After reading Laenui, I attempted to relate the process of decolonization to my life, specifically to my history, experience, and culture as Abenaki.
My people are a lost people with a lost history. We first encountered colonialism in the early 1600’s when French then English settlers moved into the regions of Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Canada. There was reciprocity of resources in those years when European immigrants would rely on First Peoples for survival and trade. There was peace with the French as resources were abundant.
Then, as is the experience of most indigenous people, the Abenaki experienced biological devastation when exposed to diseases, and the population decreased by 75% in the late 1600’s. Additionally, we were pawns and soldiers in territorial disputes between the English and French; the Abenaki sided with the French immigrants.
Slowly, as the English pushed French settlers out of New England, the Abenaki and other tribes in the Wabanaki (Dawn Land) Confederacy, moved from the original settlements further north, settling in French Canada (Quebec) and the inhabitable Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Remaining peoples went “into the woods” continuing their existence underground. There was no Trail of Tears or deportation of the Abenaki people, but rather they disappeared into the wilderness forming small communities that eventually “integrated” with French settlers. Eventually, they were forced, by the French government, to live on two reservations in Canada. Not to say this was not traumatic or inhumane as the people were murdered, forcibly sterilized through the eugenics movement, and children were stolen and sent to Indian boarding schools.
Sprinkled throughout my childhood are memories of Abenaki rallies for federal, tribal status recognition, Abenaki heritage weekends, and tribal council meetings where my late uncle was a member, but I spent playing with the other children outside the VFW hall in Swanton, Vermont. I remember beating drums, colorful costumes, and dancing. I remember fishing, hunting, and camping. I remember the stories. I remember the anger.
The anger was rooted in the decision of the federal government and the State of Vermont to refuse the Abenaki federal and state tribal recognition. The legislative loopholes disqualified the Abenaki from this status; it claimed that the Abenaki had no tribal government before contact, the inability to prove native status on the land and First Nation Peoples of New England don’t have the “Indian look,” very few of us have brown skin or dark eyes.
The absence of tribal status meant that members are denied native rights, native benefits, and cultural lands are unprotected. I witnessed burial sites bulldozed, while we protested. Federal recognition was the primary goal of the Abenaki. In 2011, the State of Vermont recognized the tribe as a “people” not a Native American tribe, but as a minority. This recognition came with the caveat that these First Nations Peoples have no land claim rights. Federal recognition is still pending.
The reason for my history lesson stems from pondering my process of decolonization. I no longer feel actively engaged in tribal activities, so I no longer feel as connected to my native self so that I will speak of my memories of my tribal activities. In my place in the native and colonized worlds, I have never fathomed or imagined that my tribal lands could decolonize. Thus, I am in phase II or the mourning phase of decolonization according to Laenui (2006). This phase is marked by feelings of victimization, loss and minimal action to fight for the rights that other First Nation People in the United States have.
My experience of oppression represses any hope that decolonization is even a possibility. How can one imagine or dream of reparations in the form of land when one isn’t recognized as being connected to the land? For so many years we have fought to be recognized by a government who stole our land, killed our people, and who did not believe that we are truly a native people. The Abenaki has been struggling for reconciliation. Decolonization was never imagined.
Tuck and Yang discuss the difference between reconciliation and decolonization. What do you think about the difference?
I’m sorry, but I am busting out the metaphors since it helps me imagine and relate to processes. Reconciliation is when my 10-year-old steals a package of Oreos from my 4-year-old and tells her she can have a small nibble of one Oreo but tells her that she can only have the cookie part, not the cream center. Then the elder dances around while stuffing cookies in her mouth telling my youngest she should be thankful for the nibble.
Decolonization when my 10-year-old gives my 4-year-old the entire, unopened pack of Oreos and allows her to do what she will with them: eat them all, lick all the cream centers, share, etc. The fact is those are now her cookies. She has governance over their future.
After creating my analogy, I listened to a better analogy on the Red Man Laughing Podcast (Ryan McMahon) where a guest described reconciliation as a friend stealing your truck, then driving around while you are walking, while honking and waving each time they pass you. Meanwhile, your shoes are worn, and you are tired. The friend apologizes but continues to drive the truck around town and ignore your rights and needs.
I see reconciliation as an act for the settler, while decolonization is an act for the indigenous. Reconciliation occurs when the unmarginalized people try to alleviate their guilt and shame in a self-protective method of cloaked as “righting the wrongs.” Reconciliation acts can be mutually beneficial, to a minimal extent, but the unmarginalized people continue to have authority and land. Whereas, decolonization is full self-determination for the marginalized population. It is when governance, resources, and land are handed back to the First Nation People with no strings attached.
We are all colonized through our education and the influence of our social environment. Even our participation in this course and work with the university can be seen as participating in a colonial system – what are some things that stand out to you in your social environments, e.g. family, work, school, communities, institutions that are unsettling now that you think about them. Tell us what it was and how it impacts/ed you.
I headed down the rabbit hole with this question. I headed down the rabbit hole with this topic. I have to admit that I have been doing some research on decolonization and it’s become a “pandora’s box” situation.
I tried to think of one aspect of my life that is not colonized, and I struggle. I seem to be unable to differentiate between “colonized” and “modernized” or “technologized.” I have trouble discriminating between what is bureaucracy and what is colonized or if they are the same. Imagining a decolonized life seems impossible.
I think the most bothersome, colonized structure, which I’m immersed in, is the healthcare system. I am the care coordinator for the behavioral health team at a Federally Qualified Health Center. Every aspect of the healthcare system is colonized and inflexible; from billing to diagnosis to Evidence Based Medicine to the professional of the career. I believe my health center is more progressive than most, but we have ample room for improvement.
As a nurturer, I want to be able to help everyone. However, from the moment a patient enters our clinics, they need an ID and insurance (we help obtain this through copious applications). They need to fill out consents, assessments, and health questions. They need to justify health needs. They are expected to comply with western medication and treatment methods. They have to fight insurances to obtain necessary treatment. They’re “treated” in 15 – 30 minutes appointments. They are not given time to disclose their story. Then we wonder why some of our marginalized population cannot seem to understand A1C and blood tests. We wonder why chronic health conditions are uncontrolled and why our patients did not change their diets when we are giving them nutrition handouts that do not include any of their traditional foods.
I don’t blame my work; I know that we go above and beyond in comparison to any health institution I have observed. Nevertheless, I blame the colonized government (insurance and health care law) that restricts and impedes providers from delivering holistic care. The structure we operate in encourages providers to treat humans as biological specimens, not as individuals. The structure is colonized.