Decolonizing Self and Nature: Part Two

 For Native people around the world, land and Self are in many ways inseparable. Pachamama gives us birth and our bodies return to her in death. Aspects of our spirit may live in the landscape after this life, and, for some cultures, place offers continuity as Spirit reincarnates through many forms. Thus, our lands are essential to Self, a concept seemingly incomprehensible to the colonizers.

I believe both Narrative Therapy and traditional healing systems, including shamanism, are effective in challenging the domain of colonialism. They privilege the voices of lived experience, and relationship to the land, while acknowledging the ongoing harm caused by the colonial enterprise. Other voices also contest the authority of the colonial worldview.

writing for Tar Sands Solidarity, attended a conference in Oxford, England, and discussed the comments of Crystal Cardinal-Lameman and Chance McPherson ( Beaver Lake Cree) concerning Tar Sands development.

It was an honour too, not least because Crystal Cardinal-Lameman and Chance McPherson had travelled from Alberta, Canada – their ancestral home – and what is now the heart of the colossally destructive tar sands industry.

Their testimony was at once incredibly personal and universally relevant. Crystal shared with us the wisdom of her uncle and former Beaver Lake Cree Chief, Al Lameman, who had spoken to her of how the consequences of this industry “Will one day come for all of us – regardless of our age, gender race or creed.”

It was clear to everyone present that it took a great deal of strength for the pair to speak about the “slow industrial (- and I would add cultural -) genocide” that is taking place within their territories; territories that are meant to be protected in law by Treaty Rights. It is exactly this strength, however, that has characterised the Beaver Lake Cree’s ongoing struggle with the gargantuan industry.

The Theft of Land and Self is a primary strategy of colonialism and its allies (including Genocide, Abuse, and Greed). Yet, this strategy denies that all inevitably returns. The colonial enterprise ignores the suffering incurred by land based people, the health effects of pollution, and the importance of other species in the global ecosystem. The fate of Native people will eventually be the fate of all people.

Frauke Decoodt, quoted by LookInside, writers about the challenges facing the people of Tzalbal, Guatemala,  who, although they are indigenous to the area which includes their villages, were recently informed by the Guatemalan government they are living on state property. (The land was seized by legislative decree in 1984, during the “Dirty War” that resulted in the deaths or exile of  hundreds of thousands of Indigenous Guatamalans ).

Tzalbal, a village of fourteen settlements, is located in Guatemala, deep in the Cuchumatanes mountains. Tzalbal is home to the Ixil, a native Mayan people. The Ixiles live in the municipalities of Nebaj, Chajul and Cotzal, in the northwestern department of Quiché. Tzalbal lies the municipality of Nebaj.

The villagers had no idea that their land had been nationalised in 1984 – a fact that was concealed from them for 28 years. They are perplexed, shocked, and angry. In the 1980s the area was scorched with genocide and state repression and the majority of Ixiles were forced to flee their land.

The residents of Tzalbal comprehend, only too well, the intimate relationship between land and conflict. Patricio Rodriguez is only 66 years old but the wisdom of age and the harsh experience of poverty and conflict are inscribed on his face. Patricio points out that their present conditions are “because of the war, the repression, the massacres of the government in the eighties. So many years they burned our houses, they killed our animals and destroyed our milpas [small plots of maize, the staple food of the Mayans]. Because so many people had been killed we fled to the mountains to save our lives. The army then thought this land was abandoned, empty. But we deserted our land because of the repression.”

 How often individuals and communities are forced to abandon Self (including communal lands) in the face of institutionalized violence, much of which was traditionally, or continues to be, condoned by the Church. Many Native people who have come to North America fleeing violence in South and Central America find they have not escaped the danger, both to themselves and to their friends and family back home.   The Rev. Norman W. Jackson has written about the Church’s collaboration with colonialism, and the imperative to decolonize Christianity, from a Native perspective. The essay from which the following was taken was sent to me by my friend Richard:

It is now well-known that the Western church interpreted much of Scripture to legitimate the missionary expansion from the 1500s to the end of World War II. The narrative of the conquest of the promised land was easily translated into the doctrine of Manifest Destiny which led to the decimation of the indigenous population of the Americas. If the natives of this continent could be pictured as Canaanites then the Americas could be seen as the promised land, and it became a Christian duty to drive out the native peoples without troubled conscience. To this day, the genocide of Native Americans lives in a pre-dawn setting of awareness, and evokes little bad conscience in the dominant culture…

Many peoples who have been colonized, who have through the years internalized what the colonizers said about them, are now in the process of “decolonizing their soul.” This means recovering the richness of their own traditions, working to rid themselves of the racist thought patterns the colonizer forced on them, and to grasp how contemporary culture, informed by colonial patterns, continues to victimize the colonized.

 Clearly, the call to decolonize our lives has been made. I think Michael White understood Narrative Therapy to be essentially a decolonizing process. (He often seemed to suggest we consider Depression, Abuse, and Anorexia as colonizing processes.) As such, it acknowledges the values, concerns, and Self of those who seek the therapist’s aid. Narrative Therapy, at its best, also acknowledges the bonds between persons and landscape, and the mythic stories that unfurl in those landscapes. Like shamanism,  it is an innately spiritual undertaking, creating space for soul, and acknowledging suffering.

2 thoughts on “Decolonizing Self and Nature: Part Two

    1. Gerard, Thank you for reporting on the challenges facing First Nations people. There is such a need for accurate, compassionate reporting, that provides hope by spotlighting the resiliency of Native peoples and the human spirit.

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