigenous Free Thinkers, a project my friend Christine Nobiss is involved in. https://seedingsovereignty.org/shift The next episode will be on May 28th https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_BtSNxkiVSWGl_Dr7rbMnUg
A few resources are:
- Seeding Sovereignty https://seedingsovereignty.org/
- Decolonizing Quakers https://www.decolonizingquakers.org/
- Toward Right Relationship with Peoples https://friendspeaceteams.org/trr/
- Faith in Action series of the American Friends Service Committee https://www.afsc.org/blogs/acting-in-faith/thinking-about-decolonization-thanksgiving-approaches-conversation-denise
- Bold Iowa http://boldiowa.com/
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.
Christina Elcock works for AFSC as the QVS Friends Relations Fellow. She writes blog content and curates series of posts for the Acting in Faith blog. Lucy Duncan has worked at AFSC for many years and is a friend of mine.
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.Thinking about decolonization as Thanksgiving approaches: A conversation with Denise Altvater part 1, Acting in Faith by Christina Elcock, Nov 21, 2017
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. Christina Elcock and Lucy Duncan open up a conversation with Denise to explore the importance of decolonization and why it’s vital in order to heal from the cracks and abuses of a dehumanizing system.
Denise Altvater: Well, this one man got up in our most recent decolonization workshops, after we had presented all the material and done the timeline of colonization. We did an exercise where everybody got four slips of paper in the room and wrote down four things that meant the most to them in their lives. Then somebody went around and they had to give up one of those things to that person – and they did. Some of them were really hesitant and had a hard time giving up one of those slips of paper and so the next time around the person went and took one of those pieces of papers away from them. What that represented was, “This is what Native people went through. This is the losses that they experienced.”
Christina: Wow, that’s really powerful.
Denise: And then people had to talk about what it felt like to lose those things. For them it was real. Some of them became very emotional because some of them lost their family, some of them lost their faith, some of them lost their hope. We did an exploration of colonialism and we talked about understanding how decolonizing ourselves leads to considering what the deep impact of colonization was, all that people lost. We talked about the impact colonialism had on Native people and the benefits that continue to flow to white people to the detriment of Native people. Then we invited them to identify ways to counteract the taking of things and the impacts of colonialism. We talk about ways to counteract colonialism that are grounded in the teachings of their faith and some of the strategies of decolonization that individual faith leaders implement and explore in their faith communities.
Denise: It can’t just be about learning from visuals and from presenters and from workshops, it has to be from the heart. We talk about this work and we talk about decolonizing our hearts and minds. I remember when we did the Truth and Reconciliation process from the beginning, that’s what we always said, that the process was a decolonization of the hearts and minds of Native people, because we needed to decolonize of our hearts and minds. It’s what kept us going because that process, for us, was always about healing, it was never, ever about anything else. Even though we had to go through the process that everyone else wanted us to, it was always about the healing.Decolonizing our hearts and minds as people of faith: A conversation with Denise Altvater, part 2, Acting in Faith. By Christina Elcock, Dec 1, 2017