Jul 29, 2017 - Gentrification is NOT the new Colonialism

A little while back, I was attending a rally in Seattle when I saw a some folks holding signs that said, “Gentrification is the new Colonialism”. My first thought was, “That’s funny, I must have missed the memo stating that the old colonialism had ended.”

I walked over to the group holding the signs and said, “I didn’t realize that settler colonialism had ceased to exist to make way for a new colonialism.”

They responded with just a confused look.  So, I simply let them know gentrification, a term coined by British sociologist Ruth Glass to describe the influx of middle-class families into lower income neighborhoods displacing some residents in London in the 1960’s, is absolutely horrible and is driven by classism and capitalism, and in many cases racism as well, and certainly needs to be addressed and fought against, but it is not colonialism.

I shared with them how we all were standing on Duwamish land and educated them on where numerous Duwamish long houses existed for thousands of years prior to Euro-settler colonization.

I shared with them how Seattle’s first government passed an ordinance that expelled and banned Native peoples from the city. A twisted and sick irony given that they named the city after Chief Sealth of the Duwamish and Suquamish who in fact had saved the first Euro settlers from both starvation and from neighboring Tribes who did not want them settling in their lands. Following the passage of the ordinance, Euro settlers set out and burned down some 100 Duwamish long houses in which thousands of Duwamish peoples were living in.

I shared this to remind them that no matter how expensive rents increased in their neighborhoods and no matter where in Seattle they may end up moving to, it was all Duwamish land.  Lands, waterways and resources in which they had occupied for tens of thousands of years and had been systematically, and force-ably, been removed and keep from. That is colonialism and that system of settler colonialism continues to exist and plague our collective Tribal communities and homelands to this day.

After sharing that encounter, I heard back from other Natives across Turtle Island who had encountered and experienced similar experiences where they lived.

The group Savage Feminism best summarized and vocalized the shared frustration many felt in that non-Native peoples simply did not understand, let alone give acknowledgement too, both the historical and on-going legacy of settler colonialism.

They write, “DECOLONIZATION IS NOT A METAPHOR. Gentrification is a symptom of colonialism, but not colonialism itself. Reasserting that gentrification is (the new) colonialism is not only grossly incorrect, but it is also extremely anti-native/anti-indigenous, as colonialism still exists and all non-native people continue to occupy indigenous lands that native people CONTINUE to be dispossessed from.

Even people experiencing gentrification still have more access to indigenous homelands than the people whose ancestors have lived on them for tens of thousands of years do. Saying gentrification is the new colonialism in any way is an act of anti-native violence, period, and specifically erases the indigenous people who belong to that land and have a right to it (and a history longer than the settler state that takes priority) more than anybody. I’m not even going to argue about it with anyone.

If gentrification activism doesn’t center the original dispossession, genocide, & removal of the indigenous population from that land (and work with that community in reclamation) it will NEVER be a decolonized act, it will NEVER be liberatory, it will NEVER NOT be anti-native, and the fight against it will NEVER be successful.

How do you end land dispossession in a state founded specifically on the genocide and disappearance and removal of its indigenous population? You don’t. How do you all act surprised when it happens to you and play pretend like you’re the “new and improved” indigenous population but not give a shit when it happened to native people for 500+ years?

Most of it is just co-opting of the native experience & struggle while simultaneously erasing us, period. There HAS to be accountability and social repercussions for this kind of violence against native people, regardless of who you are.”

So activists, please just stop with the “Gentrification is the new Colonialism” bumper sticker sloganeering and understand your role as a settler colonizer too. Heed the advice and words of Savage Feminism and work to support Native peoples in the “center[ing] the original dispossession, genocide, & removal of indigenous population[s]” and lets work towards true acts of decolonization.

by Wakíƞyaƞ Waánataƞ (Matt Remle- Lakota)

Last Real Indians