Wk 2…heading down the rabbit hole…

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.


9 thoughts on “Wk 2…heading down the rabbit hole…

  1. Alysa,
    Thank you so much for sharing the background information about the Abenaki. Not surprisingly, I did not know of this native population before reading your post. I feel the most “colonized” by my education and it saddens me to no end that it’s so one sided and exclusive of they experiences and realities of the majority of the people on this planet. Once I realized this as a teenager I made a conscious effort to educate myself about other people, alternative history, and different world views. If they weren’t going to do it in school I felt I owed to myself and to everyone else to do so on my own. That being said I’ve realized it’s going to be a life long pursuit;)

    I also related to the Mourning phase described in Laenui’s article. I am not feel it as personally because I don’t identify with a specific people, but it hurts nonetheless. I feel we have collectively been robbed of so much priceless knowledge and I’m mad because I know there’s likely a big part of that knowledge we won’t ever get back.

    I liked your “done the rabbit hole” reference and totally agree that’s what the topic of decolonization feels like (especially after reading the Tuck and Yang article)! It seems like an endless amount of wrongs to be righted which will require exhaustive investigation in all the ways colonization has seeped into the fabric of our existence. It feels overwhelming. But for now, I’m happy just to be learning about all of this more and being a part of a conversation that will help myself (and others) expand knowledge and ultimately effect change on a very complicated issue.

    Always happy to read your words,


  2. Alysa,

    You are very articulate, well read and well written. I am sure this serves your clients endlessly. I agree it is often very difficult to work in a system that is so colonized in nature and yet the funding that supports the services overall is beaurocratic at its core. My guess is its the new wave of social work… to work within the system, do the dance, and serve the people the way that they need to. i think that if we are able to oneway look at the benefits of both structures, the new and the traditional then maybe both can be celebrated instead of it being one way or the other.

    i really liked your comment about the handouts relative to diet that do not include any of the traditional foods. i personally believe that food is at the core of most of the health issues so you are dead on when you bring this up. I think that the western methodology of higher health care such as emergency care and long term care have some strong merits but foundational i think that the traditional ways of living likely would triumph if one were to compare say a colonized diet to one of a traditional family prior to colonization. Im trying to find the strengths in both without getting caught up in the all to addictive temptations of our new western thought processes.

    Again very well written post! i really enjoyed it.



  3. Hi Alysa!

    I really enjoyed reading your post. Before this, I had never heard of the Abenaki people. I think it’s important to note, as you mentioned, that at some point in history we (our ancestors) all experienced colonization. So far, it seems like we all have a pretty good idea about what colonization is; but we are all new to the depths and complexities of decolonization. I think your analogy with the oreo cookie scenario and your children illustrate the Tuck and Yang article well. I had to re-read that article a few times before I understood that a lot of what we do (in their perspective) is reconciliation.

    Before this class, I didn’t realize how much of our lives are a result of colonization. The institutions and systems we have in place here in Hawai’i are largely connected to colonization and the Western world. As for healthcare, I completely agree. I do remember, when I was studying to be a CNA, that they emphasized the importance of culturally competent care. However, there was nothing in place to recognize other people’s culture. We didn’t learn about other’s perspectives nor did we learn about how they diagnosed and treated their people.

    Thanks for your post! You gave me a lot to think about!


  4. You intimately relate to indigenous people and illustrate the wrongs suffered by the native population. Likewise, you have a clear understanding of reconciliation and decolonization. I do not think one can exist without the other. If we are to recognize the effects of colonization then there must be a group that is moving the dialogue to support the native people . By this process there is discussion and accountability. There can never be full reparation because some events cannot be forgiven, only accepted and acknowledged. We are all colonized and have contributed unwillingly to the dynamics that bring us to this point. Recognizing our own selves and the subtleties that exist in our every day lives is the first step to helping dismantle the effects of colonization. Thank you for your sharing such a personal part of you.


  5. Alysa,
    This was truly outstanding. Thank you for educating me about your people and your upbringing. Your insight and understanding of the Tuck and Yang article is right on point. You look beyond the literal and take from it the lesson that we can take from it. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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