As a term, decolonisation is a complicated concept to grasp. On one hand it signifies the very act of breaking free from a way of thinking, of conceptualising the world signified by oppressive power structures, that have benefited Western hegemony on behalf of the discrimination of indigenous peoples around the world. As such decolonisation represents the reclamation of lands, of languages and of the establishment of numerous self governing bodies working with and for an indigenous group from within. Decolonisation then manifests itself in a multitude of different shapes, ranging from something as simple as the reclamation of a parent’s name, to the establishment of immersion schools, to media channels operating on terms laid down by indigenous groups and ultimately to declare independence, both physically, mentally and symbolically from a colonial power.
On the other hand decolonisation as a term has been hijacked by scholars and politicians alike and is frequently used to institutionalise the actual process of decolonisation in terms laid down by an academic sphere ruled by the very hierarchies indigenous peoples seek to be decolonised from. Decolonisation is frequently represented as something academic, and often confused with a Western representation of postcolonialism, when the truth is that decolonisation is what happens in our communities on a daily basis, far away from an academic Ivory Tower. To settler communities, decolonisation is an interesting debate to be had over a glass of white w(h)ine, to the rest of the world, decolonisation is life. Decolonisation cannot thus, and should not be compared to any other human rights struggle, by doing so the point of decolonisation is lost to and appropriated not to mention distorted by the very discourse it seeks to challenge. To quote E. Tuck and K.W. Yang(1), ‘decoloni[s]ation is not a metaphor’.
It would, as far as I am concerned, perhaps be more apt to define this era of opposing interests as on one hand fiercely neo-colonial and on the other as decolonial, rather than postcolonial; postcolonial as a term is frequently misinterpreted as a closure, as people declaring colonialism as a thing of the past, whereas decolonisation suggests an ongoing struggle to destabilise a colonial hierarchy, which to this day seeks to take over indigenous lands and dehumanise its inhabitants by declaring any life-style which doesn’t conform to Western ideas of civilisation as belonging to the Stone Age. This becomes particularly true if we turn our eyes to impoverished indigenous communities, living in what to the settler seem like non-traditional communities. To this day, an indigenous person is only truly comprehensible to the settler if they conform to the settler’s ideas of indigeneity, and this in turn leads to the complete and utter lack of respect and compassion shown towards indigenous communities living outside of the wilderness which defines the settler’s indigenous caricature.
Two examples of this; when Canadian First Nations and Inuit communities asked for fairer prices on food and catastrophe support to prevent a disaster of epic proportions last winter, the majority of the Western world remained silent, and those who did speak opposed the ‘hand-outs’ as these seemed ‘contradictory to an indigenous life-style’; all this while completely neglecting to acknowledge the structures that have led to modern day indigenous communities being reliant on government support.
Similarly, in the last decade, when the G|ana and G||wi Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve started to voice their demands to have their right to live in their ancestral homelands respected by the Botswanan government who had forcibly evicted them to camps where starvation, AIDS and suicide constituted parts of everyday life, the government refused, and claimed that the Bushmen had ceased to be indigenous on account of a) living in a post-colonial nation and b) because they were using ‘modern tools and equipments’ alongside traditional hunting gears. When the Bushmen ceased to be comfortably indigenous in the sense that they could be considered indistinguishable from the flora and fauna of the state – this was the case in Australia until not all too long ago, and to this day, the Australian 2$ coin shows the profile of an aboriginal elder, surrounded by other ‘characteristic examples of Australia’s wild-life’ – the settler ceased to consider them indigenous in order to thus facilitate a further dehumanisation of them.
Today decolonisation has become one of the most important tools in an indigenous person’s survival kit. Western society has worked hard to disconnect us from our own communities by denying us a sense of history, language and belonging – this all forms parts of the colonial process which seeks to replace our identities with those of the settler – and we will remain colonised for as long as we internalise the rhetoric used by settlers to dehumanise and disarm us. In accepting identity criteria imposed by the settler government as having more power than our own communities’ definitions of community belonging, in not questioning the rhetoric which claims our children will be better off learning the settler language first or indeed instead of our indigenous languages, we internalise the colonisation process. By accepting colonial hierarchies as if not true, then at least as static and unchangeable, we allow them to destroy ourselves. By reclaiming that which was stolen from us, by opposing and disproving the discourse which paints us as unreal lest we remain powerless stereotypes of something that is now long gone and never truly existed in the first place, we empower our communities and lead them on a road to recovery.