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Colonization and the Recovery of Indigenous Mind
by Paula Noel, Ph.D. candidate
Paula Noel

Because of colonization and genocide, I am a woman with predominately European ancestry who has forgotten my role in this world. I have forgotten how intimately connected I am to the whole. I have forgotten how my decisions, thoughts, words, actions and choices all affect the whole. I have contributed to a culture that is not conscious in what is sacred and how this sacredness shapes our reality. The further I get from my indigenous mind, the further I get from who I truly am.

There are a couple of terms that need to be defined here. The first is culture. Ward Noble defines culture as "a process which gives people a general design for living and patterns for interpreting their reality." Marimba Ani in a book titled, Yurugu, says that culture unifies and orders experience, it gives people a sense of identification, it tells people what to do, it acts to limit the perimeters of change, it provides for the creation of shared symbols and meanings, and it impacts the definition of group interest. Culture "possesses the force and power to direct activity, to mold personalities and to pattern behavior."

I have been asked to define what colonization means. The difficulty I am having in defining colonization is that the American Heritage Dictionary defines colonization without including in its meaning the effects of it. The effects of it are truly what define it. One way of explaining it is that colonization is the act of possessing or inhabiting a distant land by a group of emigrants or their descendants. What many definitions do not explain is how these lands were colonized and what the effects of the colonization were to the indigenous people. This is my concern - the effects of the colonization on the indigenous people of this land, the land itself and the colonizers.

There is a book called Native American Post Colonial Psychology (Duran & Duran), which explains in detail how devastating the effects of colonization and European centered thought and behavior (western culture) have on Native American communities. Problems such as alcoholism, suicide, inter-generational genocide, postraumatic stress disorder and internalized oppression to name a few. What I call the veil and the illusion is the western culture that we live in.

Our world of media, jobs, cars, money, shopping malls, freeways, fast-food restaurants - is all built upon the foundation of colonization. It is built from my ancestors coming to this land and setting up colonies, sometimes making treaties with the native people, sometimes killing them. Colonization comes from my ancestral land being colonized and conquered by the Romans, Greeks and so on. When the English were invaded by the Romans, they migrated to Ireland. When Ireland was invaded and colonized by the English, they migrated to this land. It is a perpetual cycle.

For thousands of years, colonization and invasion has swept this world. Although there are many people who did not participate in colonizing other land, they were swept up in the effects of it. What I am suggesting is that the thousands of years of colonization of people and land has had a traumatic effect on the psychological health of not only those who are colonized, but those who continue to colonize. Not only am I a descendent of the European colonists of this land, I am a descendent of the indigenous people who were colonized on this land, the Cherokee. I continue to perpetuate colonization today by not being conscious of the people's whose land I am living on.

Only a year ago did I learn that the land where I live in Portland was once inhabited by the Chinook people - but because of my ancestors migrating here from the east coast back in the 1840's, the indigenous people were either removed or killed by the epidemics that my ancestors brought with them. I perpetuate the cycle by participating and allowing my European centered thought and behavior that is critical, scientific, logical, civilized, modern, lawful, responsible, universal, enterprising, creative and white, to create my reality - and that I impose this thinking and behavior on other people.

It is deeply imbedded in how I think, act and speak. It is so subtle that I am not even aware of its effects on the people who are invisible to me - the native people of this land. When I say invisible I mean that I do not see them living where they once lived because it is covered over by a city of concrete, homes and schools - or that they have been put on reservations where they have been allowed to live by the Euro-centered government that placed them there. This is what I call the veil of illusion - the reality that we live in a place called Portland, Oregon that is indigenous and sacred to a people who are no longer living on their ancestral land because of colonization.

What I am constantly asking myself is: what can I do about it? What I am doing about it is learning about decolonizing my mind, learning about how I got here and learning the stories of the emigrations of my ancestors and what they did on this land to the indigenous people after they arrived and set up colonies. I can learn about the effects of colonization so that I do not continue to live in a way that perpetuates it. I learn about who the indigenous people were of this land and who still live near this area. I simply learn about how I got to this place and the history that brought me here. A history that is a continuation of generation after generation of colonization.

The effects of this colonization are not only traumatic to the indigenous people of this land, but traumatic to myself and the ancestors who brought me here. In leaving their homeland because of the cycles of colonization on their land - the language, tradition and culture of my ancestors were forgotten. So I live in a place where I do not have a sense of identity because my people migrated from the land that gave them identity. Through learning about my ancestral history and my personal family story, I uncover the layers of colonization and genocide of the people of this land and the people of my ancestral land. What is revealed to me is a deep level of grief that this brings about, yet a connection to an identity and a culture that I have long forgotten.

What I am suggesting here is a look at our cultural thinking, where it comes from, who it effects and how it works. The culture that we live in, the "western world," is based upon a Euro-centered thinking that perpetuates the colonization of the native people of this land, and the continual colonization of ourselves. I am looking to the future generations and a "post colonial" or "decolonized" way of thinking and knowing that allows for knowledge from differing cosmologies and viewpoints as valid in their own right, without having to adhere to a separate cultural body for its legitimacy.

That I can be Irish, German, Scottish, Scandinavian and Cherokee, a woman who embraces all of my identities. Having the identity of American in a "post colonial" and "decolonized" world, means to me that I live in a culture that allows the Buddhists, the Jews, the Christians, the Native, African, Chinese, Mexican, Japanese, and so on, to live in their knowing and thinking without having to answer to the Euro-centered thought and behavior that this society is founded on.

This Euro-centered way of knowing and thinking is what needs to be overcome. This thinking is the foundation of our western culture. The Euro-centered root is based colonization, genocide and racism, which comes from fear. As Yoda says in Star Wars, "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering." The effects of colonization, genocide and racism have created and perpetuated a reality of suffering through a western language and consciousness that lacks in identity, integrity and connection to the life-force of the planet.

As I awaken to this colonizing way of thinking and begin lifting the veil within my own experience, a healing takes place. There first has to be a willingness for the healing to occur, surrendering to what is unknown and that which is greater than myself. With this healing process comes integrity, in how I heal and how I remember. This is what I feel is the role of recovery of indigenous mind in my experience - to assist in maintaining integrity, keeping me grounded and healing in the context of my own ancestry, and to take responsibility for where I come from and how I came to this place.

The process for insuring the integrity is prayer and ceremony. This is the foundation for recovering our indigenous mind. My ancestors involved ceremony and prayer in every aspect of daily living; whether hunting, gathering, eating, making clothing, crafts, or building ... everything involved prayer and ceremony. This has been forgotten, and so has the sacredness of daily living within western culture. When I take identity and ancestry out of my daily life, the sacredness disappears and the western culture is perpetuated. I find that the more I use prayer and ceremony in my daily life, asking my ancestors for guidance when I am doing things, the sacredness makes itself known and something is revealed to me. This is what I feel heals separation and the illusion of it.

We are all given sacred instruction to live by. If we are to survive, we must regain the earth-based knowledge of our ancestors, and that requires us facing our deepest fears and the shadow of our western culture. The work of remembrance is challenging because it is the whole mind that we are trying to regain. This means that we cannot leave out most of reality and succeed. It requires a deep commitment to face ourselves, and this can only occur in the right moment. If we do this, our identity and power will be returned. It is up to us, as individuals, if we to are embark on this critical piece of work.

Paula NoŽl, Ph.D. is a recent graduate of the Integral Studies Traditional Knowledge Degree at CIIS. She lives locally in Portland writing articles and is translating her dissertation into a book. She can be reached at: 503.285.7011, email: