Wednesday, November 25, 2009

OPINION: Not Too Late to Join the Decolonization Movement

The Pencil Warrior
By Dave Wheelock

I can’t recall just now if it was for a recent birthday or as a Christmas gift that my sister gave me a tee shirt created by the legal advocacy organization Native American Rights Fund. Emblazoned across the front of the red shirt in the familiar white Coca-Cola script is the message “Fighting Colonialism at Home,” with NARF’s name beneath.
On days I wear this shirt I invariably receive compliments and knowing nods of approval from at least a few non-native folks. There are many immigrant descendants who sympathize, on one level or another, with the "plight of the red man."
Well, you can save your tears. We are all colonized now.
We live in a time when something formerly as personal as our clothing is routinely exploited as just another space for commercial promotion.
Yet turnabout is fair play.
To me the NARF shirt is not only a protest against U.S. government policies that have devastated indigenous cultures but also a general warning against a devalued kind of thinking that is preventing us - all of us – from finding solutions to our most pressing challenges.
While the mental image most contemporary non-indigenous people carry in their minds about the subjugation and control of native tribes may be dominated by epidemic disease, military operations, and unjust treaties, an equally powerful “civilizing” force has been the replacement of indigenous ways with those of the dispossessors.
The Indians not only had to be disarmed and separated from their land, but their languages, economies, and family structures, their foods, songs, symbols, and most of all their values, had to be supplanted by cultural artifacts of their oppressors, such as individualism, private property, wealth accumulation, constitutional governments, and proselytizing religions.
Academics may refer to this process as cultural imperialism; those who deal in raw power prefer to call it “soft power,” or “the battle for hearts and minds.” To a rising tide in Indian Country, it’s colonization of the mind. Over the centuries the response to cultural imperialism among Indian people has ranged from naïve acceptance to selective adoption to organized efforts to decolonize.
Although the results are yet to be determined, efforts to colonize the mind of so-called mainstream America are well under way. An intense struggle rages beneath most people’s radar.
The destruction of a nation bristling with arms can only come from within as propaganda, enabled by shallow thinking, is elevated to the level of acceptability by corporate operatives, religious zealots, and bigots. In such a world, thinking and acting are left to experts, who might tell us that sacrificing a vast number of our children and a major portion of our resources on behalf of an uncooperative tyrant halfway across the world, who himself knows better than to mock history in pursuit of an ill-defined outcome, is the only option. From this kind of fantasy it is an easy jump to believe predatory banking is the proper foundation of a prosperous national future, vast disparities between rich and poor is natural and just, worldwide leadership in incarceration rates is cause to feel secure, even though the folks on the next continent – or street – are out to get ya.
The antidote to this kind of propaganda is critical thinking. If you know someone who professes that “environmentalists are in it for the money” you can bet he or she has yet to learn how to think critically.
A critical thinker, according to City University of New York’s Ira Shor in Empowering Education, is able to “go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions” in search of deeper and more accurate truths. Critical thinking makes us aware there are usually ignored or suppressed opinions in any discussion, and demands that we “dig a little deeper” to uncover and honestly consider these facts or points of view.
Critical thinking requires humility and a realization of the need to continue learning in order to offer one’s best contribution. It is fostered by effort, not convenience; cooperation, not competition; discussion, not isolation; honesty, not pride; challenge, not entertainment.
In each instance we run a collective risk today of too much of the latter and not enough of the former. Although I can only claim beginner status as a critical thinker, I fear that history may one day record that while our civilization burned, we texted.
The most insidious forms of colonization are those that remove us from our connection with nature. The revitalization efforts being carried out today by most Indian nations include strong components aimed at reestablishing links to lands and traditional methods damaged or broken by the forces of cultural imperialism.
We should be so smart. It is an accepted fact that when a living species, which is what we are, loses its ability to interact sustainably with its environment, there’s going to be trouble – big trouble.
Most people would allow that suicide is a form of madness. Still, the countless messages urging us to submerge ourselves in a human made world keep coming. Who’s in charge? You are.
Dave Wheelock, a member of the Oneida Nation, holds a history degree from the University of New Mexico. Contact him at Mr. Wheelock’s views do not necessarily reflect those of the Mountain Mail.

1 comment:

  1. Good letter Dave -- May there come a time when no one needs to advocate for critical thinking or making important decisions based on facts that were established by an honest process.

    That time is certainly not now.