On Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Identity

By Val Reynoso

Christina Nadler’s Dissertation response on Settler Colonialism focused on indigenous peoples and colonialism. Two sections of the dissertation drew my attention in particular, the section on the second page and the one on the last page. On the section on page 2 titled “Exclusion,” Nadler discusses how the colonization of the African continent and the US are connected, despite Native American studies typically being centered around colonization and African studies being centered around race independent from imperialist conquests that produced and enforced these systems of oppression in the first place.

It is argued that the erasure of colonialism in discussions about Africa is due to anti-Black racism, given that Africa is always presented as being the property of Europe and therefore colonized by default. Due to this condition, Africans are socialized as being property of the settler state since their home continent never ceases to be colonized. Furthermore, the genocide and exploitation of Native American people and labor are used to justify the violent theft and occupation of Native American lands and the work of Black people is therefore not seen as labor.

Native and African people are historically rendered as tools of colonial exploitation and sources of enforced labor to benefit the white supremacist capitalist state. The refusal to recognize Africans and the African continent as victims of European imperialism also results in the erasure of Black people from conversations on indigeneity, as if Afro-descendant people aren’t also indigenous people who were ripped from their homelands which would then be occupied and exploited by white settlers. Due to this, majority of people in contemporary Western society tend to not associate indigeneity with Africans, the image of an indigenous person has the connotation of someone who is non-Black, which produces anti-Black perceptions on who is indigenous and who is not.

Indigenous is not a race, it just refers to first nations peoples not only from the Americas, but also from other parts of the world where the original people of that region were forcefully disconnected from their homelands and disenfranchised as a result. Native Americans/Amerindians are not the only indigenous people, Afro-descendants; Basque people from Basque Country, Spain; Palestinians; etc. are all groups of indigenous peoples who are repressed and deprived from the countries and/or regions they are native to.

Moreover, another section of the dissertation that drew my attention was the section on page 14 titled “Construction of Self.” This section depicts the white fragility of white settlers primarily in the US, how the white colonizers feel they must murder Native Americans and erase them from existence as much as possible in order to further avoid facing their own losses.

The white settlers projected their actions and feelings onto the Native Americans, providing a revisionist version of history by accusing them of being godless savages, uncivilized and murderers of babies; it was precisely the colonizers who were massacring Native people and their babies and genociding them in the name of Manifest Destiny, capitalism and white supremacist, Eurocentric Christianity. Said feelings result in the white appropriation of indigenous identity, a cognitive dissonance in which white people internally know they are not indigenous to the US, but an acknowledgement of that would require them to also realize their heinous crimes against Native American and African people in their imperialist conquests.

An example of white appropriation of indigenous identity would be the Nativist movement, which was brought about in the 1830s and was rooted in xenophobia and white American nationalist sentiment.

Another instance would be the white supremacist claim that Native Americans are also immigrants because of the Bering Strait theory that explicates that Native Americans migrated to the North American continent from Siberia and crossed the Bering Strait to get here, therefore ridding them of their indigeneity since they were not always here. Such a statement is representative of a failure to comprehend the complexities and meaning of indigenous identity; in reality, all humans originated in Africa, however, indigenous refers to First Nations peoples, to the first inhabitants of certain regions, which Native Americans are because they were first to inhabit North America thousands of years before Europeans set foot in the continent.

Nativist sentiment removes white people from their settler position in the US, to rid themselves of guilt of having disenfranchised and genocided another group of people to pave the way for themselves and their own aspirations.

Val Reynoso is a Politics and Human Rights undergrad, journalist and Marxist-Leninist activist.

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