Wasted Energy on the Battles Against Appropriation and Racism: Indigenous Systems are Resistance

“Let’s raise our children to fall in love with indigenous systems rather than attempting to destroy colonial systems from within.”

I say this because our babies need to know what is important. They need to know what will truthfully keep us alive in the long run. I say this because everything we are fighting in colonial systems rather than building up in our own systems is an example of us wasting our own resources. I say this because I do not want my grandchildren to think that a “dream job” at the UN is worth more than knowing how to fend for themselves on their homelands.

We spend more time & energy fighting appropriation, oppression, and racism in the colonial structures that they are built and thrive upon than we do re-learning and rebuilding Indigenous systems.

Imagine if we put the energy that we use in trying to convince, change, challenge, and confront colonial systems and instead used that very same energy on reestablishing, restoring, revitalizing, and regenerating indigenous systems. 

The battle against things like appropriation, racism, what the government is, or is not, doing in regards to mmiw, residential school documents/stories, and notions of having indigenous pre-requisites in universities, what a government official said about indigenous peoples, and girls wearing headdresses at music festivals are all things that can be deemed as injustices, offensive in nature, forms of inequality, and downright discrimination. 

However, we fight and battle these things with all of our energy, some of us even becoming emotionally exhausted because of it. We even allow it to impact our mental health to the point of anxiety, depression, and even suicide. We fully drain ourselves all in the name of justice and equality.

The truth is: this energy that we are utilizing for these injustices could be used for so much more for our people. 

Yes, it is important to stand up against something wrong, to make ourselves heard, to be present to the realities of what colonialism is attempting to do around us. But we must spend more energy on our own systems. 

Because truthfully, we cannot and will not change colonialism. Colonialism will always act like, operate as, thrive upon, and respond as exactly that. Colonialism. So why do we expect any different or act surprised, infuriated, or dismayed when colonizers act like Sir John A Macdonald and Christopher Columbus? Anything that originates or was created by colonizers, will carry all the same characteristics as said colonizer. Colonialism will always be colonialism

There should only be two exceptions as to why one fights this hard against any of these aforementioned injustices. 

1. When it defies or undermines treaty in any way, shape or form, or 

2. When it leads to an unjust death.

Otherwise, we must begin to think about conserving and preserving and utilizing our energy and resources into indigenous systems. Whether that be indigenous education, natural law, land based learning and loving, traditional kinship and parenting, language revitalization, and medicinal health. 

If we cared as much about any one of these areas as we do when a settler commits a social and political injustice on our people, oh my how we would flourish.

If a Twitterstorm that lasted days on end based on “practices healthy indigenous families follow” or “what a land based school can do for our children,” rather than “how the colonizer fucked up again, and I am so shocked, and here’s what I have to say about it,” our systems would make a comeback so prominent, that our grandchildren would never have known the colonized lives we are living today. 

If indigenous activists practiced land-based relationship building and deconstructing nepotism in communities rather than placing all their energy in a rally against a new and improved “founding father” and their legislation, then our babies would grow up knowing that the best way to grow up is with mud on their boots from the knowledge of how to grow their own food and valuing the sanctity of kinship.

The peculiar thing about indigenous peoples fighting with all their life force in order to gain some form of respect or a place in colonial systems such as with a case of appropriation, or even mandatory indigenous studies classes in academia. The very things we are battling are also what we are fighting so hard to be a fair and equal part of.

It’s like we are saying “hey! we hate colonialism…..but we want equal and fair participation with colonialism and all the systems colonialism has created. And we also want to be recognized by the colonizer as an Indigenous person in their spaces. Because that means that I am respected. And therefore makes me feel worthy.”

Holy shit!

Let’s change this rhetoric to “hey! colonialism is destroying our lives. Let’s no longer be a part of it. We need to rebuild our relationship with our lands and families and all the systems our people and lands created. And we only need to be recognized by our own. Because that means I’m part of a sovereign nation.”

Now, when an action of the colonizer completely disrespects treaty or takes the life of our own, that is when knowing how and when our systems as indigenous peoples operates would be the most effective response.

For example, if they attempt to take away our right to education (in Treaty it is described as the “power of the pen”) which, let us clarify here, is not academia. It is simply, education. Academia is the colonizers watered down, ego-induced version of education. Education is what our right is. 

So the colonizer attempts to control how we choose to educate our people and says “you can’t do that. That’s not academics. It’s against our academic system. You will not graduate from the education system. You also owe us 1500 dollars for attending our classes. Because you can’t afford it, you are kicked out.” If we knew our systems thoroughly, and practiced them as such, we could reply with “we are our own people. Your laws are irrelevant to us. And we will educate our own as stated in treaty, as long as the sun shines, grass grows, and water flows. Without what the colonizers created: academia. We will learn based on the land and based on the knowledge of the ones from long ago. Indigenous Education is free. Colonial academia is not.” Our children and young people would then begin relearning, reestablishing, restoring, revitalizing, and regenerating indigenous systems rather than losing self-esteem and self-worth due to being on the front lines of colonial academia.

The reality is there has been thousands of little white girls dressing up as Indian “chiefs” for over a hundred years.
There has been an insurmountable amount of teachers and professors stating that these lands were “found,” and the cowboys never murdered the Indians and their babies.
There has been a multitude of cases of indigenous appropriation from Victoria’s Secret, to Boyden, to boutique moccasins made in China.
And because of this…
There has been hundreds of rallies and protests and runs across these lands to fight colonial legislation.

There have been countless petitions and speeches in parliament and meetings with prime ministers all in the name of equality for indigenous peoples on their own lands.
And there have been an array of articles on how and why we can become equal and gain justice in these colonial systems.

Yes. These things are great for awareness. But that’s where it ends. There is no real change when one befriends/battles colonial systems in order to attempt to achieve indigenous equality and greatness. An indigenous person battling in a colonial system simply becomes an indigenous person serving in a colonial system. 

Rather than servants to the cause they become servants to colonialism.

There was a moment in my life where I knew I no longer wanted to fight for equality and justice in colonial systems. It was when I knew I was lying to my ancestors and my grandchildren concurrently, and I felt it in the pit of my stomach. I was lying to them by thinking I could create change in colonial systems, I was lying to them by shaking hands with Stephen Harper and envisioning a better future. I was lying to them when I sat in a national office as a program officer, streamlining federal dollars to hundreds of organizations who desperately needed it for their young people, and concluded that this, right here, was what positive change looked and felt like. I was lying to them when I drilled and questioned government officials at the UN, with tears in my eyes and fear in my throat, imagining that my pleas and words would be strong enough to get these officials to deliver the equality thousands of indigenous young women needed in their communities. 

My body told me. I was lying to my ancestors and my future grandchildren. By believing. Believing that I could kill colonialism inside a colonial system.

Colonial systems continues the pattern of colonial cycles. 

Colonialism will always act like, operate as, thrive upon, and respond as exactly that. Colonialism. Colonialism will always be colonialism.

It’s time to tell truths to our ancestors and future grandbabies.

Tell them the truth. The truth being that rather than placing all of our energy in appropriation scandals, academic racism and university elitism, what MLAs and MPs said and what they did and did not do, a headdress being worn by a blond head and made in China moccasins, we must put our energy into our own systems.

Grow a garden, plant some wildflowers, and put your body on the land to maintain indigenous land based education and to begin to understand the basics of natural law. 
Learn a word or phrase a day. To rekindle your relationship with your language. To remember what it’s like to live mino bimaadiziwin. 
Spend time with an aunty, a kokum, or in another community, and learn one ailment that one plant can cure. It may be useful down the line. 

And most importantly:

Forgive your mother. Or your father. Even if they’re dead. Even if it’s during the moments of their last breath. To revitalize that kinship model. To honour your ancestors and future grandchildren. 

To tell the truth to your ancestors and future grandchildren.

“Let’s raise our children to fall in love with indigenous systems rather than attempting to destroy colonial systems from within.”

 Art by: Melanie Cervantes


29 thoughts on “Wasted Energy on the Battles Against Appropriation and Racism: Indigenous Systems are Resistance

  1. Excellent article! Very well said. It applies to even us mutts who wish to honor the earth and teach our children of the important things in life, like living simply and respectfully. This colonial system is so incongruent with life itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Best advice I’ve ever heard in my life! Just hit Colonialism on the head and move on. We never wanted to be a part of it anyway. So why bother trying to play their games and try fit in. Colonialism will never work for Indigenous people because we are not meant to live in corrals.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thank you, Andrea, for creating this blog and, especially, for writing this piece. I am an old grandfather, who has been thinking along similar lines since my “coming of age” years in the 1960s, off and on. I have done so more consistently, more publicly, and a little more articulately in the last several years, coinciding with the advent of the “Idle No More” uprising. Around that time, I started a blog called “Learning Earthways” and one of my first articles, “Equally What?”, resonates at some points with what you so eloquently express here. I would like to share the link to that article here with you and any of your readers who might be interested:

    There is also a more recent article on my blog that points to a path for decolonizing all humans and moving us toward a re-creation and/or rejuvenation of our ancient, sustainable, life-harmonizing ways of being and living. It is titled, “The End of Money: The Need for Alternative, Sustainable, Non-monetary Local Economies.”

    I look forward to further future discussion and interactions with you and anybody who may be interested in these transformative, life-nurturing processes.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I have a question about appropriation; I am not of native descent. I see some non native people around me who practice things of indigenous origin, some of whom involve them in their professional lives (life coaches etc.) and some who may be exhibiting a bit of what might be called a “culture envy” in their personal lives. Things like drum circles and cleansing rituals like smudging; adopting animal totems – is this inappropriate or, if this is a belief system, cannot any human become an adherent and make use of these practices without offending?


    1. Hey Diane

      Good question. Realistically, I do not have the be all end all answers-and nor do I speak for all Indigenous peoples. I can only speak for myself, because that is the only person I can represent.

      From my perspective I find things of this nature inappropriate and offensive. Simply because the background and foundation of such practices are deeply engrained in the land and tradition- they come from generations of indigenous truth.

      I think it is wise that we only practice what is engrained in us. That which we know on a molecular level.

      Otherwise the risk of wrongfully practicing is apparent.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I know that the European Americans and Canadians, as well as the other peoples who immigrated to the Americas, are indigenous only to their original continents. Because none of them are going to leave any time soon, I agree that if anyone is going to live the indigenous ways of life in the Americas, as well as preserve and develop those ways, it is going to have to be the First Peoples. It sounds exciting. I know that history teaches us that the strongest and most fruitful peoples are those forced by circumstances to overcome great barriers and obstacles.


  6. I think to not teach racism and just ‘respect’ doesn’t give a person who has been racially discriminated against a lot of power, and I don’t mean against their aggressor, I mean for them to walk away and heal from said interaction or be able to speak for themselves. I grew up outnumbered as a chamorro at my school with mostly Asian classmates and white teachers. Both let groups allowed jokes to be made at the expense of chamorros and the way they saw it, as long as it wasn’t dirctly about me and didn’t make me cry, it was innocent. Not taught at my highschool: racism outside of the context of black America. Survived suicidal tendencies, went to college and faced the same racism, but in more subtle forms at the beginning of the part of my life when I was on my own. Until meeting people that I could unpack all of the racism I faced while also learning more than I ever had about it I was feeling very close to giving up and walked around new York everyday feeling disenfranchised as a human being. I will argue that to not inform PoC about the nuances of racism gives no tools to work around it yourself mentally. Racism is everywhrre and definitely applies to indigenous people wherever they go.


  7. This is so very good and necessary, Andrea! Thank you for saying this with such candor. I believe this wholeheartedly, particularly where education is concerned. As an unschooler, and as an immigrant raising children (sometimes in America), I have come to know that education reform is bullshit. We cannot attempt to “fix” what is not broken. The system works just as it is designed to work. It is we who need to deschool ourselves from its stronghold and re-familiarize ourselves with our inner knowledge and our ancient systems. Intergenerational relationships need to be restored, as does trust in children and natural learning. The more we put our energy and focus toward ourselves, our systems, the less we will need to understand and navigate ourselves within the systems that can never truly value us. And when we stop needing them to value us, we can better understand how to value ourselves. Again, I appreciate you taking time to offer this up, to speak this truth, to risk expression.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. YES! especially if we remember we all come from indigenous ancestry and that colonization is nothing more than disconnection from indigenous ways of relating to the land. you can’t fight the absence of light but you can bring light to it


  9. I’ve enjoyed your article. Thank you. I’m of Iranian/sub-continental origin. Many of my people were colonized by the British in what was India, divided now into India/Pakistan/Bangladesh . . . what resonates with me from your words is a thread, and it is in this thread that freedom lives, for though many of my people were colonized, though a colony formed and went its way leaving behind its residue, many of my people lived within colonialism without becoming colonized themselves . . .what allowed them to live as sovereign people within a colonial system was this thread::they raised their children to fall in love rather than attempting to destroy . . .it’s what feels like the essence of your words, to fall in love, to fall in love and keep falling for there is so much to fall into in a universe as fine as this blessed Creation. May peace meet you, greet you, and be with you and yours.


  10. This is by far the most groundbreaking thought I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.
    I’m a 50 y/o Lakota woman, and a life long practicing anarchist.
    Seeing someone say that we need to break away from these modes that do more to harm us than to heal and build ourselves is the most empowering piece of writing I’ve had the good fortune to run upon ♡♡
    I will be following you faithfully now, this speaks everything to my heart and I hope our people will start to realize this is where we need to be!


  11. Your very ability to access what you have, and build indigenous systems, comes off the back of those who stood up to injustice, so to say it is futile and a waste of energy erases their victories and disrespects their efforts.

    There is much I take exception to in this article but for now I’ll leave it at: We CAN change the face of colonisation by standing up to it – we already HAVE done so and will continue to do so. And that can absolutely be done while also being engaged in the generation/regeneration of our own indigenous systems.

    Nga mihi


  12. Nice thinking. I like the point about the value of knowing how to live from the land, and the point about how uselessly over valued academia was. Here in Australia, where invasion of the west is more recent, and no treaty exists, the same points are valid. In 1988 at the exact 200th anniversary of our land being called a colony, about five hundred traditional tribal men women and children had traveled to the exact location to assert cultural survival. Including Elders who recall first contact in this lifetime. The event was low key according to the system of the invader, but prominent and life defining according to indigenous knowledge system. I know because until then, and being unexpectedly invited attend, I had no idea my own ancestry is inclusive of indigenous, and subsequently it took me years to accept the signs within myself, finding that my Grandmothers and Great Grandmothers had fought to hide the fact from my parents generation. The result is that I live my life in accord with that ceremony, a Corroboree held back in 1988, to reinstate traditional tribal Kinship lore, values, and social conduct. Even the word Kinship seldom communicates the full flavour of the meaning of the changes I experience in my internal concept of what is real, what is worthy, and especially in how I raised my children. I got aligned then in 1988, into a traditional indigenous betrothal, and even though the man my body belongs to in this life, turned out to be a bad guy in the indigenous value system, (hence his being given a white wife), I have had no reason to regret becoming compelled to live in obedience to traditional indigenous culture’s system of lore. The same lore is the lore which safeguards and protects me better than the western system could. Most of all what changed within me, by contrast to my siblings for example, is that I do not fear to lose the trappings of success as perceived by the western europe centered mind. Thus the apparent loss of home ownership, and car ownership, for example, are trivial in contrast with the gain of understanding and knowledge. Here in Australia, of course all the same difficulties exist within the indigenous community, of so much energy spent upon crying out when all that could be gained by crying was negative attention, and I am the least of persons to speak against that cry, since in my life there appears to have existed a choice.


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