The headwaters of Decolonize

Categories: Discussion, Reflections

I may be wrong in my assumption here, but it appears to me the initiative to rename the OWS,  movement originated with Johnpaul Montano’s open letter to OWS, dated October 3rd. Which in turn seems to have been initiated by the OWS “one demand” statement of Sept 22nd. I see much identical thinking when I compare Montano’s open letter with the Occupy Oakland/Decolonize Oakland proposal.  I also see a lot that is left out.  For example there is no attempt to reconcile the difference between the “colonizers” who don’t give a rat’s ass about indigenous people and the Occupy activists that may only have committed the sin of omission.
I have copied the letter and proposal inline for your enjoyment.

Decolonize Oakland: Creating a More Radical Movement

Oakland is the ancestral homeland of the Chochenyo Ohlone, an indigenous community that has no collective territory of their own and no recognized legal status or rights.   As detailed in The Memorandum of Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, which the General Assembly passed with 97% support on 28 October 2011, the Chochenyo Ohlone have survived a brutal colonial history and ongoing occupation, which makes them strong members, allies, leaders, and guides to the movement of the 99%.  In passing that memorandum of solidarity, we “declared that ‘Occupy Oakland’ aspires to ‘Decolonize Oakland’ – to ‘Decolonize Wall Street’ – with the guidance and participation of indigenous peoples.”  Let us honor that memorandum and work in meaningful solidarity to “initiate a new era of peace and cooperation that will work for everyone, including the Earth and the original inhabitants of thisland.”  Let us heed the encouragement of our native sisters and brothers, elders and youth, to choose a name that reflects the society and culture we plan to build: Decolonize Oakland.

As members of the 99%, we want to spread our message, swell our ranks, and use political language that is inclusive of our many communities.  We want to open our movement to even greater participation.  For many of us, including our local native communities, the terms ‘occupy’ and ‘occupation’ echo our experiences under colonial domination and normalizes the military occupations that the U.S. is supporting in places such as Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan.  Colonization, occupation, segregation are still active forms of violence in our communities.  Our neighborhoods exist under a police occupation.  Gentrification, which is pricing poor families out of their homes, is colonization under a new name.  Segregation continues in education, as wealthier families send their children to private schools while our public schools suffer and shrink.

This name change is not about words but about deeds.  At the now dismantled Ogawa/Grant encampment, we created a home for all, providing food for the hungry, medical treatment for the sick and injured, and counseling for those of us suffering from depression, addiction, and fear.  We offered workshops on preventing foreclosures, resisting police violence, and organizing against corporate capitalism.  We hosted healing circles and talking circles.  All of our efforts were geared at actualizing gender, economic, and racial justice.  We will continue this work whether or not we rebuild the encampment. In both words and deeds, we have been practicing decolonization at Ogawa/Grant Plaza.

Decolonization means connecting to the land and each other by growing and sharing food.  It means connecting to the traditions of our ancestors and creating new forms of authentic human connection.  Decolonization is a practice of healing from violence in forms such as slavery, occupation, and poverty.  It is about raising our children to find beauty and meaning in their cultural identities.  Decolonization means telling stories that emancipate our minds and dreams.  It is education as a practice of freedom, not a lucrative career path.

While we know that “Occupy” is the terminology used around the country to explain and unify this movement, it does not address the real issues of colonization that happened in this country and particularly to Oakland and the Chochenyo Ohlone residents of this city. For years the Bay Area and Oakland have been the birthplace of revolutionary movements and innovations in movement work.

Changing the name to “DeColonize” is an innovation that would also speak to the brilliance and community of OO to address the current issues of gentrification in Oakland and the social problems that gentrification have perpetuated as well as pay homage to our revolutionary ancestors who fought for a better, more inclusive and respectful Oakland.

We want to deepen our efforts at political transformation by using language that heals, unites, and educates our communities.  This name change signals our deep and lasting commitment to liberation and meaningful political education against corporate and capitalist violence, which are rooted in colonial relations.

The divisions that exist between the 99% and the 1% are built on colonial relations.  It is our lands, our labor, our bodies, and our voices that have been stolen; at the encampment at Ogawa/Grant Plaza and in our local neighborhoods, we have come together to decolonize our minds, restructure our relationships to oneanother, and build political institutions that meet the needs of all people.  What we are doing is decolonizing Oakland.  Let us choose a name that reflects our actions and beliefs.  Decolonize Oakland!  Liberate our communities!  Practice freedom!

Decolonize Wall Street!

Posted on October 3, 2011

Thank you for your courage. Thank you for making an attempt to improve the situation in what is now called the United States. Thank you for your commitment to peace and non-violence. Thank you for the sacrifices you are making. Thank you.

There’s just one thing. I am not one of the 99 percent that you refer to. And, that saddens me. Please don’t misunderstand me. I would like to be one of the 99 percent… but you’ve chosen to exclude me. Perhaps it was unintentional, but, I’ve been excluded by you. In fact, there are millions of us indigenous people who have been excluded from the Occupy Wall Street protest. Please know that I suspect that it was an unintentional exclusion on your part. That is why I’m writing to you. I believe that you can make this right. (I hope you’re still smiling.)

It seems that ever since we indigenous people have discovered Europeans and invited them to visit with us here on our land, we’ve had to endure countless ‘-isms’ and religions and programs and social engineering that would “fix” us. Protestantism, Socialism, Communism, American Democracy, Christianity,Boarding SchoolsResidential Schools,… well, you get the idea. And, it seems that these so-called enlightened strategies were nearly always enacted and implemented and pushed upon us without our consent. And, I’ll assume that you’re aware of how it turned out for us. Yes. Terribly.

Which brings me back to your mostly-inspiring Occupy Wall Street activities. On September 22nd, with great excitement, I eagerly read your “one demand” statement. Hoping and believing that you enlightened folks fighting for justice and equality and an end to imperialism, etc., etc., would make mention of the fact that the very land upon which you are protesting does not belong to you – that you are guests upon that stolen indigenous land. I had hoped mention would be made of the indigenous nation whose land that is. I had hoped that you would address the centuries-long history that we indigenous peoples of this continent have endured being subject to the countless ‘-isms’ of do-gooders claiming to be building a “more just society,” a “better world,” a “land of freedom” on top of our indigenous societies, on our indigenous lands, while destroying and/or ignoring our ways of life. I had hoped that you would acknowledge that, since you are settlers on indigenous land, you need and want our indigenous consent to your building anything on our land – never mind an entire society. See where I’m going with this? I hope you’re still smiling. We’re still friends, so don’t sweat it. I believe your hearts are in the right place. I know that this whole genocide and colonization thing causes all of us lots of confusion sometimes. It just seems to me that you’re unknowingly doing the same thing to us that all the colonizers before you have done: you want to do stuff on our land without asking our permission.

But, fear not my friends. We indigenous people have a sense of humor. So, I thought I might make a few friendly suggestions which may help to “fix” the pro-colonialism position in which you now (hopefully, unintentionally) find yourselves. (Please note my use of the word “fix” in the previous sentence. That’s an attempt at a joke. You can refer to the third paragraph if you’d like an explanation.)

By the way, I’m just one indigenous person. I represent no one except myself. I’m acting alone in writing this letter. Perhaps none of my own Nishnaabe people will support me in having written this. Perhaps some will. I respect their opinions either way. I love my Nishnaabe people always. I am simply trying to do something good – same as all of you at the Occupy Wall Street protest in what is now called New York.

So, here goes. (You’re still smiling, right?)

1) Acknowledge that the United States of America is a colonial country, a country of settlers, built upon the land of indigenous nations; and/or…

2) Demand immediate freedom for indigenous political prisoner Leonard Peltier; and/or…

3) Demand that the colonial government of the United States of America honor all treaties signed with all indigenous nations whose lands are now collectively referred to as the “United States of America”; and/or…

4) Make some kind of mention that you are indeed aware that you are settlers and that you are not intending to repeat the mistakes of all of the settler do-gooders that have come before you. In other words, that you are willing to obtain the consent of indigenous people before you do anything on indigenous land.

I hope you find this list useful. I eagerly await your response, my friends.

Miigwech! ( ~”Thank you!” )

JohnPaul Montano


6 Responses to “The headwaters of Decolonize”

  1. BBMW

    I stand as an ally and in solidarity with Indigenous peoples and sincerely hope that the “OWS” dialogue will change from one of occupation to decolonization. If the one demand of the movement were to be summarized in the language of decolonization, it would have implications – socially, culturally, spiritually, environmentally, and economically – leading to a holistic society that respects and sustains local peoples, cultures, and practices. This is an opportunity for deep healing and reconciliation so that we stop and never repeat our on-going “history.” Indigenous peoples offer hope, wisdom, knowledge, and leadership. Western culture needs to LISTEN. Collectively, we CAN decolonize.

  2. a_small_voice

    i think it’s pretty cool of you to share something so personal about yourself here. it’s difficult for others (who may or may not be learning disabled) to follow GA because of the very thing you mentioned. there are several distractions in that environment.

    i agree that agendas and proposals should be posted in advance. i think that the facilitation committee is getting there. they would totally welcome your help.

  3. calaverasgrandes

    I would point out that it’s 7pm Saturday night and the Agenda/Proposals for tomorrows GA at 2pm aren’t up?
    I won’t be able to attend the GA tomorrow due to work, but I would like to know what I am missing! I also think other people should have timely access to this info as well, especially if we intend to broaden this movement and involve more people.
    For example, and I hate to even mention it, I am mildly learning disabled. I have some difficulty ingesting information if there is even the slightest distraction. I know big deal, boo hoo, the GA has a PA. Still, for me, others like me, and hearing disabled It would be great to see these agenda items and such up a little more in advance. Also for some folks that can moderately read and understand spoken english, but find the back and forth of the GA confusing this would be a plus.
    As it is Agenda’s and proposals seem to be getting posted almost concurrently with the GA unfolding. Or in a few cases they are tweeted or on Facebook before they are here?

    I can offer my help in the capacity of webmaster if you just need someone to format and copy it up. As far as typing it in from notes, due to the above mentioned mild disability I take hours to type stuff in. Not my forte! I can not attend the Facilitation meetings myself to pitch in, as they are right in the middle of my workday.

  4. calaverasgrandes

    Thanks, it is vexing that proposals are often not easy to find online so that people can evaluate them beforehand. I think the decolonize/occupy issue has gotten very inflamed and emotional. I am just trying to put everything up on the table. I like what Johnpaul has to say, if it does come off a little coy. I almost wish we could postpone the vote on this until some point in the future so that offended people could put some distance between things said and hurt feelings. And that would allow us to unite behind the 12/12 action. Of course that can also be interpreted as sweeping it under the rug or a proceduralism.
    EIther way I hope people listen to each other and not just repeat their positions closed mindedly.

  5. Morning Star Gali

    Indigenous peoples have challenged the occupy language since the initial Occupy Wall Street press releases from back in July:

    “We, the people of the United States of America, considering the crisis at hand, now reassert our sovereign control of our land.”

    Occupy Wall Street Press Release:
    “We, the people of the United States of America, considering the crisis at hand, now reassert our sovereign control of our land.”

    It was never your land.
    It was never “our” country.
    Decolonize your heart! Free the land!