The Settler Colonialism of Climate Change

Today is a beautiful late March day in mid-February, with wide blue skies and temperatures, as they have much of the winter, running over 12 degrees above normal. We celebrated Valentine’s Day by going to a favorite informal restaurant by the water for lunch.

We had dinner the other day with a much loved and respected friend, and the topics of US History and our continued warm weather came up. Our friend is very interested in the history of this country’s formation and the evolution of governance and especially the Constitution, as are many of our friends.

Now they know that I identify as Native, as has my dad’s side of the family for generations. (My mom’s side strongly identifies as settler.) In spite of this, they insist on talking to me about whatever book they are reading or research they are engaged in concerning US History. The thing is, while they will work slavery into their presentation they never include Natives.

Sadly, their myopia is more the rule than the exception. This oversight becomes more glaring when they talk about the Holocaust and the role of World War Two in the partition of Palestine and its ongoing aftermath. Somehow the genocide of somewhere between 15 and 100 million Natives in what would become North America (estimates vary wildly but there is general agreement that 99% plus of Natives were killed) remains invisible or unimportant in the context of settler colonialism and empire building.

I find this maddening, as I do a journalist telling me recently that the genocide is ancient history and we Natives should just get over it. Any attempt to explain (we should not have to) that the genocide is ongoing is routinely ignored. These are the same people who rail against Republican laws outlawing the teaching of the dark sides of American history.

As I mentioned, temperatures have been well above normal all winter, although we set record lows twice during a series of record highs, at least one more record high temperature is forecast for late this week. The same folks who gloss over the Native American genocide (Spanish folks did not fare so well either, and that, too is not spoken of) often insist that the mid-winter heat is a good thing in that they are not inconvenienced by the cold and snow. (I posted a photo from one of our three minor, and very short lived, snows.)

If we bring up the increasing instability of the northern New England forest or the burden we are leaving our kids and grandkids, they simply ignore the comment and skate on. (We are facing the death of hundreds of millions of trees and the regional disappearance of the iconic sugar maple as its just too hot and dry for them. Oh, and snow, let alone ice for skating, is non-existent.) If they mention the complete disappearance of muscles from portions of the northern Main coast and we bring up the migration of mussels up the coast in search of colder waters, or the the impact of rising sea levels on coastal organisms, they brush that off by saying the waters aren’t THAT warm and the ocean hasn’t risen THAT much.

Sadly, settler colonialism must ignore both history and our unraveling ecosystems in order to maintain the myth of Manifest Destiny. Whether they just block out the truth, or go about banning books and outlawing the teaching of the Native genocide and two hundred plus years of slavery, is different only in degree.

7 thoughts on “The Settler Colonialism of Climate Change

  1. Maddening! I have the same experience with being a Franco-American in Maine. We are 30% of the population yet our history is ignored. We have to speak up, to tell our stories. An uphill battle, that’s for sure.

    1. Hi Laurie, I used to live in Winooski, VT, which at the time was about 80% French speaking folks of Canadian descent. I loved it! The people were mostly former mill workers and the most fun, generous folks imaginable. The discrimination and degradation they endured was enraging.

  2. Here in the west, where I live, we’ve been wondering what happened to winter for many years now. When I first moved from Southern California to the Denver, Colorado area in 1992, people teased me because I didn’t have snow tires for my car, I only wore open-toed shoes, and I didn’t own a snow coat. They succeeded in scaring me. My response at the time was to let them know that “winter has been cancelled due to lack of interest.” I didn’t realize at the time how prescient that statement was. Now, more often than not, we barely have a winter. I’ve moved to the western slope of Colorado near the border with Utah. We get snow but it melts really quickly. Usually, by this time of the year, I’m preparing to plant my early spring garden, but not this year. This year has been a long, cold slog out here, in both California, Colorado, and throughout the west. Meanwhile, the eastern half of the country is wondering what happened to winter.

    1. Hi Debby, I used to live in the mountains east of Sante Fe. We had snow in June and September so a very short growing season. The monsoon was more or less dependable in the summer. Winters were variable but almost always well below freezing at night. All of that is now in great flux which is so very sad.. This is the third very mild winter here in a row, although far milder than the prior two, We had our first 3″ snow yesterday. The strange thing has been that we shattered a couple of records for cold in between many record warm days and nights. Anyway, I’m hoping that this slog of a winter has replenished your aquifers somewhat. We’ve had a good deal of rain so are out of drought, although we are told we will likely return to severe drought this summer or next. We shall see.

Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.