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
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
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
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
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: email@example.com