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Listening to Native Voices: Fighting Against White Settler Colonialism

November 25, 2015


Last week I attended an event that was centered around the urban experience of Indigenous people living in the greater Grand Rapids area.

The event was beautiful and moving. A drumming circle began the evening, followed by a welcoming and explanation of the significance of the drumming circle and the sage ceremony that followed.

However, the rest of the evening was filled with local members of the Native American community speaking about their lived experience of growing up under settler colonialism. Several of those that spoke addressed the issue of identity and self-esteem. One of the Native speakers addressed being sent off to a boarding school at an early age, where he was not only separated from his family, but was not allowed to speak his own language. This practiced of forceable removing Native children from their communities to be place in state-run or religious schools has impacted thousands of indigenous children within the US, a topic that is addressed in the book Kill the Indian, Save the Man: The Genocidal Impact of American Indian Residential Schools.51qLW4HW3NL._SX354_BO1,204,203,200_

The Native speakers talked about the trauma of being in a boarding school, as well as the trauma of growing up in a society that did not value them or saw them in some strange, media created stereotype. Those that spoke made it clear that much of their adult life has been dedicated to reclaiming their indigenous heritage and identity.

Another issue that was raised dealt with the lack of resources available to the Native community in West Michigan. The number of native people experiencing poverty is high and the lack of resources for education and autonomy are staggering. One example of this was when people talked about Lexington school being closed in the 1990s. The closing of that school was devastating, since Lexington school provided a space and resources for people to build community, to meet some material needs and for elders to share their language with members of the community who grew up not knowing their own language.

Towards the end of the community dialogue, the question was posed by a White audience member. This question always seems to come up for White people no matter what. This person asked, “How can I support you and your community?”

Several from the Native community responded to this question. One response had to do with how Native people have always dealt with Euro-Americans who wanted to be in support of Indigenous struggles. The response was, if you truly want to support us and fight with us, then we consider you part of the community.

Other responses were:

  • Learn about Native history and struggles, particularly that of Native people from the Great Lakes region
  • Listen to Native voices
  • Be a part of Native struggles, but on their terms
  • Fight against White Settler Colonialism

Learn Native History and History from an Indigenous Perspective

Some suggested sources on this topic are:978-080705783-4

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life, by Winona LaDuke

Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of Independence, by Vine Deloria Jr.

A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present, by Ward Churchill

Unsettling Ourselves: Reflections and Resources for Deconstructing Colonial Mentality

Walleye Warriors: An Effective Alliance Against Racism and for the Earth, by Rick Whaley and Walter Bresette

The Canary Effect (film) –

Listening to Native Voicesimages

This means that those of us who are Native should shut up and listen to Native voices, especially when we are at events or meetings. It also means that we should never speak on behalf of Native people.

Be a part of Native struggles, but on their terms

There is no shortage of current Indigenous struggles. A few of them worth mentioning here are the Idol No More Movement, which has a Michigan chapter. There are also the Indigenous Environmental Network , Indigenous Action Media and Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory and Practice.

Being part of these struggles is vital, but it is equally important that we engage in solidarity as determined by Indigenous people. Here are some good guidelines, as presented by Waziyatawin:

  • The movement for Indigenous liberation is a radical political struggle
  • Being an ally does not mean signing up for Indigenous spirituality
  • We need strong, solid individuals who are not floundering with their own spiritual struggles
  • This is not a struggle for those people who believe it’s trendy to support Indigenous causes—we are in it for the long haul
  • You can find Indigenous individuals who will support any position you want them to support—that is a direct result of the colonial experienceno-thanks-no-giving
  • Those indigenous individuals who encourage non-Indigenous participation in ceremonies are often (not always) those who are attempting to curry favor with white women, or white people for their own purposes
  • Because this is a political struggle, it is essential to work in solidarity with critically minded and politically engaged Indigenous individuals
  • Remember that decolonization is a process for both the colonizer and the colonized

Fight Against White Settler Colonialism

For those of us who want to engage in solidarity with Indigenous struggles, we have to make our work about fighting against and dismantling the structures that make up White Settler Colonialism. A good resource on what it means to do anti-colonial work, we suggest you check out Everyone Calls Themselves An Ally Until It Is Time To Do Some Real Ally Shit.


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