The Extractive Ideology of Settler-Colonialism

A chilly, damp morning. Crocuses are up in a few yards and a snowstorm may arrive Monday night. I’m in and out of the art studio and my sound and photo space, and continue to spend too much time sitting before a computer. This is at least partially due to my enrolling in the second half of the synth course…..

We are continuing to chat with friends about the unraveling of our body politic, and I continue to be frustrated with the lack of historical contexts in those conversations.

The other day the conversation turned to the evils of the Republican party, the virtues of the Dems, and the importance of resisting the rise of anti-democracy forces. I am afraid there is less difference between the two parties than our friends imagine, a condition that has inexorably worsened since the end of the presidency of Jimmy Carter. 

As we approach the climate, ecosystem, resource depletion, and robotic displacement cliffs, and the immense shifts they will create, it is useful to notice that both parties share an ideology of extraction to enhance private wealth at the expense of the collective good. Whether the continued use, and subsidy of, fossil fuels, the deregulation of public media, support for unchecked automation, or the monitorization of the Internet, they are more in agreement than not. Indeed, both parties are well to the right of the international center even as the Dems position themselves as liberal in comparison to the Republicans. Our present two party system appears to me to be a vast shell game. 

(The Indigenous peoples of the Americas have long understood, if imperfectly, that all organism are “people” and that one can tell a lot about a culture by the way it treats other species. As the Sixth Great Extinction accelerates we see both parties’ near total disregard for the lives of other species. Thus we should not be surprised at word this week that the norther New England forest ecosystem is unstable and likely to collapse.)

It is also important to place our “democratic” structures in the context of slavery and the genocide of Native America, which is ongoing. (Estimates of Native deaths range from 15-100 million, but experts agree that 99%+ of Natives died during the European invasion.) The Spanish population of the Southwest did not fare well either. One can argue that both the Revolutionary War and the consolidation of power marked by the production of the Constitution were part of a wider project to clear and claim Native lands. (Manifest Destiny required a wilderness devoid of humans…..)

To a lesser extent antisemitism, anti-Catholicism, and a host of other marginalization projects regarding immigrants served to disenfranchise large groups to the economic benefit of “settler” identified in-groups.  (The near complete erasure of these histories from discussions of constitutional law is telling.)

While relatively recent history has seen the theoretical inclusion of more people under Constitutional law, these apparent gains have tended to obscure the continued theft of Native lands and water, the irradiation of Native lands in the southwest and northwest, the ongoing contamination of Native food sources, and the general use of marginalized communities (especially those of color) as repositories for environmental contaminants. It is also worth noticing that the use of imminent domain continues to impact socially impacted communities disproportionally. Additionally, gains by women, persons of color, and other socially impacted groups are clearly now endangered.

We are witnessing what my Native elders, including my father who was a lifer in the Air Force, always told me would happen. We are being shown clearly the underlying racism, greed, and sociopathy of what passes for leadership in our country and Canada. Even the Republican attempt to erase Black, Hispanic, and Native history and experience is simply the blatant execution of a project that has been ongoing since the beginning of the conquest. (The would-be colonists used biological warfare to clear Native populations in the Northeast from the  earlies days of the colonial enterprise.) 

(This morning brought news of new Israeli atrocities against Palestinians. We are a Jewish-Native family and support Israel’s right to exist. We do not support the Israeli government’s settler-colonial abuses, although both the Dems and the Republicans continue to do so. To make things even murkier, the Christian Right actively supports Israel while fomenting the rise of new anti-Semitism which impacts us, our family, and many of our friends.)

Sadly, Native, black, and Hispanic communities have, throughout the history of this country, been forced to creatively resist tyranny. We call the act of surviving the ongoing onslaught, “survivance.” Play, creativity, the arts, family, spirituality, and community are all essential tools for survivance, as is the experience of joy. When the tyrants steal joy all seems lost. 

Our prophies have long said that the extractive, genocidal settler project will self-destruct. Finding ways to navigate the growing danger and chaos is essential. Let’s keep talking. 

4 thoughts on “The Extractive Ideology of Settler-Colonialism

  1. Thoughtful writing: thank you. Our views dovetail, in that I recently wrote about how the Florida governor has taken steps to revise history, resulting in the College Board caving, and altering the Black Studies AP curriculum. Perhaps the most illuminating thing I have learned as an elder is that history matters. Your essay notes that traditionally Native Americans saw/see the connection between themselves and the creatures, flora, fauna, and more. This is a single, powerful juncture (in a complex vortex) but cannot be overlooked, especially as you note re: climate change. If we can share this one thing–this critical value–that we are all related, interrelated and interdependent. Thank you for sharing.

    1. HI Cynthia, Thank you. As the society gets progressively crazier I find myself grasping at small openings to try to make some small difference. Somehow the idea that we are all related and must be care for and about is anathema to the body politic. Strangely, my experience is that even many liberals reject that as a tenant of their beliefs. I have also learned that history matters; sadly, it took me a very long tome to grasp the ferocity with which it can be erased. I owe my elders and apology for that, although I imagine they wouldn’t want one. They would just want me/us to take care of ourselves and each other. Be well.

  2. Yes, survivance. It’s a word we Francos use. It can be discouraging to see the destruction all around us. I try to remain hopeful. Somehow, giving up doesn’t seem like a good alternative.

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