Aug 2, 2013 - Sam Is Not My Uncle, By Jimmy Lee Beason II
Decolonization, as a “theory” is a term sometimes used by Native academics and other scholarly individuals to distance themselves from the mainstream, by implying that their ideas are contrary to popular Native opinion. It is also a term used to call for some kind of “action” that leads to a promotion of learning your tribal language, learning your history, engaging your community, asserting sovereignty and advocating for an overall solution to the social ills we are thoroughly immersed in. To others, it is a pointless term that has no bearing in their lives whatsoever.
For all the definitions juggled around, I see the term as simply meaning for one to be responsible and being aware. For example, being aware of the fact that yes we have “dual citizenship” which makes us, on paper, “Americans”, which in essence making us citizens was another way for the U.S. to further erode tribal sovereignty. But do we really have to embrace this forced citizenship? We’re already citizens of tribal nations, isn’t that good enough? Must we pledge allegiance and stand in awe of the red, white and blue cloth of genocide and conquest? Uncle Sam’s boot heel is already on our neck, must we LICK the boot as well?
There is nothing written down stating that this compulsive patriotism is mandatory, other than being a social obligation spawned from an imposed military ideology, forced down our collective throats in U.S. military ran boarding schools. That is just one example of what I mean by being aware of these things we think we have to do, but in reality, don’t necessarily have to. I realize the many of us feel obligated to show respect considering the high percentage of Natives answering the “call of duty.” But we should also be aware of the fact many of our people have only done this because they see that as the only option to escape dysfunction and poverty, not necessarily unbridled patriotism. Others feel the need to explore aspects of what it means to be a man and those aspects of warrior hood. Yet, these aspects of our culture have been exploited by this military apparatus to benefit an imperialist agenda, not ours as a collective group of Native people. Ultimately their interests are served, while they continually undermine our sovereignty and criminalize aspects of our spiritual beliefs and culture. For example, hunting is a part of Native culture, but if you hunt out of season, you are thus a criminal for not conducting yourself in a manner consistent with the laws put forth by the squatter government.
I did not attend a boarding school, as so many of our relatives, but I am a present example of its intention; can’t speak our tribal language, knowledge of spiritual belief system and culture is fragmented, grew up with identity issues and I wanted to be something other than “Indian” because based on all the “Indian alcoholics” I had seen and been around I was embarrassed to be “Indian.”
Realistically, we all have to do what is needed to survive by somewhat engaging “the system”; this is something our ancestors had to reluctantly do. But today we aren’t being slapped around by so-called “missionaries” everyday (at least I hope not) and there is an opening, in a generational sense, to reclaim some things about culture that has been violated.
However, seeing the corporations are destroying the world, we as Indigenous should be striving for something better for our children and grandchildren’s sake because a system based on eating itself isn’t going to last! We don’t have to be content with the scraps our “great-white-abusive-father” throws on the ground for us. We have the intelligence to come up with better avenues to live within our land base in a fashion more conducive to our values. The only thing we seem to be lacking is the will and determination because we have been taught to be “victims” and not “survivors.” This is not to minimize those countless times we were victimized, but there is a tendency to focus on our defeats and not on the victories or those instances where we embodied the spirit of resistance for the betterment of our communities. We are infused with the strength of our ancestors, to know what to do to ensure our survival. But if you still are looking to the colonizer’s governments for some sort of resolve, then I would suggest looking elsewhere, because when the system goes down like the Titanic, we should do our best not to be taken down with it.
For example, although we are coerced to pay bills, live on the grid, drive cars and wear clothing made by other colonized people, we should strive toward being as independent as we can by moving away from utilizing “their” system; at least most of it for now. A big step toward that could be energy independence by utilizing that thing in the sky called the “sun.” I don’t think it is going anywhere anytime soon. Imagine Native homes and other buildings being fitted out with solar panels and not having to pay some energy companies the electricity bill. As it pertains to value structures that encourage maintaining the integrity of the land, alternative energy would be a way to strongly consider and pursue.
I realize that many of us might not even consider ourselves “colonized” or think there is even anything to “cry” about. Many of us embrace our fast food, gadget crazed society. Many are content. That is fine; I undoubtedly enjoy the conveniences of this world too. But we should be aware that there is a price to pay for these conveniences presently, and unfortunately it will be our grandchildren who have to fit the bill. We should be aware there are people who are going to have to live here when we’re all gone, namely our children and grandchildren. And the best we could do is put things into place to help them when the system finally implodes and those little conveniences we love so much are no longer accessible. As tribal nations, we can prepare them for the day the American government decides to get out of the “Indian business” once and for all and invokes further termination-like policies and we’ll be standing around wondering why we’re still honoring “old glory.” Because really, what is stopping them from doing what they want? Nothing at all. So we should be ready for true self-reliance and determination, and look to ourselves for the solutions to our problems; not a government that is ultimately going to perform the bidding of the largest financial contributor.
Ultimately, we can’t “go back” to the way things were. I don’t think that is exactly the idea of “decolonization.” What we can do, however, is move forward with taking care of ourselves and each other, in the best way we know how, without having to hold “Uncle Sam’s” crusty ol’ hand.
Jimmy Lee Beason II is Osage Nation, Eagle Clan. He grew up in Oklahoma and El Paso, TX. and strongly supports Indigenous rights and value systems.