2017-11-08 / Voices of the People

Trying to remove ‘colonialism’ from our minds


Prior to the arrival of the European, our ancestors, the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) lived a thriving near-perfect society. In this day and age though, their descendants residing on the Pine Ridge as enrolled members of the federal government’s own “Oglala Sioux Tribe” are enduring life in perpetual poverty. What caused this calamity?

Was it because the ancient cultures and languages of the North American continent became old and useless? It was certainly not God’s intervention. This destruction resulted from an earthly papal belief that God chose the Caucasian to enslave, kill, and dominate all other races of the world. Actually, this was used to justify their insatiable greed for material wealth.

Poverty is a demoralizing experience. Many years ago, I asked what would happen if state welfare benefits were banned on the reservation. Many of my native classmates were horrified that I would even think of such a thing. My comment had touched the dependent nature of our existence. In the long run though, if such a thing were to be carried out, it would beneficial for everyone.

The state would save money and it would move us toward that autonomy that many have been incessantly pining. Then there are a few who are still looking to a coup d’état or removal of this “tribal” government in favor of traditional government. Anyway, as a group of natives, we are much too acclimated to this government-sanctioned dependency and most prefer to leave things as they are. On the other hand, I believe some kind of socioeconomic change is inevitable simply due to that fact that Indian people are not “free” in any sense of the word. The new colonial power tried by military force to eradicate natives and then shifted to a hostile self-serving diplomacy to dominate. England and other European nations used such policies to control and influence developing nations.

Anyway, I heard the word “de-colonize” several times in local discussions and it stuck in my mind. Since I did not totally understand it’s meaning, I went to my old dictionary (Webster’s, 1998) and found it doesn’t list such a word. I found “colonize” defined as “to start a colony or colonies.” So, I’m assuming “decolonize” means the opposite of starting a colony.

America gained its independence in a most violent manner. India gained its independence by peacefully coercing England to withdraw its rule from the country. Can one even imagine congress withdrawing its power over Native America? We know that is not going to happen as long we have land and natural resources corporate America wants.

At any rate, I will say that to get out of this dependency and poverty, we must first “decolonize” individually. It is at one’s discretion as to how decolonization occurs. Certainly, persistently lobbying congress for more money to develop our reservation economy and political structure will not produce the desired results. We’ve done this for more than 80-plus years and we are still in the same situation. The “de-colonization” process must begin with each individual through awareness. As Isaac Giron stated in his article, Decolonize your Mind, “decolonization should be a process of changing the way we view the world.” He also defines this word as “freeing a country from being dependent on another country.”

The late Frantz Fanon, a Martinique born Afro-Caribbean psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, and writer also wrote “Imperialism [colonialism] leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our minds as well.” He has influenced anti-colonial and national liberation movements in his time.

De-colonize, as used in those local discussions, seemed to refer to this process. So, in that sense, one must acknowledge those features that define the new colonial culture. For example, speaking English only supports colonialism while bilingualism is step away from that. An absolute decolonization condition is to know one’s own culture and language.

I thought about our youth and wondered if they even know what “colonize” means. More than likely, our younger generations do not comprehend the sting of having everything destroyed and/or taken away. Maybe, as they get older and their awareness of the world becomes broader, they will be able to “see” it.

It wasn’t until the 1990s when I became abruptly aware of the historic plight of our ancestors in the path of European colonization. I am now aware of the systematic obliteration of our language, culture, history, family unit, customs, government, our belief system, and just about everything that meant anything to us, the surviving descendants of the ancient Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires).

Colonization, let alone de-colonization, is certainly not taught in any of our elementary schools. In fact, our modern-day schools on the Pine Ridge originated from the colonist’s extreme assimilationist policy (Kill the Indian, save the man), which is a primary part of its occupation effort. Thus, we have been taught a discriminatory and biased American history.

So, nearly everything we associate with today is not indigenous. In fact we have very little left that originates from the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) culture. I am referring to the fact that our so-called “tribal” government, the English language, holidays, and even the names “Sioux” and “Indian” were created by the colonizer to detach us from our past and our identity and thus control us.

Anyway, to truly understand what de-colonization means, one must understand what colonization entails. Basically, it refers to the economic and political domination of one nation over another by establishing power via direct political administration (Department of Interior/Bureau of Indian Affairs).

In other words, colonialism today incessantly transforms nearly every facet of the ancient Oceti Sakowin culture into the new industrial culture. The need for freedom is universal. Add greed for land, natural resources, power, material wealth, slaves, and the spread of their religion (s) and you have colonization.

The first and foremost realization to achieve is that our ancestors struggled for centuries to create a very practical society. It took me many years but I’ve come around to appreciating the beauty of that ancient culture and I would devote my life to help recover it.

So, in the wisdom of our ancestors and for the sake of our future, we must take the best from both cultures and build a new path for our youth and discard the bad while doing so. We must realize that no matter what we do today, we can never be White.

(Ivan F. Star Comes Out, POB 147, Oglala, SD 57764; 605-867-2448; mato_ nasula2@

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