Jan 17, 2014 - Reclaiming Ancestral Ways in the Spirit of Crazy Horse, By renee holt

For readers who have been privileged and completed a higher education, you’re aware of what it’s like go through a formal education system that does not celebrate or encourage Indigenous lifeways. If anything, in samurai fashion one has “to adapt or die” in the academy. As a result, we can find ourselves isolated and somewhat disconnected from home AND academic circles. I am writing this for our home community members with the intent of introducing to them that fancy word called “decolonization.” The word itself is fancy and I think it’s important that we share more about what decolonization means, because when or after it’s broken down, really it’s not all that fancy. If anything decolonization is layered. What I will attempt to do is talk story about “decolonization” so that our elders and youth (who are our leaders) can know how they are decolonizing.
That fancy academic word is word play for academics who talk or work with white people regularly and a good reminder, in my opinion, of how we actually don’t use that word when we’re out and about in our home communities. When we use it, who are we using it for exactly? I felt inspired to write about this word “decolonization” for us Natives who work/run/live/hide out on the Rez day whether that’s day in and day out or whenever.

Recently one of my younger sisters asked me what I was writing my dissertation on, after I explained this long winded story, she point blank asked: “What does “decolonization” mean and what does it have to do with us?” As I sat there with a blank stare over our morning tea and coffee, I knew she was holding me accountable and reminding me to stay connected to who we are and the community we come from. Humbled by my lil sister, I knew that was the creator talking.

For the fancy skins, I know this is nothing short of a Yawn for you. In fact you may even think it’s not relevant, however, when we all sit down and think about it, especially when we attend ceremony, let’s be real, decolonization is a hang-up word for white people in the academy. Exclusionary language and fluffing in academic arenas to prove how much more educated we are about their word play and/or proficient in research is actually foreign to our communities, especially when we have 13-15 year old kids committing suicide.

While contemplating what I was going to write about, the realities of unresolved historical grief brought on by colonization has continued to hover over our respective communities like a dark cloud. As I contemplated more on this word “decolonization” I worked through it so that my sister who works in Native suicide prevention and intervention could apply it, if at all possibly in some way.


For us Rezzers, when we go through the formal education system, I realize fancy words boil down to one thing and one thing only, we learn fancy words. Simply put… I have to know how to break down fancy words so that my 75 year old Aunty could understand what I am working on, but also for the youth my sister engages with and their families. To me decolonization means a couple of technical things like going to Grandma and Grandpas to reclaim ancestral ways of knowing and teachings. Another point, due to all the politics and inner strife we might experience from an administrative viewpoint, decolonization also means reclaiming our ancestral ways of governance. Our elders have oral history and are a library of archives from Coyote stories to land based knowledge that includes hunting, fishing, gathering, praying, dancing, singing, hide tanning, animal tracking, seeking weyekin, and all the many ways we practice living as Nations.


In some Rez communities, traditional forms of governance and rewriting/enforcing culturally based education modules are reinforced through language. The list is actually quite extensive when we look at decolonization using the positive reinforcing factors that indicate resilience. Decolonization is not impossible. If anything, we need to acknowledge, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse that we are slowly, ever so diligently decolonizing as we live and breathe.

When I was thinking about decolonization and how to write about it for community members living out on the stronghold aka the Rez, I realized that fancy word “decolonization” is a word we ought to become familiar with. My wish is that we educate our children AND ourselves on how we can reclaim and restore our cultural values using “decolonized” methods of teaching, healing, gathering, harvesting, and living. It’s also important to be aware that fancy words can be broken down for our Nations and the more we teach our communities about them, the more strength we gain. It’s time we stop and learn more about what a decolonization process would actually “look” like and see it’s relevance to us as Nations in the 21st Century.

The current state of our respective strongholds, i.e. the Rez is a result of over 200 years of forced assimilation and genocide. What was mandated and later forced upon us has removed our Nations from our core cultural value systems as the original People of our homelands. The cultural genocide rooted in colonial principles excluded the Indigenous voice. Today examples of current political strife and tribal conflicts as a result of the federal Indian policy efforts and assimilation are prevalent and it’s time to wake the people and reclaim our Nations.

Once upon, a long time ago I used to have a Facebook account and once posted about decolonization. It was insightful and good to read the comments that came in about what it meant to others. I learned decolonization presents itself in many shapes and forms, even non-Indigenous people can decolonize. Like any self-respecting Native (I’m really not that smart) I Googled it, the term and according to Meriam-Webster online dictionary, decolonize means to free from colonial status. Wikipedia’s definition of Decolonization refers to the undoing of colonialism, the unequal relation of polities whereby one people or nation establishes and maintains dependent Territory (courial governments) over another. It can be understood politically (attaining independence, autonomous home rule, union with the metropole or another state) or culturally (removal of pernicious colonial effects.)

As I reflected on what “Indigenous knowledge” means to me, a Native woman, I have become more aware of how we are caretakers of the land from which we were created and originate from. We are blessed with generations of ancestral knowledge that is just waiting to be tapped. The awareness opened my mind to the fact that I have the same cultural value systems as my Nimiipuu ancestors who died fighting in the Nez Perce War of 1877.

During this process, I learned that I don’t know much at all when it comes to language revitalization or passing down ceremonial knowledge when I am not participating. In the last year I was fortunate to work with a couple of giants in my community who are language guru’s in my opinion. I have also learned there was a time when the political strife that exists within our Indigenous communities did not occur as frequent or as often as it does today because our language was fluid. Without sounding too naïve regarding political strife, I am aware it occurred, however we also had leaders who were selected by elders and/or council’s that balanced a system or way of knowing. Not everybody agreed, but they respected decisions and trusted in the process.

At present, regardless of which Nation we come from, we revere our ancestors as great warriors and fierce women. We believe in the path our ancestors left for us, and are aware they led with cultural core values daily. We gather strength from that knowledge and gain deep respect and pride in knowing that we are their descendants. Historical photos of ancestors from days past fill social media today and it shows Native Pride is strong today.

The historical past of our ancestors valued leadership and was a way of life or death. Indigenous children were disciplined early on and taught how to hunt, gather roots and berries, fish, cure and tan hides, and live according to what they were instructed because on any given day it meant life or death. An enemy could swoop through at any given moment and besides that, living through harsh weather conditions necessitated following instructions. When I think about ancestors on both sides of my family tree, I know that I am a cushy Fancy Skin and appreciate the luxuries of the 21st Century.

Today, our basic needs such as health, education, housing, unemployment, hunting, gathering, and/or fishing, federal Indian policies have fallen short, but so have we! When we are negligent to the basic needs of our people, especially our elders and youth, this IS a glaring example and reality of how federal Indian policies have succeeded at dividing our communities minimizing the role of men, women, children, and elders through colonization.

In short, it’s time to reclaim our cultural traditions and languages in the name of decolonization, which in so many words also means reclaiming what is rightfully ours culturally, spiritually, and emotionally. To once again lead with the integrity of our ancestors and begin questioning government policies that divides our nations. I believe current conflicts are a result of federal assimilation policies and decolonization does not have to be an extreme process in order for it to begin.

Decolonization will in fact take time. As Nations, we may not see it in this lifetime, however, we can work towards it with the hopes that our future generations will know we fought so that they could continue to fight in the war to protect our communities. Decolonization will not be easy and will require our Indigenous communities to look more within and break down how we have been belittled, raped, annihilated, ridiculed, and abused as wards of the federal government. We will also need to unlearn the many social ills that we have internalized such as racism, domestic violence, misogyny, and disrespect of Mother Earth to name a few.

As we begin this process, to look within addresses reclaiming our ceremonies and healing the negative effects of multigenerational trauma. I believe this form of decolonization is possible and currently being practiced in some communities, however it is not called “decolonization”, it is called Ceremony.

Indigenous resistance, relevant to current tribal authorities and infrastructures that perpetuate corruption threaten our cultural values and autonomy. In the decolonization process, cultural ways of being and Indigenous knowledge systems become more pronounced and individuals begin to question years of oppression, racism, lateral violence, poverty, abuse, rape, suicide, all due to an awakening of the Indigenous awareness that somehow things must be “fixed”.

In closing, I want to leave readers with this quote from Vine Deloria, who stated, “Red Power means we want power over our own lives […] we simply want the power, the political and economic power, to run our own lives in our own way.” As mentioned earlier, Indigenous communities have been measured based on a colonial system that is not reflective of our Indigenous cultural values. Decolonization to me does not mean I need to stop watching my Los Angeles Lakers, even if Kobe needs to retire AND the OKC Thunder have Kevin Durant repping N7! I just can’t, and will not unfollow my @Lakers.

As I listen to the Kill Bill soundtrack, I also do NOT believe decolonization means hang up cell phones (no, get a two way phone and start stocking up on batteries) y’ know, so when the Zombie Apocalypse occurs, you’re prepared. In any event, closing out… Decolonization in summation means reclaiming our ancestral ways of knowing and practicing what our ancestors practiced so that we could pass that knowledge down to our future generations.

Last Real Indians