What Does Decolonization Mean? (Jacquelyn Kim)

Decolonization at its core refers very specifically to dismantling colonial structures and ideologies, addressing pervasive power balances, and the repatriation of land to Indigenous peoples. For non-Indigenous people, as defined by one guide to decolonization and indigenization, decolonization is “the process of examining your beliefs about Indigenous Peoples and culture by learning about yourself in relationship to the communities where you live and the people with whom you interact.” To truly act in solidarity with Indigenous peoples is to abandon the conception of private property, understand one’s role as a settler, and wield that privilege to actively work alongside and behind Indigenous people in dismantling colonial structures and ideologies.

However, as observed and analyzed by Tuck and Yang in their 2012 article “Decolonization is not a metaphor,” the word “decolonization” is now often wielded abstractly by non-Indigenous people to reflect a desire to improve an entity by de-centering settler perspectives and is employed without explicit contextualization regarding the struggles of Indigenous peoples. Non-Indigenous people should be cognizant of the fact that decolonization refers to a very specific process that centers Indigenous peoples and their struggles, and the word should not be appropriated and diluted for other purposes. For, no matter how important those other purposes might be, as asserted by Tuck and Yang, “[b]ecause settler colonialism is built upon an entangled triad structure of settler-native-slave, the decolonial desires of white, non-white, immigrant, postcolonial, and oppressed people, can similarly be entangled in resettlement, reoccupation, and rehabilitation that actually further settler colonialism” (1).

Furthermore, according to activists and scholars, Indigenous peoples should not aim to work within the colonial system and must aim for true decolonization and a return to “land-based indigenity” because, as Taiaike Alfred writes in A Manual for Decolonization, “Reconciliation is recolonization because it is allowing the colonizer to hold on to his attitudes and mentality, and does not challenge his behavior towards our people or the land” (11-12). Thus, non-Indigenous people seeking to support the efforts of Indigenous peoples in their fight for land repatriation must also adopt a mentality that refuses to negotiate on and submit to the terms of those placed in power within the colonial system.

Decolonization and Indigenization



  1 comment for “What Does Decolonization Mean? (Jacquelyn Kim)

  1. Paul Jouffroy
    April 11, 2020 at 4:45 am

    I am really interested by what you are saying in your blog posts. I have actually asked myself about this very issue and I find I am at a loss when thinking of how to remedy this. The colonialism you refer to is embedded in US society, within its very structure, so how decolonization possible?
    The US is built on owning land and I have real trouble thinking that the federal government would give up good land to Native Americans. They would have to buy it with their own money, which they don’t have. And that is just part of the practical level. Ideologically Indian Nations aren’t even really sovereign which is a big reason no one thinks about them. They have no real agency as their fate is actually in the hands of Congress which can actually take away their remaining land whenever they want.
    It is a head scratchier for me, do you have any thoughts as to how to do this? Or even bring awareness to the issue?

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